Two Kinds Summary - A short story by Amy Tan

Two kinds summary Amy Tan

Two Kinds Summary 

Two kinds is a short story by Amy Tan, about a girl named Jing-mei Woo, a first-generation American & her immigrant mom, Suyuan. The story was published in 1989 as a part of 16 interconnected stories in the book called The Joy Luck Club and explores the mom-daughter conflict that arises when Jing-mei's mom expresses her desire to make Jing-mei into a child prodigy. 

The short story showcases the inter-generational conflict fueled by a lot of factors. The fact that they are from the same family is no help at all because by ideologies they belong to two different countries altogether;  while her mother grew up in Chinese society, Jing-mei is a Chinese American and her way of thinking is apart from what her mom is used to. So, it is just not about the generation gap, it is also about ideology. It is interesting to note that it is always difficult for an immigrant to adopt a new culture and they constantly struggle trying to keep the old beliefs while making room for the new ones. 

One thing that Jing-mei's mom learned from her 'fleeing China and making a living in the US' experience was that 'everything was possible, and all you have to do is work harder and harder to achieve it'. Her mom is really brave and hardworking; the fact that she had to leave China and in the process lost everything including her two daughters in order to survive the Chinese Communist Revolution. Despite that, she succeeded in making her way through life makes her an ultimate fighter. 

Though it is quite a positive thought to implement in your life,  it becomes a  bit of a problem for Jing-mei however. Her mom's expectations are too much for Jing-mei and in order to deal with it, she gradually develops a rebellious attitude. She is not able to express her feelings to her mom, so things get really tense between them because of miscommunication and the lack of it. 

The tone of the story is semi-autobiographical and the voice is in retrospect. After her mom's death, our protagonist Jing-mei looks back and reflects on the time in her life when her mother was totally doing her best to instill the belief in Jing-mei's mind that she could be a child prodigy if she works for it with single mindfulness. 

The story takes us back to the time when young Jing-mei is young and is ready to do anything to please her mom. In her initial attempts, her mom tries to turn Jing-mei into Chinese Shirley Temple, to be specific, the look she carried when she was quite young and can be seen in movies like Glad Rags to Riches. The look takes a discouraging turn for her mom when a newbie hairdresser fails to gives her the curls & she ends up getting a peter pan cut instead. It is the time when Jing-mei herself wants to be a child prodigy and dreams of achieving that goal one day. However, at the same time she is also afraid that if she didn't find her hidden talents soon, she might miss her chance to be a child prodigy which means that she will ever be a nobody in her mom's eyes. 

Every day her mom and Jing-mei used to sit together and read magazines that had stories about talented kids. Her mom used to quiz her on various topics that ranged from advanced mathematics to politics and weather predictions, in order to unravel any talent that she might have. However, over time, hopes and failed expectations start to take a toll on the young girl, and she begins to resent the idea. With each passing day, the idea that she is just ordinary eats at her confidence and she becomes more and more unhappy with her mom's high expectations; though she plays along but makes it a point to never allow her mom to change her. Her sadness turns into anger and then rebelliousness. 

From then on she stops participating in her mom's quizzes, this goes on for a few days after which her mom stops. However, everything comes back to zero when her mom witnesses a young Chinese girl playing piano on Ed Sullivan Show. And the next thing she knows she is supposed to attend piano lessons from her neighbor Mr. Chong. She is not interested and fails to make any real progress and the fact that her teacher is deaf and has bad eye-sight, no one is there to track her progress and tell her that she is considerably poor at it. 

After a year of lessons, Jing-mei is made to perform in front of an audience at a talent show organized by her mom and another Joy Luck Club mother, Lindo Jong so that they can showcase their girls' talents to the world. Lindo Jong was the kind of mother who loved to boast about her gifted daughter at any available opportunity. One day she was talking about her chess prodigy & was expressing her distress over the fact that her daughter brings in a lot of trophies. To all this, Suyuan also talks about Jing-mei and how they have to literally fight her to keep away from the piano after her long practice sessions. 

On the day of her performance, Jing-mei goes on the stage totally confident but stumbles really badly while playing the 'Pleading Child' music piece. Except for her teacher, no one praises her efforts. After the performance, she feels embarrassed and ashamed especially after seeing her mom's disappointed face. Things take another ugly turn when Jing-mei's mom states that her lessons will continue and she refuses right out. She tells her mom that she is not a genius and is tired of trying to be one. She clearly conveys that she could never be the child her mother wants her to be. Things heat up pretty badly; her mom informs Jing-mei that there are two kinds of daughters, willful and obedient & she is ready to raise only an obedient daughter. In the end, Jing-mei declares that she is not happy to be her mom's daughter and wishes that she was dead just like her other two sisters her mom lost in China. This puts an end to the quarrel (for years to come). 

After that her mom stops, years go by and no one talks about it. Then on the day, when Jing turns 30, her mom gifts her a piano (which Jing-mei takes as a sign of forgiveness) and states for the last time that she always believed in her & if she had wanted she could have been a genius. 

After her mom's death, Jing-mei plays the 'Pleading Child' piece again and is surprised by how easily the piece came back to her in spite of the initial difficulty. On the next page, she finds the piece called Perfectly Contented, and finds it really easy to play and continues to play them back to back. She realizes that they are actually parts of a long connected work (just like willfulness and obedience are two parts of the whole).  


Themes in Two kinds

Hope

Identity

 Rebellion

 responsibility

Blame

 Independence 

Acceptance

Love


The narrator of Two Kinds

Narrated in the first person by a woman called Jing-mei Woo.

The genre of Two Kinds

Fiction (short story).

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