Two Kinds By Amy Tan Essay, Research Paper
“Two Kinds” by Amy Tan
In the short story “Two Kinds,” Amy Tan explores the clash of cultures between a first-generation Chinese-American daughter, Jing-mei, and her mother, Suyan, a Chinese immigrant. Suyan is certain that Jing-mei can become a prodigy if she only tries hard enough. At first Jing-mei is eager to try, but she always falls short of her mother’s expectations. She decides that the prodigy in her is the girl who would steadfastly refuse to be what she is not. While the mother and daughter reveal their personality through their language, actions, and thoughts, conflict develops between the two women when their cultures and aspirations collide. “Two Kinds” focuses on the theme of conflict between two kinds of women as well as two kinds of daughters.
Jing-mei and her mother are two kinds of women because of their drastically different life experience. Before she come to America, Jing-mei’s mother has ” 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”(1065). As Suyan’s past is revealed, I see a clear picture of a determined and strong-willed woman who beats all the odds to establish a better life in America. However, to the American-born daughter, Jing-mei, her mother’s past remains as far as where China is. She neither understands nor comprehends what her mother has gone through in China. When her mother insists her to learn playing piano, her hurtful response is, “I wish I’d never been born! I wish I were dead! Like them”(1071), which pushes the conflict between the two to a higher level. Jing-mei does not understand or fully know her mother because she does not know about her tragic past and the pain she still feels from the memory of it. Her upbrings in America inevitably set her far apart from her mother.
In addition to the conflict of two kinds of women, Jing-mei is also struggling between two kinds of daughters. One is whom her mother expects her to be, and the other is whom she wants to be. Her mother keeps telling her that she can be anything she wants to be, and she has great talent. “Only ask you be your best. For you sake”(1068), told by her mother. Jing-mei is pushed to be successful in many different areas such as dance, academics, trivia, and piano. After failing to excel at each task set before her, Jing-mei begins to feel more and more resentment towards her mother. She sees her mother’s hopes as expectations, and when she does not live up to these, she feels like a failure. The final incident, when Jing-mei performs a piano piece filled with mistakes at a talent show, makes her believe that her mother is completely ashamed and disappointed with her. She starts to gather her courage to challenge her mother’s authority over her. “I’m not going to play anymore. Why should I? I’m not a genius .You want me to be someone that I’m not! I’ll never be the kind of daughter you want me to be!”(1068), she responds angrily to her mother’s order of practicing piano after she intentionally fails the recital. Her mother shouts back, “Only two kind of daughters, those who are obedient and those who follow their own mind! Only one kind of daughter can live in this house. Obedient daughter!”(1071) Mother’s expectation has clashed with daughter’s own desire. Both the mother and daughter are struggling with the acceptance to each other as who they are.
While the confrontation is ever increasing between them, they are also struggling within themselves to define their own roles and identities. To some extent, Suyan adopts many American values. She constantly tells her daughter such a typical American belief that one can be ” anything you wanted to be in America”(1065). However, to an even larger extent, her values and ways of doing things are completely Chinese. Just like most Chinese mothers, she tries to form her daughter into a “proper Chinese girl” who will obey whatever the mother says. Only until the worst clash occurred between these two after the piano recital, is when Suyan unwillingly realizes that she has to let her daughter be one of the American daughters who “follow their own mind”. As a girl grew up in China, I understand this does not come easy to Suyan. In China, the authoritative role of a mother over her daughter is seldom questioned. A good Chinese mother is respected to channel her daughter to be the extension of herself. When the reality forces Suyan to stop forming her daughter into an obedient one, she is, if not giving up, at least giving in part of her roles of being a good Chinese mother.
While Suyan is experiencing the struggling role of being a Chinese mother in America, Jing-mei’s journey to find her roles is also uneasy. Her mother’s traditional Chinese ways of teaching her to fulfill a typical American dream further deepens her confusion. After many failures she has matured enough to realize that her attempts to become a prodigy and to please her mother may be entertaining fantasies, but they have nothing to do with her own interests. Because she does not care about any of these things, she does not really try to be successful, and therefore, would never accomplish anything great. At the age of nine years old, all she is trying to do is ” never be the kind of daughter you (her mother) want me(her) to be” without knowing what kind of daughter she really wants to be.
The conflict that happens between Jing-mei and her mother are commonly seen within those Chinese immigrant families. As a member of the first generation of an immigrant family myself, I certainly can relate to that experience. To many young immigrants like myself, the American culture can be more easily accustomed to than to the older immigrants. However, our deeply rooted Chinese tradition and family values have often confused us in real life. We often walk on the thin line between American and Chinese culture. High expectations are certainly unavoidable from family members and surrounding Chinese community on the achievement and success in academic and professional life. To satisfy both culture’s demand and expectation definitely becomes a challenging task. More tolerance and respect seem to keeping us in good balance and fair judgement.
Tolerance and respect are just exactly what Jing-mei lacks toward her mother. She tells herself, “I didn’t have to do what my mother said anymore. I wasn’t her slave. This wasn’t China”(1071). Jing-mei can not stand her mother’s expectations because she thinks her mother is too Chinese, but she herself is not. She believes that she is an American with freedom of choice in life. She is determined to oppose her mother, “I won’t let her change me, I promise myself. I won’t be what I’m not”(1067). Her mother’s Chinese expectation has becomes a burden to her. Jing-mei is trying to differentiate herself from her mother in terms of culture background. As a young girl, she does not realize that she can not separate herself from the Chinese heritage. That makes her whom she really is.
In conclusion, it is not morally right or wrong if Jing-mei’s mother expects too much from her daughter. Similary, no one can certainly judge right from wrong in Jing-mei’s reactions to her mother’s expectation. Each one of their particular behaviors just reflects their different background and life experience. Therefore, “Two Kinds”, as it means, will be as close as it can be to best describe the conflicts between two kinds of women shaped by their own life experience, and the conflicts between two kinds of daughter cultivated by Chinses culture and American culture.