Last Updated 17 Aug 2022

The Symbolism and Narration of Amy Tan’s “Two Kinds”

Essay type Narration
Words 2348 (9 pages)
Table of contents

Two Kinds "Two Kinds" is a short story from the book The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan.

Amy Tan demonstrates a child’s struggle for identity in her story “Two Kinds”. This essay analyses the writing techniques Tan uses in order to express the struggle between parent and child; in which the child is struggling to have her own identity. Typical in Asian cultures, Tan describes the parents’ desire for a child prodigy through strict discipline and expected child obedience.

Living in America exposes Jing-mei to American influence. Jing-mei’s mother however spent the majority of her life in China, and expects her child to behave as she would had she been raised in China. This essay depicts American cultural influence as one way to explain Jing-mei and her mother’s contrasting views; the main idea of this essay however is to demonstrate Tan’s use of symbolism and narration to depict the traditional struggle between parent and child.

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Amy Tan uses the main character, Jing-mei to represent the typical American pre-teen who is determined to break free from her mother’s uncontrollable need to make her a prodigy. Jing-mei is a rounded main character which the reader is able to watch grow emotionally throughout the story; her need to be herself and defend her position is an important theme throughout “Two Kinds”. Tan uses the first person narration to draw the reader in personally to JIng-mei and what she is experiencing. The reader can hear Jing-mei’s thoughts and disappointments.

The minor character, Jing-mei’s mother, is a flat character in comparison to her daughter. The reader is unable to really know what the mother is thinking because of Tan’s use of second person narration. To help the reader understand the mother’s actions, Tan describes the mother’s history briefly discussed within the first page of the story. Using an important writing technique, Tan gives the reader a look into the mother’s painful history; enough for the reader to understand the mother’s motives as they watch her drill her daughter on popular American trivia facts and not stopping even after Jeing-mei protests.

The opening line of “Two Kinds” is especially important to understanding the mother’s motives. Jing-mei, the narrator tells the audience, “my mother believed you could be anything you wanted to be in America” (468). This sentence describes the hopes and dreams of Jing-mei’s mother. Tan goes on to explain the mother’s perception of America; she believes America is the answer to all their problems.

The readers are not told what happened to her remaining family in China, but it resulted in death and that is enough for the reader to sympathize with the mother and her controlling behavior. The narrator, JIng-mei, gives the audience an understanding of the mother’s motives; this understanding is important in order for Tan to communicate her message of a daughter-mother relationship.

The reader has the advantage of knowing the mother’s reasoning for pushing Jing-mei to be the best; Jing-mei however, does not. By using first person narration, the reader experiences Jing-mei’s frustration at being made to perform against her will. In the beginning of “Two Kinds” however, Jing-mei is excited at the prospect of being famous. Jing-mei thinks, “in all of my imaginings, I was filled with a sense that I would soon be perfect;” the reader almost feels sorry for the little girl; for many adults can sympathize.

Many people can remember a time of innocence when they thought they could do anything, that they could be the perfect child their parents imagined them to be. This need to fill a parent’s high expectations is cause for harsh disappointment as Jing-mei discovers. After witnessing her mother’s disappointment; anger begins to burn inside Jing-mei at having to perform ridiculous tests. This rage turns to an inner protest; Tan portrays this rebellion as Jing-mei’s disinterest in test questions.

Even after her mother goes through trouble of trading house cleaning for piano lessons, Jing-mei puts in minimal effort. This child rebellion is common in American children; rather than risking being a disappointment, Jing-mei protects her feelings by acting as if she doesn’t care. Tan writes of Jing-mei’s private protest, “so now on nights when my mother presented her tests, I performed listlessly, my head propped on one arm. I pretended to be bored. And I was” (470). Jing-mei became her own prodigy.

The story’s title, “Two Kinds”, is a description of the theme of the story. The title of Tan’s story is a symbol of the two generations and two cultures depicted in “Two Kinds”. The mother is from China, with Chinese traditions and Jing-mei was raised in America, influenced by America’s culture; where children had more say and questioned their parents’ judgments as Jing-mei finally did when she accused her mother of wanting her to be a genius. There is a distinct gap between mother and daughter as seen in both generational and cultural differences.

