In Amy Tan’s short story “Two Kinds” we see the strained relationship between a Chinese immigrant mother and a first-generation American daughter. Throughout the text, Jing-mei’s mother continually pushes her to become a prodigy. She is so obsessive of her daughter’s excellence, that she does not see the emotional damage she creates. Jing-mei reacts negatively to the pressure. She becomes indifferent, angry, excited and hopeful; her emotions fluctuate, because she is in a perpetual struggle between her identity and the identity her mother tries to create for her. No one wins this tug-of-war; it only ends in anger and disappointment. Jing-mei sets out to become the direct opposite of what her mother wants. It just goes to show that forcefulness doesn’t work in any situation.
In the beginning of the story, Jing-mei tries to do everything right. She goes along with her mother’s nearly impossible tests, tries to become Shirley Temple’s double and generally maintains a good attitude about her mother’s constant prompting. “In all of my imaginings I was filled with a sense that I would soon become perfect,” she said. Jing-mei tried to convince herself that she could become what her mother wanted her to be. Despite the attempts made by Jing-mei, she always seems to fall short of her mother’s expectations. Her mother relentlessly pushes her, because she wants her daughter to be more successful than she is. She feels that in America, anything is possible if you try hard and practice. This is true for many things; however, becoming an overnight prodigy is not one of them.
It doesn’t take Jing-mei long to realize that she will never fulfill her mother’s demands. She is hurt because she feels that her mother does not accept her for the person that she is. Her mother’s failed hopes and obvious disenchantments crush Jing-mei emotionally. Out of her pain, she purposely projects a personality that her mother disapproves of. Her temperament becomes antagonistic and argumentative, where it is was once considerate and peaceable. She intentionally says things like “I wish I’d never been born,” in efforts to hurt her mother, as she was wounded. Despite the volatile relationship, poor attitude and numerous disappointments, Jing-mei’s mother ploughs on, even more zealously. She is convinced that she can make the average girl into an extraordinary sensation.
As the years pass by, the dreams of Jing-mei’s mother fade away. Jing-mei leads an average life, making average mistakes and basically being the average woman. Her mother finally gives up hope. She offers the piano to Jing-mei, in an effort that I believe, is to symbolize that she is letting go. It could be a peace offering, or it could just be that she finally succumbs to the realization that her daughter will always be just Jing-mei. The piano is almost like a trophy, it says “OK, you’ve won.” After Jing-mei wins she is comfortable enough to play the piano–the piece of furniture that tormented her. She is at peace playing “Pleading Child.” At a glance she notices that the other half of the song is “Perfectly Contented.” At the final stage in the story, that is exactly how she feels, perfectly contented.