Who were the two main characters in "Two Kinds"?

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sciftw eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Jing-mei and Suyuan are the two main characters in this story by Amy Tan. Jing-mei is the daughter of Suyuan, and the short story tells of how the two characters battled over the process of turning Jing-mei into a child prodigy. Suyuan has completely bought into the idea that a person can do and become anything in America as long as he or she works hard enough at it; therefore, she believes that Jing-mei can be a famous child prodigy, like the ones she sees on television.

My mother believed you could be anything you wanted to be in America.

. . .

"Of course, you can be a prodigy, too," my mother told me when I was nine. "You can be best anything."

At first, Jing-mei also believes that she can do this, and she wants to please her mother; however, after trying and failing over and over again, Jing-mei begins to hate the process and the look of disappointment in her mother's face. From this point forward, Jing-mei intentionally tries to sabotage each new plan that her mother decides to try.

And after seeing, once again, my mother's disappointed face, something inside me began to die. I hated the tests, the raised hopes and failed expectations.

. . .

So now when my mother presented her tests, I performed listlessly, my head propped on one arm.

dymatsuoka eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The two main characters in this story are the narrator, Jing-Mei "June" Woo, and her mother, Suyuan Woo.

Jing-Mei is a young woman who tells tells the story in the aftermath of her mother's death.  She recalls her childhood, when, in reaction to her mother's insistence on living her own hopes and dreams through her daughter, she was bitter, insecure, and rebellious, caught between two cultures and unable to live up to her mother's unrealistic expectations.  Jing-Mei's mother had wanted her to be a prodigy in some area so that she could "brag" about her like her friend Lindo Jong always spoke about her own daughter Waverley.  Repeated failure eventually left Jing-Mei feeling inadequate and angry, always at odds with her mother and only wanting to be allowed to be herself.

Suyuan Woo emigrated to San Francisco in the years after World War II.  She had suffered terribly in China, having lost her first husband and twin baby girls in the War.  Suyuan came to America with the belief that in that new land, a person could achieve anything they wanted.  A harsh, competitive, mean-spirited woman, at times, Suyuan seeks to attain her ambitions through Jing-Mei, her only remaining daughter, with seemingly little concern for how the little girl might feel.