What are the themes of the short story, "Two Kinds"?
This short story above all else explores the relationship of Jing-Mei with her mother and the conflict that she experienced in her childhood as part of her journey towards womanhood and becoming confident in her own identity. The memories of Jing-Mei being constantly pushed towards excellence and being set hopelessly high expectations shows the arena of the conflict that she experienced with her mother. This is of course shown best through the piano debacle, when Jing-Mei delivers her shocking performance in front of everybody and therefore asserts her own will and makes her decision to be her own person rather than the person her mother would have her be. Note how she portrays this decision:
In the years that followed, I failed her so many times, each time asserting my own will, my right to fall short of expectations. I didn't get straight As. I didn't become class president. I didn't get into Stanford. I dropped out of college.
Jing-Mei supports this by saying that this "failure" resulted from her recognition that she could "only be" herself and could not be anything she wanted to be. The story ends with Jing-Mei's realisation that the song she played for her disastrous recital, "Pleading Child," was part of two pieces, the second entitled "Perfectly Contented." This implies that in the conflict she experienced with her mother is part of her journey of becoming a whole, strong and confident woman, and is inextricably linked with her identity now as an adult, where she has accepted herself and forged her own identity. The fact that these two pieces were "two halves of the same song" shows Jing-Mei's own acceptance of the journey she has taken to arrive at where she is now.