The Short Story “Two Kinds”

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The short story ‘Two Kinds” by Amy Tan, is a story about a conflict between a Chinese woman and her Americanborn daughter. Before immigrating to the United States, the mother lost everything in China and moved in hopes of a better life. The mother viewed the United States as a land of opportunity where a person could have prosperity, fame and anything else they desired. The mother finds a new husband in America and they have a daughter named Jing-Mei Woo. The mother soon pushes Jing-Mei to become a child prodigy like she saw on television and in magazines. In the beginning, Jing-Mei was enthusiastically hoping and ready to make her mother proud. However, her mother’s obsession with her becoming a prodigy slowly begins to discourage her. Jing-Mei eventually rebels and seeks to find herself and her individuality despite her mother’s expectations.

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This story centers on the idea of figuring out what is best for someone else. This is typically a major conflict between children and their guardians. At some point, in almost every family, parents often force their expectations on their children. At times, having someone to push a child in a specific direction is beneficial, but much like this story it can sometimes backfire, and the child is left with feelings of disapproval and issues with self -esteem. This essay intends to support the view that the contrasting characteristics of both mother and daughter help guide the readers to an understanding and theme of the story.

For millions of immigrants, America is seen as the land of opportunity where anyone could become anything he or she wanted to be. In 1949, after years of civil war, the Communist Party took control of China. Naturally, a lot of the Chinese feared for their future with the Communist Party and fled to the United States. Many of them lost or left everything behind to travel for a better future and They placed their hopes and dreams on the children born in the land of opportunity. ‘The Immigrant experience is traumatic, bringing as it does loss in any number of dimensions, from language and status, to social and kin networks, or in short, an internal map of the way the world works.”(Louie, 2004)’Two Kinds” is told as a flashback and opens with the narrator, Jing-Mei, reflecting on her mother’s life after she has passed. Jing-Mei and her mother, although related, are two contrasting characters mainly because of their different life experiences. Before she came to America, Jing-Mei’s mother ‘… lost everything in China: her mother and father, her family home, her first husband, and two daughters, twin baby girls But she never looked back with regret Things could get better in so many ways”.(Tan, 1989) As the mother’s past is revealed, the tone of the story paints a picture of a strong-willed woman who beats all the odds to establish a better life in America. However, her American-born daughter, Jing-Mei, neither understands nor comprehends what her mother has gone through in China.

Jing-Mei experiences being raised by a mother who wants more for her daughter than she had. To Jing-Mei’s mother, America is the land of opportunity and she has high hopes that her daughter has a talent that can be used to make her successful. She’s not exactly sure what those talents are, but she is sure it is just a matter of finding Jing-Mei’s natural skills. In the beginning of the story Jing-Mei seems to really aspire to reach her mother’s expectations. ‘In fact, in the beginning I was just as excited as my mother, maybe even more so I pictured this prodigy part of me as many different images, and I tried each one on for size.” (Tan, 1989) First, the mother tries to mold Jing-Mei into a child actress, but that doesn’t work. She then tries with intellectual tests clipped from popular magazines, but Jing-Mei doesn’t show much potential in this area either. Finally, she decides that Jing-Mei will be a piano expert. She even goes as far as exchanging cleaning services for lessons from an old retired piano teacher who lived below them. But much like her mother’s other unsuccessful attempts Jing- Mei is has a rebellious attitude towards the lessons.

As the story progresses the reader can see the internal conflict within Jing-Mei. She begins to resent the way her mother pushes and test her on different skills, especially piano. The more she feels like she is disappointing her mother with her lack of talent, the more she purposely tries to sabotage herself. One day, after a fight with her mother about her lack of skill, she stares at her own reflection and promises herself that she wouldn’t let her mother change her into someone she’s not. ‘And after seeing, once again, my mother’s disappointed face, something inside me began to die. I hated the tests, the raised hopes and failed expectations. Before going to bed that night I looked in the mirror above the bathroom sink, and when I saw only my face staring back”and understood that it would always be this ordinary face”I began to cry. Such a sad, ugly girl! I made high-pitched noises like a crazed animal, trying to scratch out the face in the mirror. And then I saw what seemed to be the prodigy side of me ^a face I had never seen before. I looked at my reflection, blinking so that I could see more clearly. The girl staring back at me was angry, powerful.” (Tan, 1989)

While the conflict continues to build between mother and daughter, they are also struggling within themselves to define their own roles and identities. To some extent, the mother adopted some American values early on, believing that you could be anything you wanted to be in the land of opportunity. However, to an even larger extent, her core values are still traditionally and culturally Chinese. In China, the commanding role of a mother over her daughter is hardly ever questioned. A Chinese mother is expected to channel her daughter to be the extension of herself. Just like most Chinese mothers, she tries to mold her daughter into a proper Chinese girl who will obey whatever her mother says.

In the article, ‘Contradiction and Culture: Revisiting Amy Tan’s” Two Kinds”, Hoyte presents a very thought provoking question. ‘The sad and the angry, the prodigy and the failure, the American and the foreigner. How is it possible to live concurrently in diametrically opposed realities?” Hoyte can identify with Jing-Mei through her own experiences with immigrant parents who had big dreams for her much like most children can identify with their parents. Both internal and external conflicts within the story come to a head in the aftermath of Jing-Mei’s first piano performance. ” beginning with a disastrous piano recital at age nine. Instead of practicing and memorizing Schumann’s “Pleading Child” for the talent show recital, “I dawdled over it, playing a few bars and then cheating, looking up to see what notes followed. I never really listened to what I was playing. I daydreamed about being somewhere else, being someone else.” (Tan, 1989) Because Jing-Mei was determined to self-sabotage during her lessons, her performance did not go well. After an embarrassing performance Jing-Mei was sure her mother had given up on her child prodigy dreams, however, like clockwork her mother ordered her to get ready for her lessons. Jing-Mei refused to play anymore and at her breaking point within herself, spitefully lashed out at her mother by bringing up the children she lost in China. “Then I wish I weren’t your daughter. I wish you weren’t my mother,” I shouted. As I said these things, I got scared. It felt like worms and toads and slimy things crawling out of my chest, but it also felt good, that this awful side of me had surfaced, at last. “Too late change this,” my mother said shrilly.” (Tan, 1989)

In the story ‘Two Kinds”, the author, Amy Tan, attempts to make the reader think of the meaning behind the story. She chooses to write a narrative diary showing her true feelings toward her childhood experiences. This offers readers insight on why the narrorator feels frustrated due to failing her mother’s expectations and allows the reader to connect with those emotions. The mother stated that there are only two kinds of daughters ‘Those who are obedient and those who follow their own mind” (Tan, 1989) Jing-Mei did not understand the truth or meaning behind that statement until after her mother passed away. The story ends with Jing-Mei returning to her mother’s home, after her passing, and playing two different pieces on the piano she hadn’t touched since she was nine. These two pieces she played act as symbolism. The first piece, ?Pleading Child’ mirrors how Jing-Mei felt as a child. Overwhelmed by her mother to be something she wasn’t. While the second piece ?Perfectly Contented’ suggests that Jing-Mei is content in her life and realized that her mother meant that she could be an obedient child by listening to her mother while at the same time follow her own heart. She may have felt pressured in her childhood to live up to her mothers dream but now she has found acceptance.

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The Short Story "Two Kinds". (2021, Mar 04). Retrieved February 6, 2023 , from

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