In "Two Kinds," how is the conflict between mother and daughter settled?

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booboosmoosh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Amy Tan's "Two Kinds," a mother and daughter disagree about the child's ability to excel to the height of a prodigy: the mother believes anything is possible with hard work; her daughter believes she is not capable of greatness—the only thing she is able to do is simply be herself.

Suyuan (the mother) was born in China. In her mind, America is a land of great opportunity and endless possibilities. It is a place of hopes and dreams. She decides that her daughter, June, can become excellent at something; she tries to teach her geography, mathematics, to entertain (like Shirley Temple), and eventually begins her training in music...specifically, playing the piano just like a little Chinese girl on the Ed Sullivan Show:

When my mother told me this, I felt as though I had been sent to hell...

"Why don't you like me the way I am?" I cried. "I'm not a genius!"

My mother slapped me. "Who ask you to be genius?" she shouted. "Only ask you be your best. For you sake..."

 

Suyuan hires a piano teacher for June, who attends lessons but soon realizes that Old Chong is almost as blind as he is deaf. She can play anything and he will neither hear the wrong notes nor see the mistakes her fingers make. This continues for a year as June meets weekly with her teacher but does not improve. 

Soon after hearing her mother brag to her aunt about June's natural gift of music, June figures it is time to deal a blow to her mother's pride, unaware that she will also feel the effects of that blow. A community talent show is organized at which June will play. All of her mother's friends and neighbors will attend. June still does not pay much attention to her music but daydreams instead. In fact, the only thing she practices is her curtsy to the applause she believes she will receive.

When the day of reckoning arrives, June's performance is miserable and her mother is mortified. 

I felt the shame of my mother and father as they sat stiffly through the rest of the show. [...] [M]y mother's expression was what devastated me: a quiet, blank look that said she had lost everything.

After this disaster, June believes she will be released from the piano lessons, but her mother has no such plan. They have a terrible argument: June rationalizes that she is not a slave and does not live in China. She tells her mother she will not play.

"You want me to be something that I'm not!" I sobbed. "I'll never be the kind of daughter you want me to be!"

"Only two kinds of daughters," she shouted in Chinese. "Those who are obedient and those who follow their own mind!"

Heartlessly, June brings into the argument her mother's twin babies that were lost in China, and June wishes she were dead like them! Suyuan loses her will to fight with her daughter any longer. Seemingly, June wins the battle and she never takes lessons again. Mother and daughter never even speak of it.

The years pass and June believes she is a constant source of disappointment to her mother.

Unlike my mother, I did not believe I could be anything I wanted to be, I could only be me. 

On her thirtieth birthday, June's mother offers her the piano, and June will take it but not until after her mother's death.

The conflict is never quite settled: mother and daughter enter a stalemate. However, when Suyuan offers the piano to her, June feels some sense of forgiveness in her mother's gesture. Ironically, the anger in the battles associated with the instrument have faded, and June finds that the piano and the old sheet music have great meaning for her. Her mother's gesture, as well as the memories surrounding her music, provide June with a deeper understanding of the dream her mother had for her—simply to be her best.

 

 

teachsuccess eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The conflict is settled by Jing-mei's stunning rebuke of her mother. Essentially, Jing-mei stuns her mother into humiliated silence through a mean-spirited allusion to her supposed maternal failures.

The text tells us that Jing-mei feels pressured by her mother's constant demands to demonstrate prodigy behavior of some sort. Basically, Jing-mei is frustrated by her mother's continued rejection of her emerging individuality. She sees the piano as a symbol of her mother's ambitions.

By reminding her mother of the babies she left behind in China, Jing-mei may be suggesting her mother has failed in her maternal duties. In Jing-mei's mind, her mother neglected to secure her daughters' futures in China. Therefore, she has little right to dictate the trajectory of Jing-mei's life.

Of course, Jing-mei's perspective is skewed by her youthful resentment. Yet Jing-mei knows her words referencing her "lost" half sisters will be effective in getting her mother to back off from her demands. Jing-mei's loud proclamation that she would rather be dead (like her half sisters) is an attack on her mother's maternal abilities.

So, the conflict between mother and daughter is settled by Jing-mei's challenging comments, which call into question her mother's integrity, motivations, and maternal authority.

ms-mcgregor eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The conflict over piano lessons is really not settled but it does come to an end when Jing-mei tells her mother that she wishes she had been one of the babies her mother abandoned long ago in China. Hurt and angry, the mother stops the piano lessons. However, when Jing-mei is about 30, her mother offers to give her the piano. The daughter sees this as a kind of peace offering but still isn't sure what motivated her mother to give her something she obviously hated.

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Two Kinds

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