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East Meets the West in Two Kinds by Amy Tan

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Amy Tan‘s ―Two Kinds‖ is a tale of a young Chinese girl‘s life as an adolescent and the
influence that her mother has on her growing up. Coming from a first-generation immigrant
Korean family, I can‘t help but completely relate to growing up around that type of ―support.‖
Although my parents were fairly westernized in their way of thinking, we had an aunt living with
us whom we affectionately called the Tiger Aunt growing up. Having no natural children of her
own, she treated my siblings and me as if we were her own children and pretty much had free
rein to direct us and help to raise us in any way that she wanted, which was with a very
traditional and old fashioned perspective. Tan‘s use of dialogue, symbolism, and the description
of the mother‘s thoughts and behaviors all take me back many years ago to when I was an
adolescent growing up around my aunt and the way that I‘m able to completely relate to the
narrator‘s point of view. I find these similarities to be amazing.

In ―Two Kinds,‖ the dialogue that is used by the narrator‘s mother is one of the biggest
things that remind me of my Tiger Aunt. Aside from the broken English that is used, one
similarity between my aunt and the narrator‘s mother is the tough love approach that they take to
parenting. Just as the narrator‘s mother says ―Not the best. Because you not trying‖ (Tan 28),
my aunt had a way of emphasizing my weaknesses in an effort to bring out my strengths. This
made me turn spiteful towards my aunt, and I paid no regard to any suggestions that she made or
things that she was genuinely trying to teach me. The narrator‘s mother sums up my aunt‘s
attitude towards how I was acting during my many moments of rebellion in two words: ―So
ungrateful‖ (Tan 34). My aunt also had a way of comparing my siblings and me with her
friends‘ kids, and it was as if an unspoken competition was taking place to see whose children
would come out on top with their accolades and accomplishments. This was a part of life that
the narrator had to deal with as well as her mother constantly made declarations about her
daughter that weren‘t necessarily true, like when she proclaims that ―If we ask Jing-mei to wash
dish, she hear nothing but music. It‘s like you can‘t stop this natural talent‖ (Tan 48). This is an
example of the same kind of pride that my aunt had; she could not lose when it came to me or
my siblings.

Another tool that Tan uses in ―Two Kinds‖ is symbolism, and there were certainly things
in my life growing up that I could attribute to having more meaning than what it actually was.
The piano in particular I think represented much of the strife between mother and daughter. For
the mother, it represents all of the hopes and dreams she has for her daughter, but for her
daughter, it is just another attempt to get conformed to this mold of a daughter that her mother is
trying to create. ―Why don‘t you like me the way I am?‖ (Tan 32) was the narrator‘s reaction
when her mother insists for her ―to practice every day, two hours a day, from four to six‖ (Tan
30). The ―piano‖ in my life was ballet. My aunt got the idea from one of the ladies in our
church, and it was all downhill from there. Although we were already active in taekwondo and
enjoying that very much, we were subjected to arguments daily about practicing and how we
could be in a big performance one day. Just as the narrator, I felt as if I was being forced to
change into this person that I clearly wasn‘t (Tan 73). In the story, when the mother finally
relinquishes control over her daughter and the piano by insisting that it was ―always your
piano…you‘re the only one that can play,‖ (Tan 86) it feels as a small victory to the narrator
because it stood for her freedom to live her life. My day of reckoning came when my ballet
teacher talked to my aunt about my sister and me having absolutely no interest in ballet. I 5
watched as my aunt‘s face turned white and that drive home was silent and tense. She told us to
change out of our ballet clothes and later told us that we are capable of doing whatever we
wanted to if we put our minds to it, which is what the narrator‘s mother had tried to say to her
daughter the whole time.

Finally, the dreams and ideals held by our narrator‘s mother are also very similar to my
aunt‘s way of thinking on a day-to-day basis. ―My mother believed you could be anything you
wanted to be in America‖ (Tan 1) was hammered into my mind every day. I believe that this
belief of both my aunt and the narrator‘s mother comes from the experience that they had in the
country that they lived in. For example, the biggest source of income for the tiny town that my
aunt grew up in was potatoes. She saw her location in the world as restrictive and so viewed the
United States as an opportunity to be whatever you wanted to. The test that the narrator was
given to ―look at a page from the Bible for three minutes and then report everything I could
remember‖ (Tan 17) also reminds me of a school teacher‘s book that my aunt purchased with the
hopes of making us that much smarter. She was very consistent and insistent that this was the
best thing that had ever happened to us. She also held on to very strong work ethics and believed
that you had to work hard to get the things that you wanted. When the narrator talks about how
she knew they could not afford a piano and her ―mother had traded housecleaning services for
weekly lessons and a piano for me to practice on every day‖ (Tan 30), I got flashbacks of my
aunt taking on an extra position in clothes production to help pay for a violin that I wanted.
Although somewhat rough around the edges, the narrator‘s mother and my aunt are
similar in many ways, as are the narrator and I. The underlying message in both of their
parenting techniques were definitely of love, but I think their imposing ways of doing so
conflicted greatly with the younger generation‘s very western way of thinking. Today, my aunt
actively supports me in any endeavor that I sign up for and continues to give me ―constructive
criticism‖; I can‘t help but appreciate that in my life. Just as the narrator realized towards the
end what her mother‘s intentions were towards her, I realized several years after the fact that my
aunt wanted nothing but for me to have all the opportunities that everybody else had. As I read
over Amy Tan‘s ―Two Kinds,‖ I am taken back by the eerie similarities with my own life in the
dialogue used for this piece, the many symbols, and especially the way life was viewed upon by
both the narrator and her mother.

Work Cited

Tan, Amy. "Two Kinds.‖ Literature: Craft & Voice. Eds. Nicholas Delbanco and Alan Cheuse.
Vol. 1. New York: McGraw Hill, 2010. 43-48. Print.

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