The most important use of symbolism in “Two Kinds” is the piano. The piano becomes the link between Jing-mei and her mother; although this is not clear to Jing-mei during childhood. Jing-mei is angered by being forced to play the piano and purposely doesn’t take it serious; much like the way Jing-mei does not take her mothers dreams for a prodigy serious.

Underlying the rebellion Jing-mei demonstrates during her piano lessons; she finds the chance to play in a talent show exiting; her excitement reveals that small part of her that still wants to please her mother and be the little prodigy her mother hopes for. Jing-mei describes her childish excitement to make her mother proud, she says, “When my turn came, I was very confident.

I remember my childish excitement. It was as if I knew, without a doubt, that the prodigy side of me really did exist” (474). Tan accurately portrays a child’s inner desire to please her parent, as she writes of Jing-mei’s sudden excitement. All Jing-mei’s protests were forgotten and she had a chance to make her mom proud.

Tan’s narrative style allows the reader to see the full extent of Jing-mei’s emotional growth. The narrator is Jing-mei as an adult, looking back at this specific time of her childhood in refection. It isn’t until she is an adult that she can appreciate what her mother was trying to accomplish during her childhood. The narrator realized that everything changed after the disastrous recital. Her mother’s dreams seemed to fade after JIng-mei demonstrated what she had learned throughout her lessons.

Tan showed a mother’s unconditional love for her child by the mother insisting that Jing-mei continue her lessons even after the recital fiasco. While it may seem that the mother was extremely controlling, making the child continue with lessons she did not want; the reader can interpret this as a mother who does not give up on her child; a mother who is determined to show her child that she can accomplish anything she puts her mind to.

The piano remains a symbol for the relationship between Jing-mei and her mother. After things escalate and Jing-mei speaks out against her mother, wishing she weren’t her daughter, the piano remains unused. Tan uses this opportunity to fast forward to all the future disappointments she causes her mother.  The piano continues to be a link between mother and daughter when the mother asks Jing-mei to take it on her thirtieth birthday; and encourages her to try it again by complimenting on her quick learning ability. This opened the door to a new understanding in their relationship. All of a sudden the piano became a symbol of Jing-mei’s acceptance by her mother and herself.

Jing-mei as an adult appreciates what her mother had done for her as a child. The fondness she suddenly has for the piano that brought her such frustration and embarrassment symbolizes the acceptance of herself and of the truth behind her mother’s pushy but well meaning behavior. The piano symbolizes the mother-daughter bond which is tested during childhood but strengthens in time with understanding.

In conclusion, Tan uses first person narration to give the reader a more intimate experience with the characters. The symbolism used in “Two Kinds” portrays the classic struggle between mother and daughter; a daughter seeking her own identity and a mother wanting the best for her daughter. “Two Kinds” addresses the pain that family can bring upon one another but also the forgiveness and understanding that can be reached between loved ones.

Most Common Questions:

  • What does the piano symbolize in two kinds?

In addition, the plan represents the struggle between a mother and her daughter. Jing-Mei doesn't want to play the piano. ... In "Two Kinds", the piano represents a kind of trophy. Jing-mei's mother wants to do what is not with her daughter.

In Amy Tan's Two Kinds, we have the theme of hope, identity, rebellion, responsibility, guilt, independence and acceptance. Told in the first person by a woman named Jing-mei Woo, the story is a memory and after reading it, the reader realizes that Tan could explore the subject of hope.

  • What is the point of view of two kinds?

"Two Kinds" is narrated by Jing-mei Woo, and told in the first person point of view.

