Amy Tan’s “Two Kinds” is an autobiographical look into her childhood that shows the conflict between Tan and her mother, the difference between old and new cultures, the past and the present, and parents’ expectations vs. reality. Couples of opposing elements comprise the basis of the entire story; to another extent even the title itself, “Two Kinds,” shows the friction that Tan creates. The strongest argument that Tan suggest is that this may not only be a look into her own life, rather it may be the struggles that every child and parent goes through as they come into age. As the story advances, Tan’s journey of struggle through the relationship with her overbearing mother is unraveled. A sense of emotional growth and mutual respect can be noted between Tan and her mother as the story moves on. A strong examination of “Two Kinds” defends this theory.
“Two Kinds” takes place in San Francisco during the 1950’s when a large immigration movement was taking place. Tan begins the story by taking the role of the innocent child that all readers can relate with. You can see a mental picture of Tan’s mother poking and repeating the Chinese words “Ni-Kan, You Watch!” We immediately feel attached and sorry for Tan, being the daughter of an unruly mother. Tan wrote what many of us felt growing up with overbearing parents who expected the world out of us, when we just wanted to go outside and play with the other kids. In a sense we were mentally attached with Tan as she is compared to child actors who she cannot possible compete with. Tan feels as though her mother doesn’t take her own opinions and worries to heart, rather she feels her mother is only concerned about Tan becoming famous so that her mother will be better off. These strong emotions that we feel from Tan also spark something inside most readers to immediately jump on the side of Tan rather than see past these disguised attempts of motivation. Later on in “Two Kinds” Tan’s mother comments on her rugged hair, saying that she “look like Negro-Chinese.” Tan’s emotions come out as she says to herself “as if I did this on purpose.” This small line in the story makes a large impact as we can see in our minds a mother dragging her child into the bathroom washing her hair out and yelling at her for something that the child could not control. In a sense, Tan is almost pulling out our sensitive sides, and making the readers shed a tear for the rough life she has grown through. Tan is constantly beating herself up and taking the blame for things that she could not control and one point she looks herself in the mirror and states that “it would always be this ordinary face – I began to cry. Such a sad, ugly girl! I made high – pitched noises like a crazed animal, trying to scratch out the face in the mirror.” Tan expresses these emotions, as she is upset with not being as good as her mother is expecting. Her mother makes her feel as if she is not as good as she should be, though this strong attack maybe as simple as a failed attempt of Tan’s mother trying to make her realize that she is not fulfilling her own potential.
The most important parts of the story come in regards to the piano lessons that Tan is “forced” into taking. During the course of the piano lessons Tan and her mother unleash their vented emotions in a strong exchange
“Why don’t you like me the way I am?” I cried. “I’m not a genius! I can’t play the piano. 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,”
This strong exchange is large basis for argument of the misinterpreted attempts of each character. Tan herself is only trying to be do her best as her mother wants, even though her mother thinks that she is not trying as much as she really can.
The next large change in emotions is when Tan decides not to care as much because she understands that if her teacher doesn’t notice slight errors in her playing then her own mother will not notice these errors either. By behaving this way Tan sees that her mother is not even aware of her shoddy piano playing, so Tan’s mother begins to brag to her friends of her daughter’s apparent remarkable playing skills.
” If we ask Jing-mei wash dish, she hear nothing but music. It’s like you can’t stop this natural talent.”
Tan becomes extremely upset with this boasting by her own mother, and vows to put an end to this “foolish pride.” And the next available attempt to end the pride is at the piano recital that her mother enters Tan into. Tan prepared very little for this recital and practiced poorly. Though, right before Tan’s turn to play she felt a little excited and it seemed as if she wanted to play well.
“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. I had no fear whatsoever, no nervousness. I remember thinking, This is it! This is it!”
It was as if she always wanted to play piano and it was only when she was appreciated by her parents and those around her that she would talent would flourish. Though, her lack of practice caught up with her and she ended up playing miserably, and her youthful joy soon turned into sorrow as she realized how poorly she was playing and that other than Old Chong everyone else was in amazement of how mediocre her piano playing skills really were.
Soon after this she would let down her mother and herself, by doing poorly in school and not fulfilling her potential. It was as if for all these years she was trying to get back at her mother by not performing well, and showing her that she was not the prodigy that her mother always wanted, something that we all subconsciously, at one point or another, have done. The apparent “ability suicide” that she was performing was only a way to lash out at her mother for forcing her to do all these things over the years that she never wanted to do. It is here that the reader notices that the forceful motivation that her mother performed was only a desperate attempt to save Tan from committing the same mistakes that her mother probably did before she came to America. Though, Tan never realizes this until the very end of the story when she is all grown up and her mother buys her a piano. The passing of this piano is a symbolic point in the book when Tan realizes that her mother only tried to help her all of these years. And closure is placed upon the tumultuous relationship between Tan and her mother while she plays the song “Perfectly Contented.”
The emotions and change in behaviors that Tan embraces are the growing pains of a child lost in her own adolescence. We see Tan’s relationship with her mother fall during her pubescent years, when most of our relationships with our parents fall. The relationship that Tan tries to make with the reader is almost a recommendation on how the readers should take their own parents advice into consultation while growing up. Despite the harsh form of motivation that her mother practiced, she only wanted the best for her daughter.