What does "Two Kinds" suggest about the conflict between personal desire and conformity?

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The text "Two Kinds" suggests that the conflict between pursuing a personal desire and choosing to conform is mostly based on the bitterness of Jing Mei's relationship with her mother while she was growing up.

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Because playing the piano is not her personal desire, Jing Mei is thrown into conflict with her mother, who wants her to not only play, but to excel at piano. As Jing Mei goes through the motions of learning to play piano, taking advantage of her nearly deaf instructor, the...

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text shows that people will only put their hearts into their passions and cannot be forced to love conformity.

Jing Mei outwardly conforms to her mother's wishes just to avoid some of the conflict, but she actually works pretty hard at remaining true to herself (and thereby not learning much about playing the piano):

I did pick up the basics pretty quickly, and I might have become a good pianist at the young age. But I was so determined not to try, not to be anybody different, and I learned to play only the most ear-splitting preludes, the most discordant hymns.

She keeps up this pretense for a year, and she is only discovered when she has to play at a recital. When the conflict between her outward conformity and her inner desires comes to a head with her mother, the bitterness that it has created within Jing Mei causes her to say unbelievably horrid things to her mother. In fact, she tells her that she wishes she were dead like her mother's other (very much missed) children.

Jing Mei never wanted to be the woman her mother envisioned, and she feels that she lets her down time after time in her life. Only when she is an adult with some life experience behind her can she play the piano just because she wants to. This happens after her mother has already died, and it is only at this point that she can see how their two desires could have become one beautiful melody together.

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Amy Tan reveals Jing Mei and Suyuan's conflict in her story "Two Kinds." The mother pushes for conformity, while the daughter struggles to find her own identity. "My mother believed you could be anything you wanted in America." Yet, she tries to force Jing Mei to be someone she's not.

Suyuan's wish is for her daughter to take initiative and follow through. Her attempt to teach Jing Mei the importance of hard work is lost on the child who merely wants to be a child. Jing Mei thwarts her mother's attempts to push her to find her potential in various pursuits.

When Suyuan finally decides her daughter will become a piano prodigy, Jing Mei is shocked and does not know how to avoid following her mother's wish. Growing more and more resentful, she discovers a way out: Mr. Chong is deaf, so Jing Mei can get away without practicing, and he will never know. Jing Mei refuses to be pushed into her mother's choice; she believes she has control over her own decisions. Because her mother always controls her, Jing Mei sees the opportunity to assert herself on her own terms.

However, Jing Mei's ruse backfires on her. She performs horribly at the talent show, shaming her mother and herself and spiraling the power struggle she has with Suyuan. Neither mother nor daughter will back down, each asserting her own power. "Only ask you be your best. For you sake." Suyuan's desire is for Jing Mei to believe enough in herself that she will be her personal best. Unfortunately, Jing Mei cannot recognize this until she has grown up and her mother has passed.

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Amy Tan’s story shows that the quest for individual identity requires delving deep into one’s authentic self, even if at great cost to those close to us. This process of self-identification may feel willful but it is an essential part of growing up.

Jing-Mei's mother has confidence in her and wants to be proud of her. Playing the piano comes to symbolize all her dreams for her daughter: “you can be a prodigy,” she tells the nine-year-old girl; “you can be best anything.” The child wants to believe this is true—she is, after all, an American, and wants to live the American dream. She is just not sure that piano is the way to achieve that, as she understands this is her mother’s dream rather than hers.

As the girl grows into her own identity, realizing she is no piano prodigy. She rebels and her mother scolds her for being disobedient, rejecting her from being her daughter. Jing-Mei’s confirmation of that rejection, although necessary, makes her feel frightened and ill.

It felt like worms and toads and slimy things crawling out of my chest, but it also felt good, that this awful side of me had surfaced, at last.

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