Two Kinds by Amy Tan: Theme & Analysis

Two Kinds by Amy Tan: Theme & Analysis
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  • 0:00 The Joy Luck Club
  • 0:30 Themes
  • 2:30 Analysis
  • 3:38 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Katherine Garner

Katie teaches middle school English/Language Arts and has a master's degree in Secondary English Education

This lesson is designed to provide you with a context for understanding Amy Tan's short story 'Two Kinds,' which is part of the novel ''The Joy Luck Club.'' In particular, we'll explore two themes to help you understand the relationship between the main characters.

The Joy Luck Club

Amy Tan published her well-known novel, The Joy Luck Club in 1989. Based on Tan's own experiences, the book centers upon the friendships and lives of four Chinese women who play mahjong together. While the book has a unifying plot, it's organized into a series of stand-alone stories, or vignettes, which illustrate important aspects of the characters' personalities or relationships. One of these vignettes is 'Two Kinds.'


Common themes, or main topics, in The Joy Luck Club include the generational differences among Chinese-American families, as well as mother-daughter relationships, specifically, the one shared by Jing-Mei Woo and her mother, Suyuan Woo.

In 'Two Kinds,' Suyuan believes that, with enough determination and hard work, children in America can become anything they want, even a genius or prodigy. Her difficult past in China, during which she lost her first husband and two babies, plays a large role in the hopeful way she embraces the American Dream, or the belief that anyone in America can succeed.

Suyuan pushes Jing-Mei into various activities, hoping that one will reveal a hidden talent. The story implies that this attitude is common among Suyuan's generation, as her friends like to brag to each other about their children's talents.

As a child, Jing-Mei resents the way in which Suyuan pushes her into various activities, especially piano. And the more she feels like she is disappointing her mother with her lack of talent, the more she deliberately tries to sabotage her own progress. Jing-Mei doesn't like how Suyuan compares her to other children her age who have special talents. The conflict comes to a head when Jing-Mei flat out refuses to play anymore and tells her mother that she ''Wishes she was dead. Like them,'' a reference to the babies her mother lost in China during her previous marriage.

No one touches the piano for many years, until Suyuan gives Jing-Mei the piano and tells her daughter she was the only one in the family who could play. Jing-Mei understands the gesture is a peace offering, as well as a symbol of in their relationship.

'Two Kinds,' as well as other stories from The Joy Luck Club, shows how reflecting on one's past can help shed light and understanding on one's relationships. As an adult, Jing-Mei is better able to understand her mother's good intentions and point of view, which as a child, just seemed like disappointment, pressure and unrealistic expectations.


'Two Kinds,' is significant as a title because at a tense point in the story, when Jing-Mei refuses to play the piano, Suyuan tells her that there are ''Only two kinds of daughters. Those who are obedient and those who follow their own mind. Only one kind of daughter can live in this house. Obedient daughter!''

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