What are the symbols and conflict of "Two Kinds" by Amy Tan?

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litteacher8 | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The story “Two Kinds” is from the book The Joy Luck Club.  As with most stories, it focuses on the relationships between mothers and daughters. 

Conflicts can be divided into two categories: internal and external. 

An internal conflict is a conflict a character has with his or her self.  In this case, the young girl Jing-mei has internal conflicts because she fears she will never be special, and she worries about how her mother feels about her.

An external conflict is a conflict a character has with an outside force.  The most common external conflict is character vs. character.  Jing-mei’s main conflict is with her mother, who wants her to be some kind of child prodigy so she can brag about her to her friends.   Other external conflicts in the story include character vs. society, as Jing-mei struggles to find her place in both the Chinese and American cultures.  You could even argue that there is a character vs. technology conflict, because Jing-mei struggles to learn the piano.

Symbolism is when an object or person in a story stands for something, and has meaning beyond itself.  In this story, the piano music is symbolic of Jing-mei’s struggle to be whole, torn between the two cultures.  Her mother tells her there are two kinds of daughters, ones who obey and ones who don’t.  Again, Jing-mei becomes torn. At the end of the story as her adult self looks back, she realizes that the two songs she has been playing, the happy and sad song, are both parts of the same song.  Only as an adult does she realize she is not two parts, but one whole.

Symbols can also be people.  Waverly is a symbol in this story.  She is Jing-mei’s friend (kind of) and an actual chess prodigy.  She symbolizes what Jing-mei’s mother, and ultimately Jing-mei, want for her.  It is a distant and unachievable goal.

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