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

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

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.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial