How does the author provide a portrait of her Chinese mother’s suffering and values without directly describing them in "Two Kinds"?

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litteacher8 | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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In “Two Kinds” Tan presents the relationship between Jing-Mei and her mother as a complex, tumultuous struggle that reveals the mother's background and values. 

Jing-Mei’s mother is a Chinese immigrant.  Although the story is from her daughter’s perspective, we learn quite a bit about her values and experiences through her desires for her daughter.

She had come to San Francisco in 1949 after losing everything in China: her mother and father, her home, her first husband, and two daughters, twin baby girls.

Her sad life behind her, Jing-mei’s mother tries to make the best of what she has.  America is a place where all things are possible.  She wants to make her daughter into a prodigy, so that she can be successful in the future. 

My mother believed you could be anything you wanted to be in America … You could become rich. You could become instantly famous.

Jing-mei does not have what it takes to be a prodigy, but her mother doesn’t see it.  She is so desperate to have her daughter become something she can be proud of that she never stops to think about who her daughter is and what she wants.

Jing-mei’s mother thinks that she should be able to direct her daughter’s life. 

"Only two kinds of daughters," she shouted in Chinese. "Those who are obedient and those who follow their own mind! Only one kind of daughter can live in this house. Obedient daughter!"

The fact that she says these lines in Chinese is significant.  She is reverting back to her traditional roots in a fit of frustration and anger.  She longs for the days when daughters followed their mothers’ advice, and acted properly.

Despite her daughter’s terrible performance at the concert, Jing-mei’s mother still wants her to continue the piano.  To her, once you start something you stick to it.

She snapped off the TV, yanked me by the arm and pulled me off the floor. She was frighteningly strong, half pulling, half carrying me towards the piano as I kicked the throw rugs under my feet.

Jing-mei’s mother is annoyed by her daughter’s defiance, and refuses to accept it.  Her will is strong, after all she has been through.

I was sobbing by now, looking at her bitterly. Her chest was heaving even more and her mouth was open, smiling crazily as if she were pleased that I was crying.

Jing-mei assumes that her mother is happy she is suffering, but her mother is more likely just relieved that she has managed to force her will upon her daughter.  She is trying to return them to the traditional Chinese mother-daughter roles, so that she can give her daughter the kind of life she wants—and needs—her to have.


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