In “Two Kinds” by Amy Tan, the mother believes that a person can become whatever she chooses in America. Jing-Mei and her mother’s relationship are often difficult. The mother expects more from her daughter than she is willing to give.
The setting for the story is in the protagonist’s home in Chinatown during the 1950s and 1960s. The protagonist and narrator is the author herself: Amy Tan. Her mother is the antagonist of the story since she constantly expects her daughter to show some hidden talent and become a star.
As a small child, the narrator’s mother wanted her child to show some kind of special talent. After listening to her mother brag about other prodigies, Jing-Mei tires of it and decides to get back at her mother. Her mother makes a trade with Mr. Chong, a retired piano teacher, to give Jing-Mei lessons and the mother will clean his apartment.
Jing-Mei learns quickly that the old teacher cannot hear. She spends most of her lessons playing the wrong notes. When it is recital time, the author embarrasses her family and herself by a humiliating performance of wrong notes.
The mother did not intend to give up on the lessons until the final confrontation between them. The narrator refuses to practice, and the mother grabs her.
‘You want me to be someone that I’m not! I’ll never am the kind of daughter you want me to be!’
'Only two kinds of daughter,' she shouted in Chinese. ‘Those are obedient and those who follow their own mind!’
Then, Jing-Mei says of the worst thing that she can think of. She tells her mother that she wishes that she were dead like all of the babies that her mother left in China. Her mother never mentions the piano again.
Finally, when Jing-Mei is thirty years old, the mother gives her the piano. She does not do anything about it until after her mother passes away, and she is putting up her mother’s things.
It is only after her mother's death that Jing-Mei begins to realize what her mother had wanted for her. This realization brings together the lesson of the story which speaks the tension a parent and child. The mother and daughter are separated by many factors — age, experience, ambition, and culture. To Jing-Mei’s mother, America is the Land of Opportunity. Her daughter could be anything that she wanted to be.
The narrator looks back over the music that she formerly shunned and discovers something that she had not noticed before. The song on the left-hand side of the page is called "Pleading Child"; the one on the right, "Perfectly Contented." Suddenly, Jing-Mei realizes that the two titles are two halves of the same song. Like the song, Jing-Mei is two halves of the same person: American and Chinese and obedient and independent.
This is the theme of the story. Her parents were immigrants to America. Jing-Mei was born in America. She is unsure who she really is. She struggles with her mother on the outside, but internally, Jing-Mei is uncertain as to whom she is