“Two Kinds” by  Amy Tan

In “Two Kinds”, Amy Tan tells a story in which child (Jing-Mei) must adapt to the life of a Chinese-American.  The narrator of the story, Jing-Mei, struggles to meet the standards of her Chinese born mother. Having lost everything in China due to a state of constant war, the mother immigrates to the United States.   Insisting that her child is a prodigy, the mother refuses to adapt to American standards, and constantly places Jing-Mei under pressure. She does this out of love and hope for her child. Constantly working, the mother tries to open a gateway for Jing-Mei.  Tan creates a relationship between Jing-Mei and her mother, which due to historical circumstances, cultural differences, idealistic views of a mother, and economic disparity, leads to a constant struggle in their relationship. 

            Constant war rips through the mother’s past and their mother-daughter relationship.  Having immigrated to the United States in 1949, the mother lost everything in China. “Her mother and father, her family home, her first husband, and two daughters, twin baby girls” (Tan 222). Whilst in China, the mother suffered greatly.  First, having endured World War II and the Second Sino-Japanese war from the year 1937. up until it ended in 1945. There was much injustice in the time. The mother witnesses the horrors of war. This includes roughly 20 million dead (Bender 2014).  Her sorrow doesn’t end there. Quick on the heels of the previous wars, begins the Chinese Civil war. This is what the mother endures in her final years in China. A constant war between a communist leader Mao Zedong, and the Nationalist party (Britannica).  When over, the mother refuses to suffer any longer, and immigrates to the United States. Knowing well of her mother’s past and losses, Jing-Mei refuses to relate and instead becomes at odds with her mother. This constant entitlement by Jing-Mei causes non-stop strife in their relationship.  To a point where Jing-Mei feels as though she has to bring up the past, to end her mother’s hope. Much of what their mother-daughter relationship endures is simply due to miscommunication and the American dream.

The clash of cultures leads Jing-Mei and her mother to end all hope.  Having been born in the United States, Jing-Mei doesn’t understand the infatuation her mother has with her becoming a prodigy.  At first, Jing-Mei is all for it. Perhaps she CAN become a prodigy. The mother sees hope in her Jing-Mei becoming the ideal Chinese child.  As stated, “they try to implement Chinese traits and qualities on their daughters who have assimilated American lifestyle” (Lakshmi 2012). Then, after one too many letdowns, Jing-Mei has enough.  She is not the ideal Chinese child. She is an American child. As stated, “The Daughters in these stories are concerned only with American attitudes and habits” (Lakshmi 2012). They continue to clash over Chinese and American ideals, and that continues to strain their relationship to the breaking point.  Jing-Mei is at a loss, her mother appears to not be the ideal mother. The American mother.

Jing-Mei’s view of her mother is not what it appears to be.  Having been born in the United States, Jing-Mei suffers from the clash of American and Chinese ideals.  According to Jing-Mei, her mother should be like the ideal American mother. As stated, “Good mothers keep up with the times”, Good Mothers always express their love”, and “Good mothers trust the daughter’s choice” (Sushil 2010).  Jing-Mei does not understand. Her mother is anything but those things. Instead of an American mother, Jing-Mei gets a reality check and must try to adapt. Constant pressure from her Chinese-born mother to become a prodigy continuously places strain on their relationship.  Jing-Mei takes for granted the mother she has. One who must constantly fight against all odds. Even more obvious ones, such as their financial situation.

Jing-Mei and her mother must struggle to make ends meet or lose hope.  Jing-Mei’s life goes on, and all too well. Behind the curtains though, the mother is at constant work, to give Jing-Mei a better life.  The mother blends her work with her hope. As stated, “My mother got these magazines from people whose houses she cleaned” (Tan 223). Failing to become a prodigy time and time again, the mother continues to work, and to Jing-Mei’s dismay, takes it a step further.  Now wanting her daughter to become a prodigy pianist, the mother “traded housecleaning services for weekly lessons and a piano for me to practice on every day” (Tan 225). Despite all this, Jing-Mei still refuses to give it her all. Setting another rift in their mother-daughter relationship.

The story sought several ways to show us the disarray between the mother-daughter relationship.  Constant war and loss changed the mother. It urges her to better herself and her daughter’s life.  This led to Jing-Mei refusing to relate to her mother. Cultural differences between a Chinese-Born mother and an American daughter put a constant strain on them both, due to either not willing to adapt.  A daughter’s ideal view of an American mother made her question her mother’s love. And economic circumstances are a final barrier in their path to hope. One could simply say it was all due to miscommunication.