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In Amy Tan's The Joy Luck Club, one piece is entitled "Two Kinds." As in many of Tan's stories, the mother/daughter relationship is a central theme.
In this story, one of sixteen from The Joy Luck Club, Tan shares the story of Jing-Mei (June) and her mother, Suyan Woo. (The relationship in the story parallels that of Amy Tan and her mother, Daisy.) Suyan wants her daughter to become a prodigy. Suyan believes that in America, all things are possible.
"Of course you can be prodigy…," my mother told me when I was nine. "You can be best anything."
And so, Suyan searches for something June can do beyond the normal capabilities of a youngster. Does June know all the capitals in the United States? Can June calculate extremely sophisticated math problems in her head? Nothing works. Then one evening Suyan is inspired by the appearance of a young Chinese pianist on The Ed Sullivan Show. With a new dream in mind, Suyan makes a deal with a neighbor to teach June how to play the piano. June is less than inspired, ultimately circumventing her mother's plans.
In Suyan's search to find something in which June will be extraordinarily gifted, June notices her mother's repeated disappointment in her:
After seeing my mother's disappointed face once again, something inside of me began to die.
Suyan's disappointment infers not only a belief in her daughter's potential, but also shows how much Suyan has personally vested in June's accomplishments. June's mother believes in the American dream. Her sadness reflects not only Suyan's sorrow that June does not become what her mother wishes her to be, but may also demonstrate Suyan's disappointment in herself and/or her situation—unable to tap into the promise this new country seems to offer so many others.
At the moment June tells her mother (in an effort to hurt her) that June wishes she were also dead like the children Suyan had been forced to leave behind in China when she had fled that country during the Chinese Civil War, the reader can again see Suyan's heart: that leaving her children was devastating. At June's declaration, Tan describes Suyan as "stunned" and like a "small grown leaf, thin, brittle, lifeless."
With the image of the fictional Suyan in mind, consider also Amy Tan's mother. Like Suyan, Daisy Tan also had high hopes for her daughter's success in this land of opportunity.
Daisy Tan wanted her daughter to be a neurosurgeon and a concert pianist, but Tan felt she could not live up to her mother’s expectations.
Daisy was disappointed that her daughter did not remain in the college she had selected for her daughter, and again that Amy left pre-med to major in literature. As a result, mother and daughter did not speak for six months.
Unlike Suyan who has a husband to assist in their new life in America, Daisy's husband (and son) die when Amy is young, and Daisy relocates the family for some time abroad.
As does Suyan in the story, Daisy Tan is a part of the Joy Luck Club—one she formed in China, and then later in San Francisco. Suyan and Daisy both have strong attachments to their Chinese heritage and way of life. The club allows them to spend time in the company of other Chinese women with the same cultural values and hopes for their children.
The fictional Suyan and Daisy Tan have both abandoned children in China. While the circumstances of reunion are different in later chapters of the novel and in Daisy Tan's life, both women need to come full circle in confronting the pain of separation from their children.
The parallels of Suyan and Daisy are similar in that Amy Tan relates many of the faltering dynamics between herself and her mother, in her writing: specifically the relationship of Suyan and young June in "Two Kinds."
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