Two Kinds Summary
by Amy Tan

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Two Kinds Summary

"Two Kinds" is a short story by Amy Tan that explores the conflict between Jing-mei, a first-generation American, and her mother, a Chinese immigrant 

  • Jing-mei’s mother wants her to become a child prodigy, but Jing-mei resents her mother’s lofty expectations.
  • Jing-mei’s mother arranges for her to take piano lessons, but Jing-mei takes advantage of her teacher’s blindness and deafness to avoid practicing. 
  • Jing-mei performs terribly at a talent contest, but her mother still insists that she keep practicing. Frustrated, Jing-mei exclaims that she wishes she was dead, shocking her mother and ending the effort to make her into a prodigy.



“Two Kinds” is a short story by Amy Tan, and it is one of the sixteen interconnected short stories that comprises Tan’s novel The Joy Luck Club. “Two Kinds” was first published independently as a short story in Atlantic Monthly in 1989, one month prior to the publication of The Joy Luck Club. Much like Tan’s other works, “Two Kinds” presents a semi-autobiographical look into the experiences of Chinese and Chinese American women, with a focus on intergenerational conflict. The protagonist, Jing-mei, is a first-generation American, and she narrates the story as a retrospective look back on her childhood in the wake of her mother’s death. Her mother, who immigrated to the United States from China in order to escape the Chinese Communist Revolution, pressured a young Jing-mei to become a child prodigy. Jing-mei resented this pressure, and her relationship with her mother was plagued by miscommunication and unspoken tension as a result.

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Plot Summary

“Two Kinds” is Jing-mei Woo's reflection on her mother’s efforts to make her into a child prodigy. Jing-mei’s mother left China under traumatic circumstances in 1949, leaving behind her entire family, including her two infant daughters. After settling in San Francisco, California, she fully embraced the attitude that anything was possible in the United States. She tried to instill this belief in Jing-mei by telling her that she can be a child prodigy.

Jing-mei’s mother’s initial efforts to make Jing-mei into a child prodigy involve trying to make her into a “Chinese Shirley Temple.” This results in Jing-mei receiving a “peter pan” haircut after an apprentice hairdresser fails to give her curls like Shirley Temple. Jing-mei dreams of one day becoming the “perfect” prodigal daughter that her mother believes she can be. However, she worries that if she does not discover her hidden talents soon, her inner prodigy will “disappear” and she will “always be nothing” in her mother’s eyes. 

Every night after dinner, Jing-mei and her mother look at magazines featuring stories about amazing children. Jing-mei’s mother quizzes her on various topics—including state and national capitals, complicated mathematics, and weather prediction—in hopes that she might possess a talent like the children in the stories. As time passes, Jing-mei becomes increasingly distressed by the “raised hopes and failed expectations” that the quizzes represent. One night, she looks in the mirror and is overcome with grief at the sight of herself. She worries that she will always be ordinary, and considers herself sad and ugly. However, this grief quickly turns into anger, and she embraces her feelings of resentment, vowing to never allow her mother to change her. 

From this point onwards, Jing-mei stops putting effort into her mother’s tests, instead listlessly daydreaming until her mother gives up. Eventually, her mother stops bringing up Jing-mei’s apparent prodigious potential. All that changes, however, when her mother sees a young Chinese girl perform a piano recital on the Ed Sullivan Show . Jing-mei’s mother’s hopes for her daughter are rekindled by the resemblance between the young piano prodigy on the television and Jing-mei. Jing-mei initially does not pay much attention to her mother’s...

(The entire section is 1,281 words.)