What literary elements are used in "Two Kinds"?

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There are many literary elements in this short story. The following is a sampling of some various types:

Allusion:Shirley Temple was a pop culture darling in the late 1930s. Her adorable curls and innocent spunk were widely adored. In this story, the narrator's mother believes that she can...

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There are many literary elements in this short story. The following is a sampling of some various types:

Allusion: Shirley Temple was a pop culture darling in the late 1930s. Her adorable curls and innocent spunk were widely adored. In this story, the narrator's mother believes that she can be a "Chinese Shirley Temple."

Simile: And she also did a fancy sweep of a curtsy, so that the fluffy skirt of her white dress cascaded to the floor like petals of a large carnation.

The white dress of this prodigy is compared to the petals of a white carnation, which also symbolizes innocence. The imagery and symbolism is then transferred to the hopes of Jing-Mei's mother for her daughter.

Hyperbole: And now I realized how many people were in the audience—the whole world, it seemed.

The entire world isn't awaiting her performance, but it feels to Jing-Mei as if an enormous crowd has gathered, which is undoubtedly amplified because of her lack of preparation.

Juxtaposition: The two songs that Jing-Mei notices when she's a grown woman are side-by-side and completely opposite: "Pleading Child" and "Perfectly Contented." These contrasting ideas are "two halves of the same song," and Jing-Mei realizes that she's been both daughters during her lifetime.

Irony: Although she has not practiced and has made a mockery of her lessons, Jing-Mei is filled with confidence as she prepares to take center stage:

When my turn came, I was very confident. I remember my childish excitement. It was as if I knew, without a doubt, that the prodigy side of me really did exist. I had no fear whatsoever, no nervousness. I remember thinking, This is it! This is it!

This is definitely not the expected reaction of a girl who is bound to fail once she begins playing songs she's barely rehearsed. The irony further propels the foreshadowing of the impending disaster of this recital.

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"Two Kinds" uses a first person point of view of narration. The narrator sometimes uses "we" when she is describing how she and her mother initially worked together to try to find a way for the narrator to become a child prodigy. But more often, the use of first person enables the reader to understand Jing-mei's own feelings and recognize that her perceptions of her mother are subjective.

Tan refers to iconic media sources to emphasize the narrator's mother's desire for the family to successfully assimilate in America. Tan uses Good Housekeeping, Reader's Digest, Ripley's Believe it or Not, and the Ed Sullivan Show symbolically; her mother sees these mainstream magazines and television shows as legitimate arbiters of talent.

The dialogue between the narrator—Jing-mei—and her mother is notable in that the daughter speaks perfect English while her mother speaks imperfect English, further symbolizing the disconnect between mother and daughter and the mother's strong desire for assimilation, which the daughter seems to take for granted.

Waverly is presented as a foil to Jing-mei. She represents, with all her chess trophies, the success that the narrator's mother wants for her own daughter.

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In "Two Kinds," there are a number of literary elements. Firstly, Jing-Mei uses a simile when she compares her "screams" to a "crazed animal" when she looks in the mirror and believes that she is a failure. There is another simile later on in the story when she describes the aged hands of Old Lady Chong. She says, for example, that her fingers are like an "old peach" that she once found in the refrigerator.

Another literary element in the story is a metaphor; it is used by Jing-Mei when she compares her words of hate to "worms and toads" climbing out of her chest. This metaphor is effective in emphasizing the anger and resentment that she feels toward her mother.

Finally, there is some irony in the story too. As a child, Jing-Mei hated the piano because it represented her mother's unrealistic expectations. As an adult, however, Jing-Mei rediscovers the piano and learns to love it. This is ironic because her feelings toward the piano end up being very different to what the reader would have expected.

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Your question touches upon a wide range of techniques that Amy Tan uses in this short story mapping the inter-generational conflict between a first and second generation immigrant. I am going to look at one of the motifs which is used by the author throughout the story, though it is worth looking more closely at the short story and seeing how the author uses figurative language in her narration as well.

One of the most important motifs in this short story is that of the American Dream and the power it exerts throughout the story, on both Jing-Mei and her mother, but also on the other characters mentioned (for example Waverley and the other Chinese families that Jing-Mei's mother brags to).

The American Dream is expressed most succinctly by Jing-Mei's mother who says "you can be anything you wanted to be in America." Coming to the land of unfettered possibilities gives so many more opportunities to immigrant families - far more than we know Jing-Mei's mother had in China. Thus we can understand the power this has on immigrants, and in particular the pressure there is for second-generation immigrants (immigrants who have been born in the States) to make the most of these opportunities. Thus we can perhaps understand the pressure that Jing-Mei is under.

The problem that Jing-Mei's mother does not forsee that although there are unlimited choices in the States, those choices also include the choice to not excel and the choice to be normal, which is what Jing-Mei chooses to do. Coming to a land of freedom necessarily involves more freedom than perhaps we would expect.

 

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