Explain the significance of the title of the story "Two Kinds," by Amy Tan.

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carol-davis | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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Amy Tan’s story “Two Kinds” has several levels of content.  Primarily, it is a struggle between a mother and daughter.  The mother believes that in America a person can be anything that he wants to be.  Furthermore, she believes that her daughter has many talents that she could utilize. 

The story is told from a flashback point of view.  The daughter is grown, and her parents have passed away.  When she looks back, Jing-Mei can see that her mother wants her to have a chance at life and to do the best that she can do.  Her mother decides that she could be a piano prodigy; arranging for lessons with a man in their apartment building, the mother cleans his apartment to pay for the lessons.

Fighting against her mother’s authority, Jing-Mei discovers that her teacher cannot hear; therefore, she wastes time during the lessons and pretends to practice.  When she fails to do well during a talent show, her mother is humiliated but does not intend to give in to her daughter.  However, her daughter refuses to continue the lessons. The mother‘s response gives the story its name:

“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!”

Jing-Mei wins the day but hurts her mother.  She yells back at her mother:

“Then I wish I wasn’t your daughter. I wish you weren’t my mother.”  I could sense my mother’s anger.  Then I remembered the babies that my mother lost in China.  “Then I wish I’d never been born!” she shouted.  “I wish I were dead! Like them!”

No mention is ever made again of the piano lessons. Jing-Mei struggles with her mother until she goes to college and realizes that she gave her mother many heartaches. 

In addition, there are other twos that could be discussed and directly impact the title of the story.  The mother who comes from China and is the first generation in this country butts heads with her daughter who was born in America and does not understand the Chinese way of thinking.  Despite her bearing down on her daughter, the mother becomes a sympathetic character who wants only the best for her daughter.


At the end of the story, Jing-Mei becomes the obedient daughter that her mother wanted when she sits down to play the piano.  She plays the two pieces that were intended for the talent show: “Pleading Child” and “Perfectly Contented.”  Then she realizes that they are two halves of the same song.  The songs become a metaphor suggesting that she is both kinds of the daughters. 

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