Many of Amy Tan’s works focus on the life of immigrants and the way they try to adjust to their new life in a new country. The process of adaptation and assimilation is sometimes very difficult as people have to realize that their new homeland has different traditions and appreciate different values, so one must find a compromise between the past and the present. However, trying to adapt as quickly as possible, immigrants also face the danger of neglecting their traditions and thus lose their identity. Two Kinds tells a story of a Chinese family that tries to build a new life in America. In this story Amy Tan studies the conflicts arising on the basis of the identity crisis that often happens in the process of immigrants’ assimilation in a new culture.
These conflicts are multi-faceted in the story. The narrator of the story, Jing-mei, suffers greatly as her mother makes her do things she does not like. Her mother is very determined in her attempts to find a “prodigy” of her daughter and constantly forces her to do different tests to understand what talents she has. However, love to her daughter is not the main cause of her actions. The narrator’s mother had a difficult fate. She had to leave China after she had lost everything, including two little children. She sees America as a “promised land” where she would be given everything she wants. However, she cannot turn these dreams into reality, so she uses her daughter as a key that would open the world of prosperity and fame. The narrator wants to have her own life and following mother’s ideas makes her refuse her own identity and become the person she does not like. Jing-mei belongs to America much more than she belongs to China, so she does not see much sense in blind obedience to her parents as it is common in the Chinese culture.
The peak of the conflict inside Jing-mei’s soul comes after the talent show where many neighbors and friends of the family were present. She was sure that she played the piano piece quite well, but it turned out that it was a complete failure. When she saw how disappointed her mother was, she became even more depressed than before. She says, “My mother’s expression was what devastated me: a quiet, blank look” (Tan). Jing-mei refused to see anything positive in her character as her mother constantly complained that she could not become the daughter she wanted to have. All these factors made the narrator’s identity crisis deeper and much more painful. Jing-mei felt that the past of her family did not let her to build a new life in a new country that she considered her real home.
The conflicts tearing the soul of Jing-mei’s mother are no less significant. Despite the fact that, according to the narrator’s words, her mother “never looked back with regret”, it is obvious that her life in China and the tragedies that happened there torture her mind and psyche. She immigrated to San Francisco as she wanted to build a happier life, but it does not seem that she managed to achieve much success. She works as a cleaner in many houses and her job is rather tiring. They do not have enough money and cannot afford to buy a piano that was required for music classes. The mother wanted to be the person she could never become, so she shifted all her ideas onto her daughter and forced her to be responsible for her hopes. In the mind of the narrator’s mother, Jing-mei became a tool that could be used to achieve her goals. As the expectations were quite high, the mother made an enormous pressure on the daughter. All these issues led to very significant problems. Using modern psychological theories, it is possible to argue that Jing-mei’s mother transferred her own identity on her daughter and made Jing-mei reach the heights she could not get to. Moreover, the situation got further complicated as the mother’s dreams were not reachable at all as she wanted her daughter to become, for example, “a Chinese Shirley Temple” or “Peter Pan pianist” (Tan). The person can only pretend that he or she is somebody else, but true reincarnation is absolutely impossible.
The symbolism of the vignette makes the text more persuasive and deep. Two Kinds contains many symbols that appeal to the readers’ imagination. The illustrated magazines the narrator’s mother brings home from the houses of the rich people where she works as a cleaner can be interpreted as windows to the rich world. She can only look into these windows, but she can never reach what is there. She can never make her daughter learn all the capitals or become an actress. Another interesting symbol is the musical piece by Schumann that Jing-mei played at the concert. It is called “Pleading Child”. This image mirrors Jing-mei and her wishes. She is also starving for unconditional love as the only thing she sees from her mother is tests, requirements and demands. However, time passes and, after her mother’s death, Jing-mei begins to understand that in a certain sense that was the shape her mother’s love took under difficult circumstances of their life. It is very symbolic that when she came home to take the piano, she found the second part of “Pleading Child” that is titled “Perfectly Contented” (Tan).
Analyzing the identity crises of Jing-mei and her mother, Amy Tan does not rely only on the description of their characters and the plot structure. The imagery used by the author perfectly reflects the atmosphere of the vignette and show the feeling and emotions of the characters. The text does not abound in different stylistic devices as the author wanted to make it simple and similar to everyday speech. However, there are several similes that help the writer to add more meaning and texture to the described objects and actions. Describing the despair of the girl Amy Tan writes, “I made high – pitched noises like a crazed animal, trying to scratch out the face in the mirror” (Tan). Similes in the text also help to build the contrast between Jing-mei and the world that surrounds her. For example, when the author compares rebelling Jing-mei with a “proper Chinese girl” who lives next door, she uses the following simile that perfectly reflects the tenderness and obedience of that girl. She writes, “The fluffy skirt of her white dress cascaded to the floor like petals of a large carnation” (Tan). In general, the language of the story is very emotional. The text contains many exclamations, especially in the episodes where the narrator wants to prove to her mother that she does not feel comfortable trying to pretend the person she cannot be.
To conclude, Amy Tan’s Two Kinds is a bright example of thought-provoking prose that makes the audience reflect upon the problems that often occur in the lives of immigrants. The author exerts every effort to show that identity crises that are an integral part of the assimilation process can sometimes be very dangerous and difficult. To communicate this message to the readers, Amy Tan uses a variety of impressive imagery and language devices that produce a great impact on the audience.