Yusef Komunyakaa

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What is the overall theme of  the poem "Happiness" and of the short story "Two Kinds?" The poems can be found here:   http://www.tncore.org/sites/www/uploads/aug_23/gr7_happiness_literaryunit_textpacket.pdf  

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While both the short story "Two Kinds" and the poem "Happiness" address the theme of growing up, each takes a different point of view. In "Happiness," the narrator of the poem is a child of unspecified age who is involved in a community-wide Fourth of July celebration. The child, who we may assume is a boy, has won "the fight over whose turn it was" and now is now turning the handle of an ice cream freezer as children and youth swim in the nearby swimming hole and little boys jump up and down in excitement. A goat is to be roasted for the dinner, but first it must be slaughtered, and Daddy Red forces the narrator to stroke its neck before he kills it. The boy manages to not cry. As the ice cream hardens, the boy's arms have grown tired and sore, but he feels happy. In the poem the ice cream is a picture of the boy's growing up. It takes a combination of the unpleasant (many cranks of the handle that cause the boy's arms ache and hurt) and the pleasant (custard and peach slices) to make ice cream. In the same way, it takes a mix of hard experiences, like being strong enough to see an animal slaughtered without crying, and fun experiences, like this holiday celebration, to make a boy grow into a man. The boy was happy because he was part of a community celebration and he had been able to pass two tests of maturity: turning the ice cream freezer handle and not crying at the slaughtering of the goat. 

In "Two Kinds," Jing-mei is also growing up, but along the way, she rebels against her mother's expectations of her. While she at first complied with her mother's wishes to make her into a "prodigy," she did not have the drive for hard work that it would have taken to succeed at playing the piano. When she botches her piano number at a talent show, she embarrasses both her mother and herself. After that, she determines she no longer has to do everything her mother says. What hurts Jing-mei about her mother's desire for her to be a prodigy is that Jing-mei feels her mother doesn't love her for who she is--that she wishes she was someone else. Jing-mei lashes out at her mother, saying some very hurtful things. Through her years as a child, teen, and adult, she continues to assert her own will over her mother's and to pursue authenticity in her life--being herself rather than giving in to others' expectations for her. At the end, she realizes that she had to go through the rebellious period she went through in order to reach a state of contentment with herself that she has as an adult. The overall theme of "Two Kinds" is that growing up means that you stop doing things just to try to make others happy and you are able to be authentic with yourself.

Both the poem "Happiness" and the story "Two Kinds" explore issues of growing up, but they take very different perspectives on the topic.

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