Amy Tan's View on Cultural and Generational Barriers in Mother-Daughter Relationships

Categories: Two kinds by amy tan


Amy Tan's short stories, "Two Kinds" and "Best Quality," delve into the complex dynamics of mother-daughter relationships, marked by struggle and tension. These stories poignantly depict the clash between a headstrong daughter, June Mei, and her overbearing mother, Suyuan, as they grapple with the divide between what is achievable and what is realistic. While June seeks her mother's approval and admiration, Suyuan yearns for her daughter's obedience and excellence. This fraught relationship exemplifies the challenges often faced by first-generation American daughters and their immigrant mothers, rooted in cultural and generational disparities (Yglesias 1).

The inability to fully comprehend each other's perspectives is largely a consequence of these differences, with Suyuan being a Chinese immigrant in pursuit of the American Dream and June striving to assert her self-identity as a Chinese-American. This essay explores the profound impact of communication and cultural barriers on their relationship and how, through time and understanding, these barriers are overcome, leading to healing and reconciliation.

The Communication Barrier

One of the most pronounced barriers between June and Suyuan is their struggle to communicate effectively.

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Suyuan, as a first-generation immigrant from mainland China, remains an outsider in America, grappling with language differences (Xu 3). She primarily speaks Chinese and possesses limited proficiency in English, while June is more comfortable with English, albeit with a fragmented understanding of Chinese. The communication barrier between them is compounded by both generational and cultural disparities (Shear 194).

This generational and cultural gap is strikingly evident in "Two Kinds" when June, in her adolescent defiance, exclaims, "Why don't you like me the way I am? I'm not a genius!" In response, her mother retorts in her fractured English, "Who ask you be genius? Only ask you be your best.

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For you sake ..." (Tan 597). This brief exchange encapsulates the profound cultural tension that underlies their relationship, leading to contentious mother-daughter conflicts. June struggles to grasp her mother's expectations, and Suyuan is frustrated by her inability to impart her accumulated wisdom and experiences (Rubin 13). The linguistic barrier, epitomized by Suyuan's faltering English and June's adolescent defiance, underscores the communication and cultural hurdles they must surmount.

Another instance of their shared dilemma is portrayed in "Best Quality" when Suyuan offers June a jade pendant, a token of immense significance. The cultural and generational gaps become apparent as June grapples with the gift's meaning. She later encounters a bartender wearing a similar pendant, who explains that his mother gave it to him after his divorce. However, June realizes that he does not truly comprehend the pendant's significance, remarking, "I knew by the wonder in his voice that he had no idea what the pendant really meant" (Tan 222). This dialogue highlights the deeper miscommunication between June and her late mother.

As June embarks on a quest to decipher the pendant's meaning by consulting her mother's closest friends, whom she refers to as "aunties," she acknowledges, "they would tell me a meaning that is different from what my mother intended" (222). These conversations with her "aunties" serve as poignant reminders of the emotional distance between her and her mother: "My mother and I never really understood one another. We translated each other's meanings, and I seemed to hear less than what was said, while my mother heard more" (Cheng 12). This revelation is sobering, as it suggests that her mother's words may have been lost in a web of translations and interpretations. Despite intensifying her efforts to discern the pendant's significance, June becomes apprehensive that her mother's intentions may remain forever elusive, further underscoring the communication and cultural chasm that separates them.

The Climactic Conflicts

Before reaching moments of understanding and reconciliation, June and Suyuan engage in destructive conflicts that culminate in embarrassment and despair. In "Two Kinds," their conflict reaches its zenith after June's piano performance disaster, leading her to declare that she will no longer play the piano. Following Suyuan's relentless insistence on June continuing her piano lessons, an impassioned exchange exposes the extent of their generational and cultural divide. June, amidst tearful sobs, confronts her mother with, "You want me to be something that I'm not! I'll never be the kind of daughter you want me to be!" Suyuan, responding in Chinese with raised voices, insists, "Only two kinds of daughters ... obedient or follow own mind! ... Only one kind of daughter can live in this house. Obedient kind!" (Tan 153). This "two kinds" delineation reflects Suyuan's cultural expectations and customs, reinforcing the cultural web that contributes to their strained relationship. June's inability to comprehend her mother's perspective further fuels the mother-daughter conflict. Her rebellious proclamation serves as a powerful testament to the cultural and generational barriers they grapple with. The confrontation concludes with a devastating proclamation by June, leaving her mother crestfallen and her hopes shattered, "blowing away like a small brown leaf, thin, brittle, lifeless."

