Two Kinds by Amy Tan: Summary & Characters

Two Kinds by Amy Tan: Summary & Characters
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  • 0:03 Two Kinds of Characters
  • 0:44 Battle for Control
  • 2:15 Mother-Daughter Standoff
  • 3:01 Self-Fulfilling Prophecy
  • 3:33 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Susan Nagelsen

Susan has directed the writing program in undergraduate colleges, taught in the writing and English departments, and criminal justice departments.

Amy Tan's short story 'Two Kinds' is a portrait of a mother and daughter locked in a battle between cultural identity and autonomy, which creates a lifetime of pain for both.

Two Kinds of Characters

'Two Kinds', a short story by Amy Tan, opens with Jing-Mei 'June' Woo, the narrator, reflecting on her mother's life after she's dead. Suyuan, June's mother, fled China in 1949, and her sadness over the twin girls she was forced to leave behind is palpable. June lets the reader know that she deeply regrets using Suyuan's sadness against her in this epic battle between mother and daughter. Amy Tan's story depicts a struggle between an immigrant mother who has ideas for what her daughter should be and an Asian-American daughter who wants nothing to do with her mother's plans.

Battle for Control

Suyuan is the epitome of a mother who lives through her child. She wants to see June become an American prodigy. She coaches, drills, and cajoles her child in the belief that these actions will help June perfect her technique. In the evenings, Suyuan also has June recite the state capitals and do large number multiplication tables in her head until she masters the material.

Before long, June begins to resent her mother, especially because she cannot live up to Suyuan's expectations. In many ways, Suyuan represents all immigrant parents who push their children to succeed in an effort to give them a better way of life. June becomes the typical Asian-American daughter who feels angry and resentful toward her mother because she will not stop pushing her to achieve perfection. June is determined not to become what her mother wants; she's fighting her with all of her heart.

But Suyuan will not give up her dream of having June become the next piano prodigy. She trades housecleaning services with Mr. Chong, a deaf and almost blind piano teacher who agrees to give June lessons. June's work with Mr. Chong leads to her participation in a talent show.

Suyuan invites the members of her mah-jongg club, The Joy Luck Club, to watch her daughter play the piano. The recital does not go well; in fact, June's parents are embarrassed in front of their friends. June plays a piece by Schumann entitled, 'Pleading Child', and only Mr. Chong applauds.

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