The Complexities and Inner Lives of Characters in Amy Tan's Two Kinds

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About this sample


Words: 798 |

Pages: 2|

4 min read

Published: Mar 8, 2024

Words: 798|Pages: 2|4 min read

Published: Mar 8, 2024

Table of contents

  1. Jing-mei's Inner Conflict
  2. The Mother's Motivations
  3. Clash of Cultures and Values

Amy Tan’s short story “Two Kinds” is a powerful exploration of the complexities of the mother-daughter relationship and the pressures of assimilation and identity for immigrants in the United States. The story centers around Jing-mei, a young Chinese-American girl growing up in San Francisco in the 1950s, and her mother, who is determined to make her daughter into a talented prodigy. Through the characters of Jing-mei and her mother, Tan expertly portrays the conflicting desires, motivations, and fears that drive human behavior and shape relationships. This essay will explore the dynamic characterization of Jing-mei and her mother in “Two Kinds,” offering a deep analysis of their inner lives, motivations, and conflicts.

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Jing-mei's Inner Conflict

Jing-mei is a multi-dimensional character who struggles to find her identity amid conflicting cultural and personal pressures. On the one hand, she wants to please her mother and fulfill her expectations of becoming a musical prodigy. On the other hand, she resents having to conform to her mother’s vision and losing her own sense of self. As Tan writes, “It was not the kind of music she liked. I was not the kind of daughter she wanted” (Tan 51). Jing-mei’s internal turmoil is compounded by her mother’s own history of hardship and trauma as an immigrant, which she narrates to Jing-mei in an effort to motivate her daughter. The story of the “prodigy” Waverly Jong, who became a chess champion, serves as a point of comparison and an unrealistic standard for Jing-mei to meet. Jing-mei experiences both pressure and guilt for not living up to her mother’s expectations.

At the same time, Jing-mei recognizes her own desires and passions, which diverge from her mother’s. She enjoys singing, and she gradually takes pleasure in playing the piano, as she discovers that it allows her to express her own emotions and feelings. However, her talent is not enough to satisfy her mother, who is convinced that Jing-mei can excel in any endeavor if she puts her mind to it. As Jing-mei later confronts her mother, “I’m not a genius. I can’t play the piano. And even if I did, I wouldn’t go on TV if you paid me a million dollars” (Tan 62). This sentence encapsulates Jing-mei’s growing understanding of herself and her own values. While her mother’s expectations may have helped her develop discipline and perseverance, they have also caused her pain and confusion.

The Mother's Motivations

To fully appreciate the complexity of Jing-mei’s character, it is essential to also examine the motivations and conflicts of her mother, who plays a key role in the story. Her mother is a proud and determined woman who has faced numerous obstacles and challenges in her life. She immigrated to the US in search of a better life, but also to escape the horrors of war and displacement in China. Her hope for Jing-mei’s future is driven by her own experiences of striving against the odds and overcoming adversity. At the same time, she is haunted by traumatic memories and grief, which she tries to suppress and overcome by focusing on her daughter’s success. As Tan writes, “Since you could never be the best, you had to excel in the attempt” (Tan 53).

The mother’s motivations are complicated not only by her own past, but also by cultural and gender expectations. She is caught between two cultures and often feels like an outsider in America, yet she also wants to fit in and belong. Her pride in her Chinese heritage and her desire to pass it on to Jing-mei are evident in her insistence on practicing songs like “Pleading Child” and “Perfectly Contented,” which reflect Chinese values of sacrifice and filial piety. However, her strict demands also reveal the pressures of assimilation and the desire to be seen as “successful” in the eyes of white Americans. Her obsession with Jing-mei’s success mirrors the “model minority” stereotype, which positions Asian-Americans as overachieving, hardworking, and exceptional.

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Clash of Cultures and Values

Ultimately, the conflict between Jing-mei and her mother is a clash of cultures, values, and aspirations. At the same time, it is a universal story of the struggle for identity and agency in the face of external pressures and expectations. The characters in “Two Kinds” are richly drawn and full of contradictions, reflecting the complexity and unpredictability of real human relationships. By exploring their inner lives and motivations, Tan illuminates the intricacies of the mother-daughter bond and the sacrifices and conflicts that come with it. As Jing-mei reflects at the end of the story, “And after seeing my mother’s disappointed face once again, something inside of me began to die” (Tan 64). The tragedy of “Two Kinds” is not just that Jing-mei fails to become a prodigy, but that both she and her mother suffer from the burden of trying to live up to each other’s expectations.

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This essay was reviewed by
Dr. Charlotte Jacobson

Cite this Essay

The Complexities and Inner Lives of Characters in Amy Tan’s Two Kinds. (2024, March 07). GradesFixer. Retrieved July 15, 2024, from
“The Complexities and Inner Lives of Characters in Amy Tan’s Two Kinds.” GradesFixer, 07 Mar. 2024,
The Complexities and Inner Lives of Characters in Amy Tan’s Two Kinds. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 15 Jul. 2024].
The Complexities and Inner Lives of Characters in Amy Tan’s Two Kinds [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2024 Mar 07 [cited 2024 Jul 15]. Available from:
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