Compare the theme of parental expectations in the two short stories, "Red Dress," by Alice Munro and "Two Kinds" by Amy Tan.  

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beateach eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In “Red Dress” by Alice Munro and “Two Kinds” by Amy Tan, both mothers live vicariously through their daughters and want them to be happy; one wants an ordinary life for her daughter, and the other wants her daughter to make something special of her life in America. There is a cultural influence on the expectations in “Two Kinds” that is not seen in the other story. In “Red Dress,” we witness a mother preparing her daughter for a high school holiday dance by making her a special red velvet dress. In “Two Kinds,” we observe a mother pushing her daughter to be a prodigy in something, anything, until they decide she will play the piano. Both mothers want better lives for their daughters than they experienced. In “Two Kinds,” the mother explains that there are two types of children, those who are obedient, and those who are not. As little children, both girls participate in their mother’s dreams, one wearing the clothes her mother makes, the other experimenting with things that would make her a prodigy. Ultimately, both girls express feelings of wanting to have their own lives. In “Two Kinds,” the protagonist stops playing piano after a disastrous performance and goes on to live an ordinary life in which she does not excel at anything but she is happy. In “Red Dress,” the young woman, who has a chance to be non-conformist when Mary Fortune asks her to leave the dance, ends up staying. She dances, and walks home with a boy only to see her mother sitting up waiting for her, wanting to hear all about the dance. She sees her mother in a different light, something that does not happen in “Two Kinds” until after the mother’s death. At the end of “Red Dress,” the protagonist explains that she may fail at always being happy but her mother will never know. In “Two Kinds,” the young woman plays a two part piano piece that she half-heartedly practiced as a child, entitled “Pleading Child” and “Perfectly Contented,” realizing that the two pieces are symbolically intertwined in her life. Parental expectations had a strong influence in each story.