“Two Kinds” is set in modern United States and basically involves two main characters of Chinese descent – Jing-mei and her mother. In the story, Jing-mei, a young Chinese-American portrayed her mother as an overbearing and demanding woman who constantly tried to groom her daughter to pursue a life destined for fame- either as a talented young actress, a genius in geography, or a musical prodigy (Your Faxed Readings, p. 180-182). Jing-mei did not quite understand at first how her mother could persistently force upon her a future she did not want to have any part of.
She struggled against her mother’s will, not fully comprehending the reasons why her mother wanted her to be more than what she thought she was.
As it was later on revealed in the story, her mother’s ways and beliefs rooted from the tragedies she encountered in her life before she came to America. Jing-mei’s mother went through terrible times in China. She lost her babies and had to struggle to be able to reach the “land of milk and honey.
Reaching a new and prosperous land enabled her to start over, and she acquired a renewed sense of hope, along with the belief that in America, you can be all you want to be:
“My mother believed you could be anything you wanted to be in America. You could open a restaurant. You could work for the government and get good retirement. You could buy a house with almost no money down. You could become rich. You could become instantly famous.”Of course, you can be a prodigy, too,”; my mother told me when I was nine.” (p. 180)
The story goes on to expound on the mother’s past and her subsequent actions that affected her American-raised daughter. The story shows that after hurdling through obstacles in life, Jing Mei’s mother probably realized that anything was possible. Hers was a character who believed that if she went through hell in China but still made it to America then anything was possible, especially for a child raised in this land abounding in prosperity.
Looking at it from this perspective, one could surmise that this explained why, as portrayed in the story, she was overbearing and appeared to expect a lot from her daughter. Her expectations stemmed from what she had acquired from her surviving her misfortunes. As a mother who went through great adversity in life, she could not help but have high expectations for a daughter to whom she had afforded countless opportunities by raising her in America. With her daughter’s resistance to obey, she felt that Jing-mei was not taking full advantage of the opportunities that were made available to her:
“My mother slapped me.”Who ask you to be genius?” she shouted. “Only ask you be your best. For you sake. You think I want you to be genius? Hnnh! What for! Who ask you!”
“So ungrateful,” I heard her mutter in Chinese, “If she had as much talent as she has temper, she’d be famous now.” (p. 183)
It is evident in these lines that the mother was disappointed with Jing-mei. It seemed to her that her daughter was being unappreciative of everything that had been made available for her.
On the other hand, the character of Jing-mei was portrayed as a stubborn and willful child. Jing-mei’s determination not to be what her mother wants her to be stems from her resolve not to let her mother change her.
“And then I saw what seemed to be the prodigy side of me – a face I had never seen before. I looked at my reflection, blinking so that I could see more clearly. The girl staring back at me was angry, powerful. She and I were the same. I had new thoughts, willful thoughts – or rather, thoughts filled with lots of won’ts. I won’t let her change me, I promised myself. I won’t be what I’m not.” (p. 181-182)
From these lines Jing-mei’s character is reflected as someone who often stated that she wanted to be who she is and who vehemently refused to be someone she was not. Although later on she recognized that she could have been great if she did try to be, the story further showed that till the end of that part of her childhood, she was determined not to (p. 183).
“Two Kinds” is one of the multitudes of stories from Amy Tan’s “The Joy Luck Club”. Essentially, it deals with the dynamics of the relationship between mothers and daughters. It gives a fresh perspective about the complexities of such kinship in the eyes of Chinese immigrants in an American Society. It deals with cultural differences and generation gaps, as well as the issue of establishing identity. This short story can be dissected into several areas of interest, all rich in symbolism. It reflects society in various levels of human interaction.
While the plot of the story circles around the struggle between Jing-mei and her mother, a one may derive a deeper conflict, aside from the prima facie squabble between the mother and the daughter, that exists within it, comparable to one that is in society.
If one looks closely, the mother’s character represents individuals who believe that the past can be buried and forgotten once success is achieved. She represents the people who struggle everyday to overcome the ghosts of the past in order to provide for the future. The mother also stands for the people who are trying to compensate for things left undone or mistakes committed. Though their intentions may be good, there is a point where their zealousness in making up for the past becomes a burden that shackles them to what they are trying to escape.
Meanwhile, Jing-mei’s character represents individuals who are in constant journey to find their identities amidst influential forces. It alludes to people caught between two cultures in two different time zones. Jing Mei also represents the young who, at a trying stage in their life, have to cope with the added responsibility of bridging the cultural gap between immigrant parents in modern-day America.
On the other hand, the dynamics of the relationship between Jing-Mei and her mother represent the perennial and unavoidable conflicts between parents and their children. It speaks of expectations, of disappointment, of pride, of hurt and of differences and of finding one’s own identity. It reminds readers how one can never pick his kin and though it may become an uphill battle, what matters is that one learns to accept the family he is given, for who they are.
Furthermore, in a very subtle but compelling way, “Two Kinds” also urges its readers to think about their past and where they are heading .This story prompts one to look at things in perspective – find a way to come to terms with the past, be thankful of the present and look forward to the future with optimism.
That being said, “Two Kinds”, with the infusion of literary brilliance, creativity and true-to-life experiences” has proved to be a true testament of Amy Tan’s artistic brilliance- both for its literary content and social reflection. This story is but, one of a kind.
Tan, Amy. “Two Kinds.” Title of the book of your faxed readings. Location: Publisher, Year Published. pages 180-187.