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Amy Tan’s “Two Kinds”

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In “Two Kinds” Amy Tan uses a wide range of techniques and literary elements to demonstrate the true meaning behind the story. She incorporates similes and imagery to intertwine her story. “Two Kinds” is the last story in the second of four sections of Amy Tan’s immensely successful first book, The Joy Luck Club. The story is concerned with the complex relationships between mothers and daughters. Amy Tan tells the story, from the point of view of an adult looking back on her own childhood experiences and explores the clash of cultures between a first-generation Chinese-American daughter, Jing-Mei and her mother, Suyuan, a Chinese immigrant.

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She focuses and develops the tone, symbolism, language, and characters in the story which makes the story come alive. “Two Kinds” is a story based on the struggles of a young Chinese girl, Jing-Mei. Here is the protagonist and round character of the story. She is stubborn, rebellious, strong-willed and determined to live up to her mother’s expectations.

Living in the United States with her overly pushy mother, she struggles to find her own sense of identity. Her troubles are compounded by her mother, who convinces her that she can become someone important.

Jing-Mei’s mother, Suyuan, is the antagonist and flat character that remains stern, dominant and overbearing throughout the story. Suyuan pushes her daughter, Jing-Mei to become a child prodigy and believes “You could be anything you wanted to be in America” (Tan 193) The story’s main events take place in San Francisco’s Chinatown throughout the 1950’s and perhaps the early 1960’s. After “losing everything in China: her mother and father, her family house, her first husband, her two twin daughters” (Tan 193), Suyuan immigrates to America where all her hopes lay, striving and hoping for things to get better.

The setting in America symbolizes opportunity. However, the location of America, Chinatown, contrasts with America. Chinatown is reminiscent of China and of the squalor and pain Jing-Mei’s mother escaped. Amy Tan uses dialect and setting to provide parallelism and contrast to the story’s action. The physical setting creates physiological that illuminates the conflict. Tan subtly manipulates the literary elements of setting and dialect to provide a deeper understanding of the short story’s theme. The story starts out with Jing-Mei explaining how her mother, Suyuan, always thought that she could become a child prodigy.

Jing-Mei recalls several talents her mother tried to get her to develop in order to get her to be a “prodigy”. Jing-Mei was happy just being herself, but unfortunately, her mother had high expectations for her. Jing-Mei’s mother constantly pushed her to become famous. She thought that was what’s best for Jing-Mei. “Just like you,” she said, “Not the best because you are not trying. “ (Tan 199) She tried everything in her power to make Jing-Mei talented in some way. She pushes Jing-Mei right over the edge. At first, Jing-Mei’s mother decides that Jing-Mei can be a child actress, like Shirley Temple.

To accomplish this, Suyuan takes Jing-Mei to a beauty training school. However, Jing-Mei came out the school looking like what Suyuan calls “Negro Chinese” (Tan 193). Jing-Mei was still confident that one day she would be a child prodigy that her mother would adore. Every night her mother would give her a series of tests corresponding to some amazing abilities that some children possessed in magazines she read. Some of the tests include standing on her head, memorizing capitals of countries, looking at a page of the Bible for three minutes to see what she remembers and predicting the daily temperatures in Los Angeles, New York, and London.

After many failed tests in knowledge and skills, eventually, Jing-Mei grew tired of these tests and stopped trying. She quickly began to lose interest in her mother’s dream of being a prodigy and becomes stubborn. “I won’t let her change, I promised myself. I won’t be what I’m not” (Tan 195). Jing-Mei clearly shows that she is trying to resist her mother’s domination and control. She wants to be herself and make her own choices. Likewise, her mother stopped trying after seeing Jing-Mei’s disinterest. A couple months later, Jing-Mei and Suyuan were watching The Ed Sullivan Show.

