Two Kinds is an interesting story in the second segment of Amy Twos book The Joy Luck Club (Tan 132). The book depicts a complicated mother-child relationship experienced by the protagonist. It explores diverse themes and revolves around the pre-communist revolution era. The protagonists mother is a typical Chinese woman who feels the burden of relying on the American success story (Tan 132), by trying to balance between her traditional values and following the American dream. The protagonist, Jing-Mei, is subjected to various experiments by her mother in an attempt to convert the girl into a child prodigy (Tan 133). This paper aims to critically analyse the relationship between Jing-Mai and her mother with specific focus on the latter obstinate attempts to turn the former into a child prodigy. It further aims to explore the psychological journey of the two to actualize such a dream and the various pressures they endure. I specifically have an interest in this topic because I am a parent and I would like to investigate the effects of coercing children into becoming prodigies or something remotely similar.
Amy Tans Two Kinds is a story that explores the often complicated relationship between a daughter and a mother. Much as daughters would like to think that they are very different from their mothers, they are very much alike in mannerisms.
Liz Brent, a writer, does an overview that focuses on the cultural aspect of the relationship between the protagonist and her mother. It centralizes on the struggle Jing-Mai experiences in trying to define her own identity other than what her mother expects her to be. This overview proves to be important because it puts into the context how the two cultures are certainly different but merge in the end to make Jing-Mai what she is today. She experiences a mental conflict as she struggles to handle her mothers conservative notion of Chinese culture and her own perception of American culture. This struggle is festered by her mothers fixation on the American dream. Like many immigrants to the United States, Jing-Mei’s mother has created idealized visions of her adopted country as a land of opportunity where all dreams may be realized (Brent 3). She feels that she is entitled to share in something and that nothing short of success should define her immigrant status. She also feels the weight of making the best out of her child and therefore strives to try everything to do this. Her conviction is evidenced by her words, You can be anything you wanted to be. Her mothers optimism is both admirable and naive. She thinks that creating a child prodigy is solely reliant on hard work and not talent. This paints her as a mother who is only interested in realizing her interests rather than those of her child. The genesis of her optimism is explained in the part of the book when she migrates from China to the United States. As a result, she loses everything she had including hopes for a better beginning. Additionally, she loses two daughters before Jing-Mai. The burden to succeed is evident, especially when Jing-Mais mother incessantly creates new projects for her to try in an attempt to actualize the American dream.
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The mothers obsession of creating a child prodigy is fuelled by the media and the images she sees on television (Brent 1). She is extremely bothered that other children can make something of themselves, but her daughter fails to achieve the same. She obviously concludes that Jing-Mai simply does not put enough efforts to realize the opportunities that are before her. She trivializes what it means to be a child prodigy since it is not merely based on hard work but the childs initial talent. All these attempts to make Jing-Mei great stifle her individuality, and she greatly struggles to make her mother accept her for who she is rather than whom she could be.
This develops a roller-coaster of self-loathe towards herself (Jing-Mei) partly because she feels that she constantly fails her mother by not being what she ought to be. She resents the process of having her hopes raised then soon dashed by her failure (Brent 3). It is an exhausting cycle that will definitely have a bad effect on her personality and will make her questioning forever her value with regards to her mother. She feels that her mother should accept her as the normal child that she is rather than trying to convert her into an illusion of a prodigy. The situation is made worse by the culture that Jing-Mai and her mother stem from, in which obedience and servitude beat everything else. By virtue of compliance, Jing-Mai has to play the piano because her mother has sacrificed greatly to have her take the lessons. However, Jing-Mai does not exert herself to learn how to play the piano proficiently. The climax of the plot is when the wound of Jing-Mais frustration and self-doubt festers, and she utters impulsively that she would rather not be her mothers daughter because the expectations are too high. Brent concludes by referencing the need of the protagonist to acquire her identity while trying to maintain cultural responsibility towards her mother.
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Kirsten Dinnall Hoyte, an award-winning writer and educator, also analyses the contradiction in the story and the cultural aspects of it. Her analysis is of importance as it clearly states the cultural identity crisis that ails Jing-Mei and how she strives to reconcile her ethno-American personality with personal and familial conflicts that surround her. The story perceives the protagonist in two dichotomies as a foreigner and as a prodigy. Jing-Mae feels like she is a failure in her mothers eyes because she has not worked hard enough despite her sacrifices. She almost thinks that her actions are unwarranted and selfish to say the least. Hoyte discusses her own struggles in relation to Tans book and the myriad of decisions and experiences she combats as a child to strive for excellence and nothing short of that, As I read that mother’s words, I heard my parents and countless childhood teachers talk of the ways in which I did not live up to my potential (Hoyte 161-169).
She discusses the sacrifices that immigrant families make in order to succeed in the land of opportunities and her failure to realise what privilege she actually enjoys because of her parents wish to see her succeed in life. Later on, Jing-Mai reconciles her resentment and self-doubt with hope when she realizes that indeed her mother has her best interests at heart. She realizes that one can never really have a solid identity.
According to Kate Bernheimer, an American fairy-tale writer, scholar and editor, Jing-Meis relationship with her mother is the one that is crippled with isolation and complication (Bernheimer 2). She does an excellent analysis of how maternal relationships are often complicated because the daughters think they are very different from their mothers.
The crisis between Jing-mei and her mother in Amy Tan’s “Two Kinds” is grave and of a classic type of interest to psychoanalytic theorists: the peculiar love/hate entwinement between mother and daughter which hinges on ideas of identity and abandonment. In this story, the tug of war over Jing-mei’s identity is essentially tragic; for either one to give in will mean a loss for both (Bernheimer 3). This quote succinctly describes the torture Jing-Mei undergoes to understand her identity.
Jing-Mai fails even more when she does not realize that the only battle she should have been fighting is within her. Her identity is solely based on her mother and her eternal need for her mothers approval while simultaneously hoping that her mother would forgive her for her not trying hard enough to realize her dreams. However, some of Jing-Mais decisions are influenced by the assumption that her mother does not want her and therefore, prepares her for the failure all the time by having enormous expectations of her. Towards the storys conclusion, Jing-Mai finds the musical score of the piece she played when she was younger; she played it poorly and therefore once more failing her mother. The title of the score is symbolic of her wishes as a child to be accepted by her mother, regardless of whether she is talented or not.
Based on my observations, it becomes clear that parents sometimes wield too much pressure on their children to the extent that they cannot fully actualize their true identities and bloom at their pace. Parents have grand expectations and by trying to coerce their children to become child prodigies only prepare them for failure. Child prodigies already face gigantic challenges in their lives, and this is only worse for children whose parents aim to emulate the former without knowing that every child is gifted differently. These children are forced to become brilliant performers and live the life their parents expect of them often missing out the joys of their own childhood. I found these sources enlightening because I have an 18-month old child whom I would like to raise without immense pressure to be someone they are not. It is important that parents accept their childrens capability or lack thereof to foster holistic individuals who are confident in themselves in the society.