In addressing Amy Tan's "Two Kinds," from her novel The Joy Luck Club, please provide ideas for a thesis statement  for this short story. 

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booboosmoosh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Amy Tan's "Two Kinds" is part of her collection, The Joy Luck Club. Throughout the book, the author looks at the relationships between the daughters and mothers in the Woos' extended Chinese-American family. The stories are not strictly autobiographical. For instance, in "A Pair of Tickets" (from the same book), Jing-Mei Woo (or June) travels with her father to discover family members in China, thus solidifying her connection to her Chinese heritage. However, in Amy Tan's life, her father died in the 1960s and it was with her mother that she traveled to China. In the story and in real life, being Chinese was not a good thing—not something that brought a sense of pride or cultural identity. In both stories, the outcome to the story and Tan's real life is, however, the same. Tan notes:

As soon as my feet touched China, I became Chinese. 

In "Two Kinds," June speaks of her mother's idealism: her belief that in the American dream (having immigrated from China)  all things are possible. June has a cousin Waverly (again, not related by blood but by culture) that is very talented in playing chess, and June's mother imagines her daughter (June) will be a prodigy—a child genius. While they try several different plans as to what June will be, her mother settles on June's future as a great pianist. At the beginning of this journey, June is as excited as her mother, but for different and sad reasons:

In all my imaginings, I was filled with a sense that I would soon become perfect. My mother and father would adore me. I would be beyond reproach.

June's own inner voice warned her that if the prodigy did not get moving, it would disappear from within her...

And then you'll always be nothing.

In the story, June feels constantly at odds with her mother. She pretends to practice her piano, but in truth takes advantage of her aging, hard of hearing, nearly blind instructor—ignoring him whenever possible. When the day of her recital takes place, June imagines that having heard the music and having spent a little time practicing, she will magically dazzle the audience. Her performance is terrible. This "failure" solidifies a deep-seated war of wills between June and her mother. 

Tan's writings reflect her own personal struggles with Chinese parents and their cultural expectations that conflict greatly with the wishes of their American-born children:

In her first two novels, especially, Tan writes of the pressures her young Chinese American characters feel as they try to meet high parental expectations while also craving a normal carefree childhood.

June begs her mother to accept her for who she is; June's mother asks not for genius, but that June simply do her best. June's rebellious nature destroys something in her mother:

…my mother's expression was what devastated me: a quiet blank look that said she had lost everything. I felt the same way...

The title of the short story comes from something June's mother says:

Only two kinds of daughters…those who are obedient and those who follow their own mind.

June delivers the final blow in announcing to her mother that she wished she was like the two daughters her mother had been forced to leave in China when she had fled the Communist forces—dead! Her mother seems to shrivel in front of her face, "…a small brown leaf, brittle and lifeless." From that point on, June believes that she disappoints her mother in everything she does. June does not believe, as her mother does, that she can be anything she wants to be: she can only be herself.

Years later, June is surprised when her mother offers the piano to her for her apartment. June sees this as a sign of her mother's forgiveness. She tells her mother that she won't be able to play, but her mother insists she can do anything she puts her mind to—showing that she believed still in her daughter's capacity to succeed…even more than June believed herself. June doesn't take the piano home, but some time later decides to have it tuned. Her mother had died a few months before when June went to her parents' place to pack up her mother's things. She sits down to play the piano and finds that it sounds beautiful. She is even able to play the music she finds stored in the piano's bench…the song she had played on that disastrous day at her recital. The song is called "Pleading Child." Then she looks at the song across from it, entitled "Perfectly Contented." June realizes as she plays them that while they are different, they have notable similarities.

After I played them both a few times, I realized they were two halves of the same song.

For all the time June had been unable to connect with her mother because of their differences, she had never realized that they were more closely connected than she had ever understood.

Part of the difficulty is that the Chinese mothers in the story expect their daughters to automatically understand what is expected of them, as if the knowledge were passed through their genes. They never explain what they were themselves taught in China because the Chinese mothers never learned that way; but because the American culture in which their daughters are being raised does not support this kind of "learning," the children never understand what their mothers want them to know. June notes:

My mother and I never really understood one another. We translated each other's meanings and I seemed to hear less than what was said, while my mother heard more.

This creates a chasm between June and her mother. It is not until she sees the songs next to one another that June understands, finally, that she and her mother are simply two variations of the same theme.

Because the story revolves around relationships between mother and daughter, I would write my thesis statement to reflect this component. It does not need to specifically concentrate on relationships between mothers and daughters. It could generally address the struggle that parents and children face in trying to understand the two very different worlds each one occupies. For while we may believe we know what another person is going through, can this ever really be true? A mother was once a child and a teenager herself, but it was during a different time in society. For Suyuan (June's mother), her past was based in an entirely different era and culture. Even the forms of communication in China and America are vastly different. Another element of the story concentrates upon the inability of this mother and daughter to communicate effectively, especially because of the difference of the two cultures in which they have been raised. So I would reflect in the writing the difficulty of developing functional communication and relationships in the face of changing times and cultures. My thesis statement would be something like:

While Jing-Mei and her mother struggle to communicate and relate with each other because of the different eras and cultures in which each has been raised, Jing Mei discovers years later than for all of the differences they had, she and her mother were simply like two parts of the same song, intricately connected, even while at first they seemed different and unrelated.

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Two Kinds

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