How does Amy Tan introduces American Dream in "Two Kinds"?  

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Amy Tan introduces the concept of the American Dream in the first sentence:

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

However, the mother does not understand that when people express the American Dream as the possibility of being whatever one wants to be, only the concept of the opportunity to be what one desires is included. The American Dream does not provide the individual with the talent required to fulfill one's desires. In other words, just because the mother wants her daughter to be another Shirley Temple, and her child theoretically has the opportunity, Jing-mei is still not able to sing, dance, and act as Shirley could, because she does not have the talent.

After trying to make her daughter into a Chinese American Shirley Temple, the mother then attempts to transform Jing-mei into a prodigy because she has read a story about a three-year-old boy who knows all sorts of facts and figures. But Jing-mei is not able to be such a genius as this boy. Furthermore, she becomes very discouraged.

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.

One day her mother watches The Ed Sullivan Show, and she hears a child prodigy playing the piano. The child is a little Chinese girl with a Peter Pan haircut not dissimilar from her daughter's. Still, Jing-mei is not worried about anything, because her family has no piano; however, three days later, Jing-mei is given a schedule for her piano lessons and practice with a teacher named Mr. Chong. Once again, despite her mother's insistence, Jing-mei cannot become talented. She fails miserably at the talent show when she plays the piano and hits wrong notes.

Unlike my mother, I did not believe I could be anything I wanted to be, I could only be me.

Jing-mei's mother learns that America offers opportunity, but it does not transform people. To be a great actress or a piano player, Jing-mei must learn, she must practice, and she must have talent.

accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The important theme of the American Dream is introduced in this excellent short story through the idea of America as a haven where you can start your life over and achieve anything you want to, if you but work hard enough. Note how the very beginning of this story alludes to this concept:

My mother believed you could be anything you wanted to be in America. You could open a restaurant. You could work for the government and get good retirement. You could buy a house with almost no money down. You could become rich. You could become instantly famous.

This idea of America being a place where you can achieve your dreams is one that dominates the entire story, as the mother believes that her daughter could become a prodigy if she but tried hard enough. However, crucially, it is Jing-Mei who does not believe in the American Dream:

For unlike my mother, I did not believe I could be anything I wanted to be. I could only be me.

America therefore represented the land of opportunity to Jing-Mei's mother: a chance of giving her daughter the opportunities that she never had in China. This is an essential part of the conflict between the daughter and mother that drives the story.