“Two Kinds” by Amy Tan is a short story that takes the belief in the American Dream to the extreme. Told by a first person narrator, the story recalls the childhood of young girl who is the child of Chinese immigrants. The mother works cleaning the homes of those more fortunate and she is intent on her daughter becoming a child prodigy. Before leaving war torn China, the mother lost a set of twins, and now wants to see her Chinese American daughter succeed but at a steep price. At first, the daughter believes in becoming a child prodigy and shares her mother’s enthusiasm, scouring through second hand magazines for stories of children who were successful prodigies. Finally, after watching a piano performance by a young Chinese girl on the Ed Sullivan show, they settle on the piano as her claim to fame.
Unfortunately, her piano teacher is near blind and deaf, and she does not practice. She lacks motivation. Her mother tries to impress upon her that she does not have to be a prodigy but she does have to be her best. After demonstrating her lack of practice during a piano recital, she quarrels with her mother, telling her that she wishes she were dead like her twin sisters. Her mother tells her that there are “Only two kinds of daughters,” “Those who are obedient and those who follow their own mind.” She is the wrong kind of daughter and goes on to be an average student who never excels at anything while keeping a guarded relationship with her mother. When she turns thirty, her mother offers the piano to her. When she says that she probably could never play it, her mother insists again that she is just not trying.
After her mother dies she sits down at the newly tuned piano and is astonished at how easily she is able to play a piece from her youth. It is then that she realizes that it is actually two pieces: one called “Pleading Child” and the other, “Perfectly Contented.” Only then does she realize that they are two parts to the same piece of music.