Amy Tan's "Two Kinds" explores the complexity of a mother-daughter relationship through the lens of young Jing-mei, the daughter of a Chinese immigrant mother named Suyuan. The novel tells of Jing-mei's struggles to find her identity in the world, leaving her cultural identity and heritage behind in the process.
The novel "Two Kinds" by Amy Tan explores the complex mother-daughter relationship between Jing-mei, a Chinese American girl, and her mother, Suyuan. Jing-mei assumes the role of narrator in the novel and takes readers on a deeply personal journey that exposes the societal, generational and cultural differences that distance Jing-mei and Suyuan, seemingly more so every day. After witnessing the death of her two young twins, Suyuan fled Communist China for America with Jing-mei, leaving a life of political, personal and economic turmoil far behind in the process. Suyuan’s lack of formal education and career skills left her with few employment opportunities, and she set herself to work as a house cleaner, leaving Jing-mei with the burden of fulfilling the "American Dream."
Upon her arrival in the United States, Suyuan settled into a community of fellow Chinese immigrants. She struck up a friendship with another young mother, whose daughter proved to be quite adept at playing chess and showed great promise as an excellent chess player at a young age. Not wanting to be outperformed, Suyuan desperately wanted her own daughter to show exceptional talent in some area too. She spent evenings watching American television shows and reading magazines, searching for ideas of what exactly her daughter could be. After watching a magnificent piano recital performed by a young Chinese girl one night on the "Ed Sullivan Show," Suyuan found her answer: Jing-mei was to become a music prodigy.
Jing-mei played along at first, not wanting to disappoint her mother. She bought into her mother’s dream that she would essentially become a Chinese Shirley Temple — cute, charming and winning over the hearts of Americans from coast to coast. The duo dutifully watched Shirley Temple films and even dyed Jing-mei’s hair to a golden blonde hue, the same as Shirley Temple’s hair. Suyuan set the bar of expectations high, and Jing-mei was well aware of what her mother expected from her. Suyuan hired a local piano teacher, Mr. Chong, to begin teaching her daughter how to play. Mr. Chong dutifully arrived without fail once a week to coach Jing-mei, teaching her to play notes, chords and sheet music. Each evening after he left and every day in between their sessions, Jing-mei faithfully sat down at the piano to practice and practice again. But it was soon clear that she did not have the superior playing skills Suyuan envisioned: she knew it, and it was painfully obvious to her mother too. Tensions grew between mother and daughter as both realized Jing-mei would never become the child starlet of her mother’s dreams.
Jing-mei’s journey through childhood and adolescence continued to put distance between her and Suyuan. They grew farther and farther apart, separated by the high walls of age, ambition, culture and experience. Ultimately, Jing-mei rejected her mother’s wishes and ambitions in an effort to find her own identity, leaving her cultural identity and heritage far behind in the process.