The story Two Kinds, written by Amy Tan, explores the difficulties of a girl faced with high expectations from her parents or mother in particular. The story features a range of important themes, starting from cultural practices and values to the transfer of unfulfilled parental ambitions to the child. However, the story’s central theme is the conflict between mother and daughter, while the rest of the themes complement this central theme and add depth to the characters.
Firstly, considering the aspect of unfulfilled ambitions, the story starts with the author’s memories of her mother’s optimistic approach to living in America. The author also mentions that the mother came to America in search of new life after her whole life in China was ruined. Furthermore, the reader learns that even though the mother believes that “you could be anything you wanted to be in America,” she works as a cleaner (Tan 1). The contradiction between the mother’s thoughts and actions illustrates how her optimistic attitude was primarily focused on providing more opportunities for her daughter. In other words, the mother tried to give her child everything that she was missing. However, in offering more opportunities for the child’s development, the mother is negatively influenced by cultural competition with “her friend Lindo Jong” (Tan 3). The mother ignores how the giftedness “tests” affect her daughter and proceeds to suppress the child’s individuality (Tan 1). Thus, the cause of the conflict between mother and daughter is the projection of the mother’s issues and unfulfilled ambitions onto the child.
Next, the story features the theme of differences between two kinds of daughters, the obedient one and the rebellious one. The story uses the contradiction between two types of daughters as an element of the plot turning point: the mother abandons her attempts to make a genius out of her daughter. Moreover, the conflict serves as a logical ending to the author’s childhood memories, and the narration shifts to a description of actions from the recent past.
However, the opposition of two types of daughters is present throughout the text. The author creates the image of the perfect obedient girl in the segment that focuses on the little Chinese girl’s performance at the Ed Sullivan Show. The girl seems to be the perfect version of the main character with her “Peter Pan haircut” and “sauciness of a Shirley Temple” (Tan 2). The author even mentions that the girl was “proudly modest, like a proper Chinese Child” (Tan 2). The girl’s obedience to her parents is evident to the main character because even though the girl is not the best at playing piano, she is trying hard. On the contrary, the main character purposely forces herself to try as little as possible because she does not like her mother trying to change her.
The differentiation between the two types of daughters is sourced from Chinese cultural traditions, where elders are viewed as a source of knowledge and wisdom. Thus, young people are required to show their respect to elders by being obedient to their orders. Furthermore, refusing to obey the parent’s orders can be perceived as a personal offense. Considering that the story focuses on a first-generation immigrant family, it is likely that the main character does not pay enough attention to how the mother perceives her behavior. The main character’s perception is built on the foundation of the mixture of two cultures, the Chinese culture of her family and the culture of the country where she lives. For example, the author compares herself to “Cinderella stepping from her pumpkin carriage” and “Christ child lifted out of the straw manger,” which illustrates her exposure to the influence of American culture (Tan 1). Thus, the confrontation between two types of daughters can serve as an image of the clash of two different cultures.
Lastly, in the endings segment of the story, the two types of daughters are combined into one image of a child who went through a difficult path to become a self-sufficient person. After the main character becomes an adult, she realizes that her mother’s attempts to make a genius from her were sourced from the mother’s desire to improve her daughter’s life in the future. Thus, despite being a rebellious daughter and “pleading child,” the main character developed as a “perfectly content” individual (Tan 6). The ending illustrates how being obedient or rebellious would have resulted in the same outcome for the main character. It turns out that her mother’s love and care were unconditional, even though the main character thought that being worse than other children made her unworthy of her mother’s love.
In conclusion, this essay explored the theme of conflict between the mother and daughter in Amy Tan’s story Two Kinds. The essay defined that using other themes such as the transfer of the mother’s unfulfilled ambitions, cultural impact on parental expectations, and differences between two types of daughters adds depth to the story. The essay defined that the mother’s unfulfilled ambitions acted as a source of the initial conflict, while the main character’s inability to be obedient was sourced from exposure to a different system of values.
Tan, Amy. Two Kinds.