The show featured a nine year old Chinese girl “with a Peter Pan haircut and the sauciness of a Shirley Temple” (Tan 195), playing the piano. Three days after watching the show Suyuan scheduled piano lessons for Jing-Mei with Mr. Chong. When the lesson starts Mr. Chong starts playing a few scales and simple chords, but he then starts playing running trill and other more advanced techniques. He then asks Jing-Mei to play it. Jing-Mei mimics Mr. Chong’s hand movement to the best of her abilities, but it ended up sounding like nonsense.

Mr. Chong would then say good job. That is when Jing-Mei realizes Mr. Chong was deaf and his eyes could not keep up with her fast finger movement. Over the next year, Jing-Mei would take advantage of this. One day Lindo, Jing-Mei’s aunt started bragging about her daughter, saying that she is too good at chess. She also talks about how her daughter has too many trophies, “She bring home too many trophies” (Tan 196). Suyuan then says that Jing-Mei is good at piano. She then says “Our problem worser than yours. If we ask Jing-Mei wash dish, she hear nothing but music.

It’s like you can’t stop this natural talent” (Tan 196). When Jing-Mei hears this she promises herself that she would get rid of her mother’s foolish pride. Later, Mr. Chong and Suyuan get Jing-Mei to play at the “Joy Luck Club” talent show. When it is Jing-Mei’s turn to play she does not do good and the whole audience claps weakly except for Mr. Chong, who was beaming and shouting, “Bravo! Bravo! Well done! ” (Tan 197). Jing-Mei saw her mother’s stricken face and knew she was disappointed in her. She then realizes how many people were in the audience which seemed like the “whole world”.

She felt as if eyes were burning into her back and felt the shame of her mother as she sat stiffly throughout the rest of the show. The setting of the story is symbolic because it provides insight to the conflict at every level. The setting of the piano recital at the “Joy Luck Club” is heavily ironic. Jing-Mei’s performance is certainly not lucky, nor joyous. The events at the club result in a loss of hope and joy, especially for Jing-Mei’s mother. On the ride home from the talent show, Suyuan is quiet and has a blank look on her face as if she lost everything.

Jing-Mei assumed that her mother wanted to wait until they got home before shouting at her. Once they get home, Jing-Mei is shocked that her mother walked in and then went to the back, in to the bedroom. “No accusations. No blame”. (Tan 198) Jing-Mei in a way, felt disappointed ad had been waiting for her mother to shout, “so she could shout back and cry and blame her for all her misery”. ( Tan 198) Jing-Mei assumed her talent-show fiasco meant that she did not have to play the piano anymore. But two days later, after school her mother saw her watching TV and urges her to go to piano practice.

Jing-Mei screams that she will not and says that she will never be the kind of daughter her mother wants her to be. Her mother replies, “Only two kinds of daughter. Those who are obedient and those who follow their own mind! Only one kind of daughter can live in this house. Obedient daughter! ” (Tan 198) she shouted in Chinese. Then Jing-Mei says “I wish I wasn’t your daughter…I wish you weren’t my mother …I wish I’d never been born! I wish I were dead like them! ” (Tan 198). Jing-Mei refers the babies her mother lost in China to “them”. Suyuan was stunned, her face ent blank, her mouth closed, her arms went slack and slowly backed out of the room. Suyuan’s expectations have clashed with the Jing-Mei’s own desire. They both are struggling with the acceptance to each other as who they are. While the confrontation increases between them, they are also struggling within themselves to define their own roles and identities. As anger arises, this breaking point is the climax of the story. As all children are expected to be obedient in their home, the rebellion of Jing-Mei in her home shows her strong feelings against being lived through vicariously.

Instead of a stable environment, the homes becomes a battlefield where Jing-Mei’s mother is traumatized, “as if she were blowing away like a small brown leaf, thin, brittle, lifeless” (Tan 199). The conflict between Jing-Mei and her mother develop from their separate dialects. Because she grew up in America, Jing-Mei has flawless English. In contrast, Jing-Mei’s mother talks in imperfect English, with tense and verb errors. During the climax of the story, Jing-Mei’s mother reverts to her native Chinese as she shouts at her daughter. The difference in dialects is ironic when compared to the character’s attitudes.

