Ideas for Group Discussions
In "Two Kinds" Tan explores the complex and often difficult relationships between mothers and daughters. In particular, she looks at the issues facing the different generations of women of Chinese ancestry: mothers who have been cut off from their native culture for decades and their American-born daughters who straddle two cultures.
1. What does Jing-mei expect will happen at the recital? Does she plan to give the kind of performance that she gives? Why or why not?
2. Why is the narrator's mother so obsessed with turning her daughter into some kind of prodigy? Besides the competition with Lindo Jong, what larger cultural forces may be encouraging her to think this way?
3. At the end of the story the narrator notices that the piece of music that she struggled with as a child ("Pleading Child") has a companion piece, "Contented Child." She realizes that they are "two halves of the same song." Explain how this can be understood as a metaphor for the story.
4. A recurring theme in Tan's work is the difficulty of assimilation into American society for many immigrants. Research your own family history and, if possible, gather anecdotes from your family history. What problems did your family encounter as they assimilated into American culture? What traditions have survived the assimilation process?