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Two Kinds by Amy Tan

By beckychoypeng May 28, 2013 1253 Words
The author, Amy Tan is a second generation Chinese immigrant. Her parents are both Chinese immigrants. Her father and one of her brothers passed away during her early teens. At that period, she found out that her mother had been married before in China. She left her divorced ex-husband and three daughters in China. In 1987, after her mother recovered from a serious illness, they took a trip to China where Tan reunited with her half-sisters. The trip offered Tan a new perspective on her mother and inspired her to write her first book, The Joy Luck Club in 1989. Two Kinds is one of the short stories in The Joy Luck Club. The story takes place around 1960’s, where the narrator talks about her childhood and 1980’s towards the end when she had grown up to be an adult about thirty years old. In the sixties, many Chinese immigrants came to America to persuade their American Dreams. “American dream” was first attributed in James Truslow Adams’s 1931 book The Epic of America, where he refers the dream as “a dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunities according to ability or achievement.” Another key aspect of the dream is freedom, the freedom to pursue happiness in life in this new world. The conflict between Jing Mei and her mother represents the conflict of the two generation of Chinese immigrants in pursuing their American Dream. The first generation, Jing Mei’s mother, who suffered hard life in China before coming to America, emphasized more on survival in her dreams, such as to open a restaurant, to buy a big house, to be rich and famous, whereas, the daughter, who was born in the new land, never go through the hardship of life like her mother, believes in her dream of being happy, free, and most of all, being just the way she is. Jing Mei’s mother lost everything in China including her twin daughters before she came to America. She believes in the American dream of success and tried her very best to turn Jing Mei into a famous prodigy. She works hard to provide her daughter ways to success. She took her to beauty training school to have her hair styled, took dozens of magazines from the houses she cleans so that Jing Mei could be knowledgeable and even provides free house cleaning for her piano teacher in exchange for her piano lessons. Her strong and willful character is well represented the first generation Chinese immigrants. Instead of lamenting over the hardship she had in China, she moves on to create happiness and success in the new land. She was confident that her daughter can be a prodigy if only they can locate her talent and nurture it well. Unfortunately, her effort leads to a deep resentment in Jing Mei. The protagonist and narrator, Jing Mei is the American-born daughter who struggles with the burden of failing to meet her mother’s expectations. She tells the story of her childhood under the pressure of her mother who kept trying to make her a famous prodigy. Although Jing Mei was excited about her mother’s plan at first, as time goes on, when the tasks got harder and harder, she failed to achieve them. Many times, after seeing her mother’s disappointed face she felt “something inside her began to die”. This shows that in she loves her mother and was afraid to see disappointment in her mother’s attempt to find her talent. Jing Mei lost her confidence and decided not to response to her mother’s effort in nurturing her. Jing Mei’s mother holds on strongly to her Chinese culture. She always uses Chinese language when she speaks to her daughter. She said, “Ni kan,…….” But she did not realize that in her way of pursuing her American dreams, she sacrificed her own culture. She forced her child to read Western magazines, she sent her to church and made her memorized the bible. By doing so, she created a culture difference between the two of them which leads to many misunderstanding. Being born in America, Jing Mei had a very independent behavior but her mother thinks that she is disobedient. This shows the difference perceptions of the two generations and they do not share the same views on things. Jing Mei struggles to find her own sense of identity against her mother’s wishes and feels that she can be successful through her own effort and determination. She felt that her mother was trying to control her and decided to do things her own way. The situation worsened when both of them failed to communicate with each other. They never listened to each other, and ended up being further apart. She was determined and tried many ways to annoy and displease her mother to end her domination and control, but her mother continued to push on. At last her mother gave up on her when she hurt her by saying that she wished she was dead like the twins she left behind in China. At the end of the story, Jing Mei realized her mistakes after her mother passed away and gave her the piano as a memory. Jing Mei thinks that her mother’s criticism are signs of lack of affection, but the fact is, her mother’s severity and high expectation are the results of her love and faith in her daughter. The mother’s traditional Chinese values of filial obedience, criticism-enveloped expressions of love, and concealment of excessive emotions clash with the daughter’s American ideas about autonomy, free and open speech, and self-esteem. However, as Jing Mei grown up as an adult, she ultimately reconciles some of these cultural and generation differences. Like all mothers, Jing Mei’s mother forgave her hurtful words and offered her the piano on her thirtieth birthday. When Jing Mei played the piano for the first time since childhood, she noticed the piece on the page opposite from the “Pleading Child” is called “Perfectly Contented”. She gets to realize that “they were two halves of the same song”. The names of the two- parts song are very ironic. Despite the differences of Jing Mei and her mother, they were like the songs, they may disagree but they made one stunning song. The song symbolized Jing Mei’s life. During her childhood, she had felt dissatisfied with her life and with the choices she was forced to make. As an adult, when she was offered the piano, she knew that her mother had forgiven her. Therefore she had found her inner peace. She had 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. Although Amy Tan tells the story of an American Chinese experience, the issues in Two Kinds are universal because the story explores themes of family, their relationship as well as the conflicts of culture which are applicable to all people disregard with their nationality, religion or race. Such themes actually apply to Asian families as well, as love and affection is universal.

1. TAN.A, The Joy Luck Club, New York: Ivy Books. 1989, pg 132-148 2. Huntley, E. D. Amy Tan: A Critical Companion. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1998. 3. James Truslow Adams, The Epic of America, New York, 1931. 4.


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