The Layers of Identity in Amy Tan's "Two Kinds"

Categories: American Dream

Amy Tan's poignant short story "Two Kinds," featured in her collection "The Joy Luck Club," delves into the intricate layers of identity, ambition, and the mother-daughter dynamic. On the surface, it appears to be a narrative about the pursuit of the American Dream through the lens of a young Chinese-American girl, Jing-mei. However, beneath this seemingly straightforward narrative lies a profound exploration of the complexities of self-discovery and the tension between individuality and cultural expectations.

The central conflict in "Two Kinds" revolves around the clash of identities.

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Jing-mei, the protagonist, is caught between her mother's vision of the American Dream and her own emerging sense of self. Her mother, Suyuan, a Chinese immigrant who has endured hardship and loss, is determined to mold Jing-mei into a child prodigy—a piano virtuoso, to be precise. Suyuan believes that in America, a land of boundless opportunities, her daughter can become anything she wants.

However, the pursuit of this dream becomes a battleground for the clash of identities. Jing-mei is reluctant to embrace her mother's vision, feeling the weight of expectations and the loss of her own agency. She resists her mother's relentless efforts to shape her into someone she is not, leading to a tumultuous mother-daughter relationship.

As the story unfolds, we witness Jing-mei's struggle to define her identity in the face of her mother's relentless ambition. She goes through phases of rebellion, self-doubt, and resistance, symbolized by her refusal to practice the piano. Jing-mei's defiance is not just an act of rebellion; it is a cry for autonomy and the freedom to define herself on her terms.

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The piano symbolizes the external imposition of identity upon Jing-mei. It is a reflection of her mother's dreams and desires, and it becomes a source of discord in their relationship. The piano represents the weight of cultural expectations and the struggle to reconcile individuality with familial and cultural obligations.

Yet, the story takes a significant turn when Jing-mei is asked to perform in a talent show. Her mother believes that this is the moment when her daughter's prodigious talent will shine through, validating her vision of the American Dream. However, Jing-mei's performance is far from the perfection her mother had envisioned. It is a flawed, unpolished rendition, reflecting Jing-mei's reluctance and her refusal to conform to her mother's expectations.

The pivotal moment in "Two Kinds" occurs when Jing-mei's mother offers her the piano as a gift. It is a symbolic gesture, a passing of the torch from one generation to the next. It is a moment of reconciliation, a recognition of Jing-mei's individuality and the acceptance of her unique identity. The piano becomes a symbol of the complexity of their relationship—a reminder that identity is not static but a fluid, evolving concept.

In the end, "Two Kinds" reveals that identity is not a singular, fixed entity but a mosaic of influences, experiences, and choices. Jing-mei's journey is not just a reflection of the immigrant experience or the pursuit of the American Dream; it is a universal exploration of the layers of identity that shape us all.

Amy Tan's "Two Kinds" challenges us to consider the complexity of identity and the tension between cultural expectations and individuality. It reminds us that the pursuit of dreams and ambitions should not come at the cost of one's authentic self. Jing-mei's struggle to define her identity is a journey that resonates with anyone who has grappled with the expectations of others and the need to forge their own path.

In conclusion, "Two Kinds" is a story that transcends its surface narrative, offering a profound exploration of identity, ambition, and the mother-daughter dynamic. It serves as a reminder that the quest for self-discovery is a universal journey, one that requires us to navigate the intricate layers of our identities and find the balance between cultural expectations and individuality.

Updated: Oct 13, 2023
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The Layers of Identity in Amy Tan's "Two Kinds". (2023, Oct 13). Retrieved from

The Layers of Identity in Amy Tan's "Two Kinds" essay
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