"Two Kinds'' is the last story in the second of four sections of Amy Tan's immensely successful first book, The Joy Luck Club. Tan intended the book to be read as a loose collection of interrelated stories, but it is often referred to as a novel. Several of the stories appeared in periodicals separately, many of them in Atlantic Monthly, which purchased the serial rights to the book prior to its publication. "Two Kinds'' was initially published in the Atlantic in February 1989, one month before the book was released.
Like all the stories in the book, "Two Kinds'' is concerned with the complex relationships between mothers and daughters. In particular, Tan's subject is the distance between mothers who were born in China before the communist revolution and thus have been cut off from their native culture for decades, and their American-born daughters who must negotiate the twin burdens of their Chinese ancestry and American expectations for success.
In this story, the narrator, Jing-mei, resists her overbearing mother's desire to make her into a musical prodigy in order to compete with one of her friend's daughters. The narrator recalls these events after a period of more than twenty years and still struggles to understand her mother's motivations.
"Two Kinds" contains all the elements that won Tan the well-deserved praise she received for her first book. It shows off her keen ear for the fractured English of the older generation (Tan was trained as a linguist, after all), and her sharp eye for detail in recreating the domestic scenery of mothers and daughters, especially in her descriptions of food and clothing.