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Living up to parents’ standards can be hard when they contradict with your own goals and aspirations. The short story, “Two Kinds”, by Amy Tan, shows this struggle in first person narrative form, by focusing on the effects these kinds of conflicts can have on kinship relations. Jing-Mei Woo, and Mrs. Woo, a mother and daughter, had many conflicts and disputes caused by their contrasting standards of success. The verbal and physical confrontations connected with this caused permanent damage to their relationship. Both their pride and clashing personalities inhibited their ability to truly communicate. Tan uses the symbol of Shirley Temple, and the allegory of the songs “Pleading Child” and “Perfectly Contented”, to display the lasting effects that are caused by the misunderstandings of intention through lack of communication in personal relationships.
In the beginning of the story, it is made clear that there is a lot of pressure on Jing-Mei Woo to be a “prodigy” and fit the idealized image of American success. For her mother, she only saw this exhibited by Hollywood. She longed for her daughter to be a, “Chinese Shirley Temple”. By using this perception of prosperity and accomplishment, her mother thought that she was going to be able to shape Jing-Mei into it. As first-generation Chinese immigrants, their family saw success in western culture in the form of celebrities and people on TV. This heavily influenced what Mrs. Woo wanted her daughter to strive to become. At one point Jing-Mei shared this same dream when she said, “I was filled with a sense that I would soon become perfect: My mother and father would adore me. I would be beyond reproach. I would never feel the need to sulk, or to clamor for anything”. But often with family ideals, pressure is attached to become something you may not want to be. The conflicts became apparent when Jing-Mei started to tear away from the “prodigy” label and wanted to be her true self, regardless of the expectations her mother had. The “Shirley Temple” ideal was impractical. This root idea was where her mother and her sprouted their altercations and unhealthy energy towards each other. Her mother’s anger and forceful tactics made it difficult for them to correspond with each other and figure out each other’s intentions and true wishes.
Through the metaphorical song titles, Tan expresses how the experiences we have as children, positive and negative, stay with us, but it might not be until later in life that we see how these experiences shape us. The missing communication component lasted throughout the mother and daughter’s relationship until it strained and broke when the latter lashed out verbally to cause hurt at the deep-seated anguish of her mother’s loss of twin daughters. The song, “Pleading Child”, was one that her mother made her learn as a child on the keys, and when revisiting the piano, Jing-Mei realized that the next song after that was called “Perfectly Contented”. She came to realize that, “After she had played them both a few times, she realized they were two halves of the same song”. The allegory that is revealed in this ending statement is that their relationship had reformed. Through all the conflict and pressure and trauma, her mother’s true intention was to help her. The things she experienced in her childhood shaped her into becoming who she was as a human being.
In her short story, Tan shows how the lack of communication and misunderstanding of intention causes disconnect in family. In the beginning, Tan made the characters’ standards different; her mom wanted her to become a “Shirley Temple” and she wanted to go on with her life as who she truly was. As the story came to a close it was shown that their relationship had transformed from being disembodied and chaotic, to content. This transformation highlights the importance and need for proper communication as well as the closure it can bring with it.
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