Each character wants to escape the society that their language represents. The piano stands as a symbol and represents different things for both characters. For Jing-Mei, it symbolizes the unwanted stress her mother inflicts upon her, the pressure to become someone she is not. For her mother it symbolizes the hope in Jing-Mei, the hope that she will become a prodigy child, the hope that coming to America gave her. “America was where all my mother’s hopes lay” (Tan 193). This statement only reiterates this free hope America and the piano gave her.

The piano is also a communication barrier. Suyuan, Jing-Mei’s mother uses the piano as a way to communicate with Jing-Mei and attempt to mold her in to the child prodigy she always wished she would be. After their spill over, Jing-Mei’s mother never bothered her about learning the piano again. In the years that followed, Jing-Mei says she has failed her mother so many times, each time asserting her own will, her right to fall short of expectations. She didn’t get straight A’s, didn’t come class president, didn’t get into Stanford, and dropped out of college.

She had a different mentality compared to her mother. She did not believe she could be anything she wanted to be. She says “I can only be me” (Tan 199). Throughout the years, Jing-Mei and her mother never talked about the disaster that occurred at the recital or the argument they had. Suyuan never even mentioned anything about playing the piano again. “The lessons stopped. The lid of the piano was closed, shutting out the dust, my misery, and her dreams” (Tan 199). A few years later, Suyuan offered to give Jing-Mei the piano on her thirtieth birthday.

Jing-Mei is surprised and saw the offer as a sign of forgiveness, a tremendous burden removed. Jing-Mei declines her offer. After that, every time she saw the piano in her mother’s living room, it made her feel proud, as if it were a shiny trophy she had won back. Her mother dies sometime after and Jing-Mei sends a tuner over to her mother’s apartment and had the piano tuned for sentimental reasons. After she had the piano tuned, she opened the book she used to play from and looked at the page with the talent piece on it. The name of it was “Pleading Child”.

She said it looked more difficult than she remembered. She then played a few bars and is surprised at how easily the notes came back to her. Noticing another piece on the right-hand side called “Perfectly Contented”, she attempts to play this one as well. It was longer and faster compared to “Pleading Child”. It had a “lighter melody but the same flowing rhythm and it turned out to be quite easy for her. After she plays them both, she realizes that they were two halves of the same song. In the end of the story, the fact that she really cared about her mother and the piano is confirmed.

The piano piece she had once struggled to play as a child “Pleading Child” which was very slow and difficult. She saw that on the next page was a song called “Perfectly Contented” which was quick and happy. These are the songs that she had played when she was a child. These were two halves of the same song, which is symbolization to her life. Jing-Mei’s determination to stay the way she is and be satisfied with the way things are, is much like the song “ Perfectly Contented”. Yet her mother’s pushy, aggressive attitude is a lot like “ Pleading Child. ” She pushes and begs Jing-Mei to cooperate and become famous.

Jing-Mei then notices for the first time after all these years, that these two songs are actually two halves of the same song. Even though the two disagree they form one beautiful song. The two songs symbolized her transformation into becoming the woman she is now. She reconciled the issues of her failures and knew that her mother never considered them failures. It was just the love from a mother that she had for her daughter. Throughout the story Jing-Mei reflects back to the painful conflict with her mother. After nine years in America, her mother was neither “rich” nor “famous”.

This was when her mother made her the main focus of her unspeakable “regret. ” That’s what gives her mother the initiative to coerce the piano prodigy out of Jing-Mei. After all, Jing-Mei was the interruption that caused her to “lose everything in China” (Tan 193). Her mother was repeating the dreadful curse her mother imposed on her. As an adult, Jing-Mei realized the cost of her mother’s empty pursuit: the betrayal in China, the unfulfilled dreams in America, and fulfilling the very curse she ran from. This was the very reason that inspired Jing-Mei to remain unmarried and childless, breaking the curse once and for all.

Cite this Amy Tan’s “Two Kinds”

Amy Tan’s “Two Kinds”. (2016, Dec 12). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/amy-tans-two-kinds-2/

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