Shadows from Past: Failed Expectations and Unattained Goals
As one short story from The Joy Luck Club, Two Kinds explores the influence of past life in building individual identities as well as value systems through focusing on a mother-daughter relationship. With a skillful use of literary tools, Amy Tan presents complex effects of cultural differences and conflicting opinions held by Jing-mei and her mother, Mrs. Woo. Various aspects, such as characterization, plot arrangement, and the adoption of symbolism and metaphor, are equally crucial in helping the writer to achieve her goal of an effective communication over the theme of personal history and its profound impacts on people.
Tan’s construction of two cultural backgrounds is one beneficial element inviting perceptions of the clash between Mr’s Woo’s thoughts indicating a Chinese origin and ideals from American-born Jing-mei. Forces created by the incompatible understandings are manifested in their daily events. As the narrator, Jing-mei’s introduction about her mother, which claims that “she had come to San Francisco in 1949 after losing everything in China ()” helps deepen a determined image full of expectations about a new life. The information provides an opportunity for the comprehension that what came with Mrs. Woo was her old dogma about the path to success. A full demonstration of the mother’s belief in obedience typically emphasized in Chinese culture is evident as readers are encouraged to see Jing-mei’s unwillingness during imitating Shirley Temple, doing knowledge tests, and taking piano lessons. This design, combined with Jing-mei’s mostly rebellious behaviors, reveals the past’s function in shaping the present life.
Throughout the story, depictions around the piano play a vital role in terms of channeling previous memories with the current living situation, meanwhile, underscoring the status of the mother-daughter relationship. For example, by describing Jing-mei’s disastrous performance during the piano recital, the writer demonstrates the young daughter’s refusal to her mother’s irrational act of developing the prodigy side through training. The protagonist’s expression that “The lid to the piano was closed shutting out the dust, my misery, and her dreams ()” helps the writer reach her aim of showing the disapproval about parents’ exceedingly high expectations on their children, a commonly seen phenomenon in China. In the last scene, the revelation that two songs, “Pleading Child” and “Perfectly Contended,” are actually two parts of one song, symbolizes a result of forgiveness and mutual acceptance. The effects accumulated by the mention of song names, which are suggestive of an early lack of patience and satisfaction in the end, makes clear a gradual transformation of attitude towards the educational style. Beyond any doubt, without the piano serving as a carrier of emotions and life lessons, the theme of shadows from the past, a collision of traditional belief and perspective from a new generation in modern America, would be impossible.
Tan’s mastery in portraying characters is another useful element in her delivery of the big conversation over the meaning of the past. To a great extent, the traits shown in Jing-mei and her mother embodies a sharp contrast, giving rise to their emotional and intellectual conflict. Visible examples come from the opening sentence, which suggests that Mrs. Woo has firm faith in a bright future of limitless possibilities by doing hard work, and Jing-mei’s confession that “Unlike my mother, I did not believe I could be anything I wanted to be, I could only be me ().” Apparently, these details reveal possessions of an opposite set of values, which is the root cause for the painful struggles revolving around Jing-mei’s growth path. Through understanding Mrs. Woo’s insistence on hard practice and full efforts and the daughter’s call for the freedom of following her own mind, readers are allowed to see the threat of personal willingness held by the younger American generation on old thinking on the importance of submissions.
By arranging Jing-mei to violate against her mother’s intention of a piano prodigy, the story succeeds in clarifying a truth that a lack of rationale in clinging to the past and imposed wishes could lead to destructive outcomes. In a majority of the content of the story, Tan creates an atmosphere shaped by negative responses from the daughter over Mrs. Woo’s coercive method. Rather than merely being a matter of personal interest, Jing-mei’s reluctance, as shown in being asked to play the piano, stems from her desire for preserving her own will. Evidence capable of explaining this high level of self-protection is that “I wasn’t her slave”, and that “This wasn’t China,” which could be seen as loud complaints (). By using this cry, the writer enables readers to perceive a strong protest against old China’s outdated values, which are inapplicable to the new age in a new environment.
In dealing with the theme of the past’s negative consequences, Tan’s large capacity also lies in her vivid display of a result of self-dissatisfaction and insufficient confidence in Jing-mei’s character. For instance, after a series of failures in knowledge and memory tests, the daughter announces that “something inside me began to die”, which is accompanied by her conclusion of “such a sad, ugly girl” in front of the mirror (). Without any question, these words underscore a denial of the cultural heritage that is embodied by Mrs. Woo via her statement of obedience and hard training. Besides, self-devaluation emerges as a more severe outcome reflecting the inappropriateness of a traditional educational approach. Hence, contradicting forces created by generational and cultural differences are tackled with absolute clarity in this quote.
Through targeting at the events of one Chinese-American family in the last century, Amy Tan reflects on the past experience’s role in forming identities and personal outlooks of people from different generations. While unfolding the failure of Mrs. Woo’s attempt to bring the best from her American-born daughter, Jing-mei, the story involves issues of contrasting assertions of wills and unattained goals. Through relying on a precise narrative language, vivid portrayals of characters, and subtle plot construction, Tan remarkably highlights the significance of cultural, historical, and generational factors in defining a new life code.