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Kirsten Dinnall Hoyte Contradiction and Culture: Revisiting Amy Tan's "Two Kinds" (Again) And after seeing, once again, my mother's disappointed face, something inside me began to die. I hated the tests, the raised hopes and failed expectations. Before going to bed that night I looked in the mirror above the bathroom sink, and when I saw only my face staring back—and understood that it would always be this ordinary face—I began to cry. Such a sad, ugly girl! I made high-pitched noises like a crazed animal, trying to scratch out the face in the mirror. And then I saw what seemed to be the prodigy side of me ^a face I had never seen before. I looked at my reflection, blinking so that I could see more clearly. The girl staring back at me was angry, powerful. (Tan 1265) Two conflicting kinds: the sad and the angry, the prodigy and the failure , the American and the foreigner. How is it possible to live concurrently in diametrically opposed realities? I'm not comfortable with the dichotomies in my life, but they are familiar. I am a great satisfadion to my mother. I have been a student at the most prestigious sdiools in the country. I am kind and thoughtful, smart and sensitive, hardworking and diligent. No, that's not right; let me try again. I am a great disappointment to my parents. I have been a failure at the very best schools in the country. I am selfish, perverse and relentlessly lazy. In the spring of 2001, I read Amy Tan's "Two Kinds" for an evening class in the craft of fiction. I sailed into class that week, confident that I understood the story. It was about the second type of girl, the selfish and perverse one who disappointed her mother. I recognized the first-person narrator. After all, I saw her every time that I looked in the mirror. In this story, Jing-mei, the daughterofChineseimmigrants, "failed her [mother] so many times," beginning with a disastrous piano recital at age nine. Instead of practicing and memorizing Schumann's "Pleading Child" for the talent show recital, "I dawdled over it, playing a few bars and then cheating, looking up to see what notes followed. I never really listened to what I was playing. I daydreamed about being somewhere else, being someone else." Worse yet, in the aftermath of the performance, Jing-mei spitefully lashed out at her mother by bringing up her dead sisters who had been lost in China during the revolution: "Then I wish I weren't your daughter. I wish you weren't my mother," I shouted . As I said these things, I got scared. It felt like worms and toads and slimy things crawling out of my chest, but it also felt good, that this awful side ofme had surfaced, at last. "Too late change this," my mother said shrilly. 162 the minnesota review And I could sense her anger rising to its breaking point. I wanted to see it spill over. And that's when I remembered the babies she had lost in China, the ones we never talked about. "Then I wish I'd never been born!" I shouted, "I wish I were dead! Like them." It was as if I had said magic words. Alakazam!—her face went blank, her mouth closed, her arms went slack, and she backed out of the room, stunned, as if she were blowing away like a small brown leaf, thin, brittle, lifeless. (1270-71; emphasis added) Atone point in the story, hermother's summary ofJing-mei seemed accurate and eerily familiar. "Not the best. Because you not trying." The mother claims that she just wants her child to do her best and try her hardest. As I read that mother's words, I heard my parents and countless childhood teachers talk of the ways in which I did not live up to my potential. With that understanding of the characters, I was happy to explore the cultural and familial pressures on Jing-mei, the reasons she might choose to rejed those pressures and the consequences of that rejection, but fundamentally, I believed...


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pp. 161-169
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