"Two Kinds" by Amy Tan is about individuals struggling with complex sets of external forces that regulate and define their lives. The external forces may be represented by laws, religion, tradition, and society. How does the author perceive this relationship?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

External forces play an integral part in the plot of “Two Kinds” by Amy Tan. Both mother and daughter struggle with at least two of the external forces. They are influenced by both society and tradition.

The first sentence of the story, “My mother believed you could be anything you wanted to be in America,” demonstrates how Suyuan Woo’s thought process was influenced by society. The mother left her broken life in China with the belief she could rebuild a better one in the United States.

Social norms in the U.S. would allow her and her loved ones to accomplish anything they chose to, including her daughter, Jing-mei, becoming a child prodigy. The external influence of society could also be detrimental to relationships as demonstrated by the strained relationship that develops between mother and daughter when the daughter does not live up to expectations. Jing-mei’s cousin, Waverly, becomes a chess whiz, while Jing-mei struggles to see herself as anything more than an ordinary girl. She chooses to establish her own identity, never achieving the social goals set by her mother.

Tradition influences the mother-daughter relationship, and is evident when Jing-mei refuses to practice piano after her failed concert. Although Suyuan Woo left China, she reverts to her native language and expectations when dealing with her daughter’s need for independence. Traditions die hard.

"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 retorts that she would rather not be her mother’s daughter if that is the case.  The daughter revolts and refuses to live by these expectations. Unfortunately, the rift between the two lasts for the rest of the mother’s life.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial