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Two Kinds Amy Tan Summary Essay Consider

A young Chinese American woman, Jing-Mei “June” Woo, recalls, after her mother’s death, her mother’s sadness at having left her twin baby girls in China in 1949. June has used her mother’s regret as a weapon in a battle of wills focusing on what her mother wants her to be and what she wants. June wins, leaving her mother, Suyuan, stunned when she says she wishes she were dead like the twins. Although this scene characterizes the common struggle for power between mother and daughter, the story also illustrates the cultural division between an Asian immigrant and her Asian American daughter. These cultural clashes resonate throughout the short story, as does the discordant sound of June’s piano playing.

Wanting her daughter to be an American prodigy, Suyuan Woo epitomizes the mother living through her child. With the American ideal that you can be anything you want, she prepares and coaches June into becoming a Chinese Shirley Temple. June believes in her mother’s dreams for her and admits she was filled with a sense that she would soon become perfect.

She and her mother, who cleans houses for extra money, begin searching through the latest American magazines, such as Good Housekeeping and Reader’s Digest, for stories of child prodigies. Every evening her mother tests her relentlessly for intellectual prowess, such as knowing all the world capitals and multiplying large numbers in her head. June grows resentful as she sees the disappointment on her mother’s face as she fails to measure up to her expectations.

Discovering a powerful side of herself, June resolves not to become something she is not simply to please her mother. One evening while watching The Ed Sullivan Show on television, her mother sees a young Chinese girl play the piano with great skill. Much to June’s chagrin, her mother strikes up a deal with a retired piano teacher, Mr. Chong, who agrees to give June piano lessons in exchange for weekly housecleanings. June soon discovers that Old Mr. Chong is deaf, like the great composer Ludwig von Beethoven.

Ultimately, June must appear in a talent show to display her great talent. Her mother invites all of her friends from the Joy Luck Club, a group of four Chinese women who meet regularly to play mah-jongg, a parlor game, and socialize. Knowing she is not prepared but somehow thinking that the prodigy in her actually exists, June plays to her surprised and somewhat embarrassed parents. Only her deaf teacher applauds with enthusiasm as she completes a piece from Robert Schumann called “Pleading Child.”

June feels that after her dismal performance, her mother’s dream for her will end. A few days later while she watches television, her mother reminds her that it is time to practice. It is the final showdown between mother and daughter. June tells her mother she will never be a genius or the daughter that her mother wants her to be. Her mother explains that there are only two kinds of daughters: those who are obedient and the ones who follow their own minds. Although her mother thinks she was won by identifying which kind of daughter can live in her house, the daughter, feeling her own power, strikes the final blow by shouting that she wishes she were dead. Suyuan, because she had to leave her young twins for dead on a roadside, while fleeing war-torn China, is profoundly affected by June’s outburst. Painfully, June looks back on this as an unresolved conflict that has followed her into adulthood. She believes that this was the moment that her mother gave up hope for her only daughter’s success, and that she internalized this self-defeating attitude. A few years before her death, her mother offers her the piano for her thirtieth birthday. June accepts, seeing this as a peace offering, a shiny trophy that she has finally won back.

"Two Kinds" is a short story from the book The Joy Luck Club[1] by Amy Tan. It was first published in 1989.[2] The short story outlines the main character Jing-mei Woo’s childhood and the effects of her mother’s high expectations for her life. It is clear that some of the events in the short story reflect events that happened in the author’s life. For example, the main character's mother left China, leaving behind her family and children. The same is true with Amy Tan's mother.[3] In 1993, a movie based on the book was made.[4]

Character List[edit]

  • Jing-mei Woo (June) is the narrator as well as the protagonist. After being pushed by her mother to become a prodigy, she develops a rebellious attitude toward her mother.
  • Mother Jing-mei's mother
  • Mr. Chong is Jing-mei’s piano teacher. He is deaf and has poor eyesight.
  • Lindo Jong (Auntie Lindo) is Jing-mei's mother's friend.
  • Waverly Jong is Lindo's daughter. She is a Chinese chess champion and brags about it to Jing-mei.
  • Uncle Tin is Auntie Lindo's husband and Waverly Jong's father.


"Two Kinds" tells of a woman and daughter expecting a great life in America. The daughter, Jing-mei, wants desperately to become a "Chinese Shirley Temple" by making a career in singing and dancing. Her mother is consumed in the belief that Jing-mei is a genius, thus making her do pointless tests that she sees other prodigy children doing in magazines such as standing on her head and reciting world capitals. All of this proves to be useless and the idea begins to fade away until Jing-mei's mother decides to make Jing-mei take piano lessons with their neighbor, Mr. Chong. The ex-pianist is, however, deaf and has poor eyesight. Having a teacher with disabilities gives her the ability to play as she wants to and ultimately not learn. A talent show ensues and her mother signs her up out of pride toward her friend Lindo Jong, whose daughter is a prodigy chess player. She plays a song called Pleading Child and does absolutely terrible. She thought her mother would be mad because the whole town was there watching. Surprising to Jing-Mei, her mother says nothing to her about the recital. Later, her mother asks if she is going to the piano lessons. Thinking that the recital was bad enough for her mother to have a notion that she wanted to quit, she declined. Forcing her to go, Jing-Mei exclaims "I wish I had never been born; I wish I were dead! Like them [her babies in China]." This left a blank face on her mother, horrified by what her daughter had remarked. The piano lessons had stopped and she didn't have to do any of the trivial tests her mother had forced her to do before. Her mother dies and as an adult and Jing-mei is asked to take the old piano and her notes. She takes the piano into her home and begins playing through her old music. She finds that the song "Pleading Child" was only half of the song she had been playing. The other half was called "Perfectly Contented." [5]


  1. ^Tan, Amy. The Joy Luck Club. New York: Penguin, 2006. Print.
  2. ^Charters, Ann. The Story and Its Writer: an Introduction to Short Fiction. Boston: Bedford/St. Martins, 2011.p.783. ISBN 978-0-312-59624-8
  3. ^"Amy Tan Biography -- Academy of Achievement." Academy of Achievement Main Menu. Academy of Achievement, 17 June 2010. Web. 24 Oct. 2011. <http://www.achievement.org/autodoc/page/tan0bio-1>.
  4. ^"The Joy Luck Club (1993) - IMDb." The Internet Movie Database (IMDb). The Internet Movie Database. Web. 24 Oct. 2011. <http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0107282/>.
  5. ^40 Short Stories A Portable Anthology Third Edition By Beverly Lawn

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