For many young girls growing up through their teenage and young adult years, their mother is a figure of both love and conflict at different stages throughout their development. Though you may argue and come to blows over the course of your growing, your mother is also the person who you tend to reach out to for support when you need it most. The theme of complicated mother/daughter relationships is one that is explored in Amy Tan’s 1989 short story ‘Two Kinds’, a work that includes a relationship between a Chinese mother and young daughter growing up with different culture values and dream in America.
In the beginning of the narrative, daughter Ni Kan is equally as excited and motivated to become a prodigy as her mother is. She imagines herself in many different roles that all point to her becoming a perfect person, now matter what the destination, and this feels like ultimate approval from her parents. However, we see this begin to turn as her mother’s obsession begins to border in the extreme, with forced tests on a daily basis. This obsession turns in taking piano lessons, something that becomes the main focus of her mother’s determination and vision.
As the plot unfolds, we begin to see that the author is using piano symbolism to suggest many different things. For Ni Kan, her inability to master the piano is representative of the overall pressure that her mother is putting on her, but in opposition to this, her mother simply sees the music lessons as a way to help her daughter become the very best that she can be. In typical teenage fashion, these tensions result ii Ni Kan rebelling against her mother’s wishes, skipping practise and not putting in her best efforts. This culminates in the character performing extremely badly at a talent show that is attended by both her parents her friends from the Joy Luck Club. After experiencing this great shame, Ni Kan chooses to give up the piano completely.
As the story progresses, we see both characters grow and age out of their combative relationship, and this is visualised in the novel when as an adult, Ni Kan is once again offered the chance to learn the piano by her mother and this time around make the heartfelt and determined choice to re-tune and embrace the family piano.
In conclusion, it would be fair to say that ‘Two Kinds’ is a prime example of the thematic trope of a mother trying to live her own wants and desires through her unwilling daughter. Frustration is displayed on both sides of the argument in the form of the daughter and the mother characters, and the author gives a good sense of the frustrations and ruined expectations that can arise when you do not effectively communicate as a family and become self aware enough to know when you are pushing somebody too far or disregarding their personal needs and wants.