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The American Dream in “Two Kinds” by Amy Tan


Literature is one of the greatest ways through which important messages are passed to millions of people all over the world. The audience may be fascinated by the title of a story or novel and decide to buy it while another may be interested in reading anything that will take his or her mind off the activities of the day. However, Amy Tan’s Two Kinds has managed to trap these two aspects from most readers and this has made this short story one of the memorable short stories. This discussion explores the various aspects conveyed by the author in the short story.

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The title of this short story refers to the existence of conflicts between two aspects of nature that make human life conducive or unbearable depending on how the people concerned perceive them. One of these aspects is the personality that cannot be changed no matter how hard a person tries to do it (Dalley 2010). The second aspect is culture and traditions that seem to be part of human life but can change depending on an individual’s perception of events in society. The writer explores how Jing-mei’s mother believed that anything is possible in America depending on how an individual is prepared to handle situations. However, she contradicts herself by forcing her daughter to be a pianist instead of giving her a chance to become what she wanted to be in life. The narrator portrays her Chinese mother as being a staunch traditionalist who believes that she has the right to choose what her daughter should be in the future (Tan 2006). In addition, she portrays her mother as having a misplaced ambition by forcing her daughter to be a pianist. Jing-mei’s point of view is reasonable since she rejects her mother’s opinions and no matter how hard her mother tried to force her to attend the piano lessons taught by Mr. Chong she never paid attention to the lessons; this led to her mother’s disappointments at the Ed Sullivan Show. The technique of first-person narration has made the story more interesting since the audience is able to feel the pain the little girl was going through and this would not have been successful if the story was told by another narrator. The piano is a symbol of the inner voice of innocent children and victims of circumstances who are trying to ask the world to pay attention to their woes. The song played by Jing-mei (Pleading Child) is a message to her mother and the audience to let her loose from her mother’s belief that she must be a pianist (Tan 2006). The second song she tries to play on the piano (Perfectly Contented) is a confirmation that her mother finally gave up her mission of forcing her to be a pianist and at the same time a consolation to Jing-mei that she had achieved what her heart desired. She understood that it was not easy to break away from an individual’s traditions despite the expected benefits. Breaking away from a dominant culture is not as simple as it sounds due to the hostility an individual receives from the new culture and the setbacks arising from those who want to perpetuate their culture in young generations (Gale 2002). Literature plays a vital role in educating people on the need to embrace new cultures with caution regardless of the perceived benefits. It shows us that there is no superior or inferior culture in the world since all cultures are equal.


Culture is one of the agents that unite individuals in society and without it there would be no society. However, some aspects of culture that discriminate against minority groups should be done away with as soon as possible in order for people to enjoy their rights.


Dalley, J. (2010). American Dreams. New Jersey: Prentice Hall.

Gale, A. (2002). Amy Tan’s “Two Kinds”: A Study Guide for Gale’s “Short Stories for Students”. Montana: Kessinger Publishing.

Tan, A. (2006). The Joy Luck Club. Westminster: Penguin (Non-Classics) Publishers.

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