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Two Kinds X Two
In the short story, "Two Kinds" by Amy Tan, a Chinese mother and daughter are at odds with each other. The mother pushes her daughter to become a prodigy, while the daughter (like most children with immigrant parents) seeks to find herself in a world that demands her Americanization. This is the theme of the story, conflicting values. In a society that values individuality, the daughter sought to be an individual, while her mother demanded she do what was suggested. This is a conflict within itself. The daughter must deal with an internal and external conflict. Internally, she struggles to find herself. Externally, she struggles with the burden of failing to meet her mother’s expectations. Being a first-generation Asian American, I have faced the same issues that the daughter has been through in the story.
"My mother believed you could be anything you wanted to be in America" (491). This ideology inspired Jing-mei’s mother to work hard to create a better life for herself and her family in a new country. The search of the American dream exerts a powerful influence on new arrivals in the United States. However, realizing that they may not achieve the dream of material success and social acceptance, parents tend to transfer that burden to their children. It is a burden where dreams usually fall short of expectations.
In the story, the mother’s belief in this sentiment gave her hope for her daughter to become a prodigy. Therefore, the weight of the dream is left on the first-generation. The belief of endless possibilities is set upon first-generation Americans and Americans alike. From the beginning of the story, the daughter states that “America was where all my mother’s hopes lay” (491). The mother has the best intentions for her daughter. However, what may be best intentions for one person may not be right for another. At first, the daughter was to become a Chinese version of Shirley Temple. When that didn’t work, her mother told her that she would be attending piano lessons.
The daughter did not like the idea of playing the piano. “Why don’t you like me the way I am? . . . I am not a genius! I can’t play the piano. And even if I could, I wouldn’t go on TV if you paid me a million dollars!” (492-493). Here, Tan is conveying the fact that parents and children have disagreements on what the child should do, and who the child is to become. For example, parents may have an idea where they want their child to attend their college education. The child, on the other hand, may want to go to a different college as suggested. Ultimately, it is the decision of the child. We cannot live how others want us to live. It is the path of our own making that truly makes us happy.
Some may see the mother trying to live her life through her daughter. She invests time trying to make her daughter a prodigy because she was her last hope. The mother lost two children in China and moves to a new country. Coming to America, she felt that immigrants have to prove that they are as talented as or more talented than Americans. This belief is supposed to be the basis for the determination, that the mother has, for Jing-mei to become a prodigy.
The mother in the story tries everything in her power to make Jing-mei famous in some way. Yet Jing-mei was content to being herself. Still, her mother expected more from her. She pushed, and pushed her daughter. The more she pushed, the more Jing-mei resisted. It is like the Chinese ying-yang. The mother and daughter are total opposites. However, they combine to create a unity of correlated opposites.
The idea of the ying-yang is that both parts oppose one another, yet cannot be without one another. Every time Jing-mei’s mother snapped at her to try harder, she snapped back. “In the years that followed, I failed her [mother] many times, each time asserting my will, my right to fall short of expectations. I didn’t get straight As. I didn’t become class president. I didn’t get into Stanford. I dropped out of college. Unlike my mother, I did not believe I could be anything I wanted to be. I could only be me,” (497-498). Jing-mei’s dialogue illustrates the fact that the mother and daughter are polar opposites. The mother wants to create something of her daughter. However, Jing-mei seems to be happy just being herself. These two opposing viewpoints lead to a lot of fights between mother and daughter. The greater they disputed, the farther away they drifted. Until they realized the piano was not only the root of their problems, but the solution as well.
Tan describes the “two kinds” in the concluding paragraphs. After Jing-mei’s mother dies, she goes back to the piano and finds two songs. She begins to play “Pleading Child,” the song that caused the breaking point of her relationship with her mother. This song, with its fast and aggressive melody, best represents the mother’s aggressive attitude towards her daughter. Then Jing-mei plays the song next to “Pleading Child,” called “Perfectly Contented.” It turned out to be lighter and slower. It is a much happier song. Jing-mei’s determination to be herself, “Perfectly Contented,” corresponds with this song. “And after I played them both a few times, I realized they were two halves of the same song.” (499). Like the ying-yang and the songs, Jing-mei’s relationship with her mother may seem disastrous and apart, but together they share a strong bond that makes them whole. Even though the two disagree, like the songs, they form one beautiful song.
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"Two Kinds." 123HelpMe.com. 02 Sep 2014