Rebellion or Reason in Amy Tan's: Two Kinds

Rebellion or Reason in Amy Tan's: Two Kinds In the short story “Two Kinds”, written by Amy Tan, the character Jing-Mei appears to be rebelling. But, what is she rebelling against? I feel she is rebelling against her mother’s competitive relationship with her Auntie Lindo and her daughter, Waverly. She is struggling to establish her identity by purposely not measuring up to her mother’s standards. This in turn, allows her to enforce her boundaries.

Jing-Mei’s mother wanted the best for her; she had very high hopes for her. Jing-Mei’s mother wanted the “perfect child”. She may have wanted this “prodigy child,” due to sibling rivalry. As the story begins, the stench of ongoing competition is made apparent when Jing-Mei’s mother snorts, “What does Auntie Lindo Know” (2)? There is an unspoken, but well known big sister little sister, love-hate relationship; which ironically, is very similar to the struggles that mothers and daughters experience.

Younger children may look up to their older siblings and try to emulate them. And this is important since older children tend to influence the actions and behavior of younger siblings. Sibling rivalry or childhood conflict teaches us how to relate to others. If we're struggling with adult sibling rivalry, our experiences can change how we communicate with our partner or our children. Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen,’ Adult Sibling Rivalry - How It Starts- Fighting With Your Grown Brothers and Sisters”, Time Magazine, July 10, 2006.

This transgenerational feud was at the core of Jing-Meis’ mother’s incessant desire for her to force Jing-Mei to become who she wanted her to be. Causing Jing-Mei to rebel and to also plead with her mother to see her and accept her for who she was. She gained strength each time she rebelled. “I failed her so many times, each time asserting my own will, my right to fall short of expectations”(79). She made the choice to be herself; and enabled herself to move beyond being a “Pleading Child” and into a woman “Perfectly Content”.

Two Kinds Amy Tan Outline

Thesis: In Two Kinds, Amy Tan uses defiant americanized Jing-Mei and her native mother’s expectation of obedience to depict the clash of the cultures and its effect on the relationship between the two.

I. Jing-Mei is overpowered by her hopeful and ambitious mother who believes that anything is possible and is willing to take any measures to achieve it: however her ambitious nature weighs heavy on Jing Mei and places strains on their relationship. a. “My mother believed you could be anything you wanted to be in America” I. “Like many immigrants to the United States, Jing-mei’s mother has created visions of her adopted country as a land of opportunity where all dreams may be realized (Brent)”

II. Culture aspect because mother holds ambitions shared my immigrants and childlike faith B. “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 be instantly famous” I. “Opening paragraph introduces an element of irony in the narrator’s attitude toward her mother’s vision of America as a place where “you could become anything you wanted to be (Brent)”. II. Her mother has unreal expectations because she expected her to achieve greatness instantly

C. “Soon after my mother got this idea about Shirley Temple, she took me to the beauty training school in the Mission District and put me in the hands of a student who could barely hold the scissors without shaking.” I. “Her mother’s American dreams, function as a symbol of hope for a brighter future for her daughter(Brent)” II. Her mother is doing what she believes to be best for Jing- Mei but is causing her to resent her.

III. “When she looks in the mirror one night, she sees only her mother’s of her as a failure and a disappointment(Brent)” II. Her mother’s asian culture means that pride and honor paired with the sacrifice of her other children make Jing- Mei an outlet for her mother to channel all her hopes and dreams into. A. “And after seeing, once again, my mother's disappointed face, something inside me began to die.” I. “Jing-Mei’s sense of failure to embody her mother’s hopes and dreams is...distressful (Brent)”.

B. “Three days after watching the Ed Sullivan Show my mother told me what my schedule would be for piano lessons and piano practice.” i. again her mother is trying her best to make Mei-Jing be better than she was trying to vicariously live through her Conclusion: Although Mei-Jing initially resents her mother’s cultural exceptions of her initially she then realizes as she comes of age that her mother only has her best interest in hear. The piano symbolizes the struggle to stay true to herself but also trying to remain obedient and respectful to her mother. Acceptance of the piano as a gift symbolizes her mother’s forgiveness of her. Coming of age means maturity for Mei-Jing and regret towards her actions when younger.

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