Similarly, in "Best Quality," the conflict between them intensifies during a crab dinner, exposing their cultural and generational chasm once more. During the meal, a dispute erupts between June and her sister Waverly, with the latter emerging victorious and humiliating June in front of family and friends. Adding to June's distress, she overhears her mother making disparaging remarks to Waverly about her lack of sophistication. Suyuan asserts, "True, cannot teach style. June not sophisticate like you. Must be born this way." June feels not only humiliated but betrayed by her mother, further exacerbating their mother-daughter conflict (Tan 232).

These climactic conflicts illustrate the depth of the cultural and generational gap between them. They underscore the emotional turmoil and tension that permeate their relationship, leaving both mother and daughter wounded by their interactions. However, beneath the surface of these tumultuous encounters, there lies the potential for understanding and reconciliation.

Moments of Reconciliation

Despite the persistent conflicts and communication barriers, there are moments of redemption in both stories. In "Two Kinds," Suyuan offers June the piano she once played as a child, while in "Best Quality," she presents her with a jade pendant, each gesture symbolizing an olive branch in their strained relationship.

In "Two Kinds," Suyuan's decision to gift June her childhood piano for her thirtieth birthday comes as a surprise. Their climactic argument at the piano bench had left the communication chasm unbridged. Once Suyuan closed the piano lid, it seemed as though she had also sealed away her dreams. Many years later, June is taken aback by the birthday gift, interpreting it as "a sign of forgiveness, a tremendous burden removed" (Tan 154). The generous gesture opens up an avenue of understanding between mother and daughter. June interprets the gift as not only a symbol of forgiveness but also as a glimmer of hope for a renewed and improved relationship with her mother. This newfound hope rekindles her pride, as she reflects, "after that, every time I saw the piano in my parents' living room ... it made me feel proud, as if it were a shiny trophy I had won" (Tan 602).

Similarly, "Best Quality" signifies a moment of reconciliation and self-realization for June. Following her mother's passing, June begins to notice her father's diminished appetite. Unbeknownst to her, she starts preparing the same dishes that her mother used to cook for her father. While cooking, June recalls her mother's belief that hot food restores spirit and health (Tan 235). Through this act, June unknowingly steps into her mother's shoes, emulating her actions and fulfilling her role. The realization dawns on her as she prepares the dishes, and she begins to understand that her cooking not only restores her father's well-being but also nourishes her own Chinese identity. She starts becoming more like her mother, the same woman she had resisted for so long.

This transformation becomes even more evident when June hears noisy tenants in the apartment upstairs and becomes annoyed, mirroring her mother's sentiments. She reflects, ""Get away from there!" I shout, and slap my hand on the window three times. But the cat just narrows his eyes, flattens his one ear, and hisses back at me" (236). This moment signifies June's awakening to her true self, embracing her mother's traits, and, in doing so, shattering the communication and cultural barriers between them.


In conclusion, the stories "Two Kinds" and "Best Quality" by Amy Tan provide a profound exploration of the complexities inherent in mother-daughter relationships, particularly those marked by cultural and generational disparities. The communication barrier, rooted in linguistic and cultural differences, sets the stage for conflict and tension between June and Suyuan. Their climactic conflicts underscore the emotional toll of their strained relationship, leaving both mother and daughter wounded and distant.

However, these stories also depict moments of reconciliation and understanding. Through heartfelt gestures and self-realization, June and Suyuan bridge the divide that once separated them. June's acceptance of her mother's gifts and her eventual self-acceptance signify the healing of their mother-daughter relationship. These moments of redemption serve as a testament to the power of love, forgiveness, and cultural identity in overcoming even the most formidable of barriers.

Ultimately, "Two Kinds" and "Best Quality" reveal that the human experience is replete with contradictions and paradoxes, much like the contrasting phases of struggle and reconciliation in mother-daughter relationships. The stories remind us that, with time, understanding, and empathy, we can dismantle even the most entrenched cultural and generational barriers, fostering deeper connections and acceptance within our families.

Updated: Nov 08, 2023
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Amy Tan's View on Cultural and Generational Barriers in Mother-Daughter Relationships. (2016, Jul 22). Retrieved from

Amy Tan's View on Cultural and Generational Barriers in Mother-Daughter Relationships essay
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