Discussion Topic

Character motivations, thoughts, traits, and the moral of "Two Kinds"

Summary:

In "Two Kinds," Suyuan's motivations include wanting her daughter, Jing-mei, to be a prodigy to compete with her friend's child and to take advantage of American opportunities. Jing-mei initially seeks to please her mother but soon decides to be true to herself, leading to passive defiance and outright rebellion. The core conflict arises from their differing beliefs about success and identity, reflecting second-generation immigrant struggles.

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What are the motives of characters in the story "Two Kinds"?

The two main characters in "Two Kinds" are Jing-mei, and her mother, Suyuan. Suyuan wants her daughter to be a prodigy and pushes her from a young age to perform. Her reasons for having such high expectations for her daughter include feeling competitive with her friend Lindo and wanting the best life possible for her daughter. Lindo's daughter, Waverly, is a true prodigy, having become a national chess champion at only nine years of age. Suyuan has to put up with Lindo's flaunting of Waverly's talents, and she would like to be able to have something with which to counter those boasts. Still, she tells Jing-mei, and it is certainly partially true, that she wants her to excel "for you [sic] sake." She wants her child to take advantage of all the opportunity America offers, especially since she came from China, where options were much more limited. Another subconscious motivation for Suyuan in having Jing-mei succeed is to make up for Suyuan's two baby girls whom she lost in China. In a sense, Suyuan needs Jing-mei to live three lives in one since those two baby girls never got to grow up with their mother.

Jing-mei at first is motivated by wanting to please her mother. She buys into the efforts to become a prodigy, thinking that when she did, "my mother and father would adore me. I would be beyond reproach." This motivation is short-lived. When she realizes she is not prodigy material, she has a meeting with herself in front of the mirror and decides, "I won't be what I'm not." Now her motivation is to be herself, not what someone else wants her to be. This motivation continues to grow as Jing-mei behaves first with passive defiance and then with outright rebellion towards her mother. Her desire is to be herself and to be loved for who she is, not for what someone can make of her. 

These motivations are in obvious conflict--a conflict that cannot be resolved peacefully because the mother and daughter can't seem to communicate effectively with each other. 

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What are the key thoughts of the characters in "Two Kinds"?

The mother's most important thoughts center around how her daughter can be a success. She fervently believes, ‘‘you could be anything you wanted to be in America." This push to achieve the American dream is common to second generation immigrant families. This obsession, however, is not welcomed by Jing-mei. As the conflict between mother and daughter escalates in the story, Jing-mei finally says,‘‘Unlike my mother, I did not believe I could be anything I wanted to be. I could only be me.’’ Thus, she is fighting for her own identity, not one her mother has made up because it will bring success and wealth to the family.

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What is the moral of "Two Kinds"?

The moral, or theme, of "Two Kinds" is that when parents and their children do not communicate effectively, it causes terrible strife within the family setting and potentially harms relationships for years to come. Jing-mei feels like an awful disappointment to her mother as a result of failing to prove herself to be a prodigy or a genius in some way. As a child, when she begins to feel badly about herself, she grows angry, and she lashes out at her mother, saying truly horrible things in order to hurt her mother as she has been hurt. To Jing-mei, when she is a child, her mother seems to be trying to force her to be something she is not; to her mother, Jing-mei seems willful and disobedient when her mother is only trying to help her to be her best.

As an adult, Jing-mei wonders why her mother had given up hope, though she is too frightened ever to ask the question. When her mother eventually offers her the piano, she says,

You have natural talent. You could be a genius if you want to [....]. You just not trying.

Jing-mei says it sounds as though her mother is "announcing a fact that could never be disproved." Her mother, it seems, was never trying to change her into something she is not; rather, she simply wanted to find something at which Jing-mei would give her all so that the girl could see what she is truly capable of. Her mother was loving all along, but because the mother and daughter did not really communicate their feelings, it causes such difficultly in their relationship for years and likely even impacted Jing-mei's sense of self-worth.

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Who are the characters in "Two Kinds"?

The short story “Two Kinds” is actually an excerpt from a larger book called The Joy Luck Club, which is the story of Chinese-American mothers and daughters.

The main character in this story is Jing-mei.  She is a daughter of a Chinese mother who does not seem particularly talented at anything, but tries to please her mother until she blows up from frustration.

Jing-Mei’s mother, Suyaun, wants her to be a child prodigy.  She desperately wants her daughter to distinguish herself and be special.  She pushes her daughter and does not consider her feelings.

Old Mr. Chong is the deaf piano teacher who tries to give Jing-mei lessons and does not realize how bad she is doing.

Father is pretty much absent from the story.

Waverly is the little girl who is a chess prodigy, and the reason Jing-mei’s mother wants her to become a prodigy so she can impress Waverly’s mother, Lindo Jong.

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

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.

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

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.

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What are the main characters' traits, motivations, and values in "Two Kinds"?

In Amy Tan's short story "Two Kinds," the mother and daughter, the two main characters, appear at first to have very different motivations and values. The mother, who lost her entire first family in China, is motivated to make life in San Francisco better for her American-born daughter. As Tan writes about the mother, "Things could get better in so many ways." The mother, Suyuan, believes her daughter, June, can do anything she wants, including becoming some kind of child prodigy. The mother is motivated to do well in the United States by living through her daughter. For example, while the mother is poor, she "had traded housecleaning services for weekly lessons and a piano for me to practice on." The mother does not let any obstacle get in her way to pursue her dreams of stardom for her daughter.

The daughter is quite different in some ways. While she at first tries to be a prodigy, she then experiences so much disappointment that her dreams begin to fade. She says, "And after seeing, once again, my mother's disappointed face, something inside me began to die. I hated the tests, the raised hopes and the failed expectations." Her mother's dreams make the daughter self-protective and even self-hating. The daughter stops even trying to achieve anything, and instead when the mother gives her tests, "I performed listlessly, my head propped on one arm. I pretended to be bored." She reacts to her mother's pressure by being motivated only to protect herself.

However, the daughter is in some ways like the mother. While she does not work hard at achieving tangible goals as her mother wants her to, she instead finds something that she is good at. She "saw what seemed to be the prodigy side of me...The girl staring back at me was angry, powerful." Her dream is now to simply disobey her mother and thwart her mother's goals. In this sense, she is as powerful and motivated as her mother. In the end, she realizes that, just like the songs she plays are "two halves of the same song," she and her mother are similar in many ways.

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