Two Kinds

This study guide will help you analyze the short story “Two Kinds” by Amy Tan (1989). We will show you examples of elements in the text that will be relevant for your analysis. In these notes, we will focus on the summary, structure, characters, setting, narrator and point of view, language, theme and message.

Amy Tan (b. 1952) is an American writer. She is mostly famous for her novel called “The Joy Luck Club”, in which she explores the relationships between Chinese mothers and daughters, focusing on the way daughters struggle between American and Chinese identity.

Excerpt from the study guide:

The tension points of the story involve Jing-mei failing at something her mother makes her do, and her mother’s resulting disappointment. Jing-mei’s repeated failures increase her internal conflict: “And after seeing, once again, my mother’s disappointed face, something inside me began to die.” This internal conflict is expressed by Jing-mei attempting to scratch out the face in the mirror, where she sees herself as sad and ugly. The story reaches a point of no return when Jing-mei decides she will not allow herself to become what her mother wanted her to be: “I won’t let her change me, I promised myself. I won’t be what I’m not.” 

From then on, there is an external conflict between Jing-mei and her mother every time her mother makes her do something, such as when her mother signs her up for piano lessons. The tension rises significantly in the lead up to the piano recital, as readers are aware Jing-mei has not practiced enough to perform to an audience. The tension peaks as the performance is a disaster and both she and her mother are humiliated.

Back at home, the tension rises further as her mother continues to try to make Jing-mei practice the piano. Jing-mei expresses her wish of not being her daughter, and that she was dead instead, like her half-sisters back in China. Their argument brings about the climax of the story, as Jing-mei’s words hurt her mother deeply, and she withdraws from the conversation: “It was as if I had said magic words. Alakazam! – her face went blank, her mouth closed, her arms went slack, and she backed out of the room, stunned (..), lifeless.” 

The tension falls, as neither mention the argument again, and Jing-mei no longer attends piano lessons. It is clear, however, that the argument continues to affect both of them and Jing-mei continues to disappoint her mother by not performing well in school and dropping out of college.

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Two Kinds

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