“Two Kinds”: A Mother’s Approval Free Essay Example

April 13, 2022 by Essay Writer

Many people struggle their entire lives trying to create a sense of self. Individuals are shaped and swayed by many things, people, and events that make individuality inconceivable at times. In Amy Tan’s short story “Two Kinds,” the main character Ni Kan describes the conflicting relationship she has with her mother, and the hopes she abandons when trying to discover who she is. At the beginning, she shares the same excitement as her mother as they try to mold her into a “prodigy,” but towards the end of the story, she grows to resent her mother once she loses any hope in meeting her high expectations.

Ni Kan recounts her need to be perfect, being unable to meet her mother’s expectations, and her failed aspirations to describe the pressure she endures in order to please her parents.

The theme in Amy Tan’s “Two Kinds” demonstrates that seeking other people’s approval will never bring fulfillment. The story begins with Ni Kan’s mother reassuring her that she could be the best at anything she set her mind to.

Although her mother exerts a lot of pressure upon her daughter to become a prodigy, Ni Kan finds excitement in the possibility of discovering who she is within each one of the prodigies she explores. Ni Kan states, “I was just as excited as my mother, maybe even more so. I pictured this prodigy part of me as many different images, trying each one for size (Tan 590).” Although Ni Kan and her mother explore different prodigies, she realizes they do not immediately find the right one (Tan 590). At this point in the story Ni Kan does not realize she is exploring different kinds of prodigies that her mother is demanding of her. Like many young girls her age she may believe that the only way to become famous or “somebody” is to do what everyone else is doing.

Although Ni Kan does not seem aware of her mother’s demands early on, she soon creates the idea that she will win over her parent’s admiration once she becomes “perfect” (Tan 591). Parents set high expectations to push their children to succeed in life. It is also common for children to want to please their parents and to try to exceed those expectations. Ni Kan not only felt pressured by her parents, more so her mother, to pick the right prodigy, but she tried to bring them to life with great amount of urgency. Ni Kan openly expresses her fear that she will never amount to anything if she does not hurry, “If you don’t hurry up and get me out of here, I’m disappearing for good…And then you’ll always be nothing (Tan 591).”

Ni Kan begins a battle inside her self and pushes through to do what her mother asks of her in hopes of finding the prodigy that she is so impatiently waiting to find. While Ni Kan might not realize it, it may be reasonable for her to want to desperately find this prodigy to win over her mother’s approval rather than to become famous. She creates the idea that if she runs out of time and does not become the genius her mother expects her to be then she will not adore her like she so desperately wants her to. Ni Kan’s mother also constantly compares her to other children in the media, “She would look through them all, searching for stories about remarkable children (Tan 591).”

This might create the self-doubt and fear she instills inside her head about “never becoming nothing.” Being constantly compared to other people regardless of age can cause a lot of damage to a person’s self-confidence, but children are more vulnerable because they cannot understand a parent’s intentions at all times. They might think a parent is trying to punish them instead of helping them succeed. Children live and breathe by their parent’s words and will never feel worthy until they get assurance from their parents. Ni Kan’s mother also compared her to other children to control her behavior and motivate her to be her best (Bolton). In doing so, she made her blind to her self-worth making it almost necessary to seek her mother’s approval (Bolton).

Although her mother had good intentions, comparing Ni Kan to other children motivated her need to be perfect rather than to be her best. Ni Kan’s relationship with her mother then began to damage once she sensed she would never be able to reach her high expectations. She states, “after seeing my mother’s disappointed face once again, something inside of me began to die (Tan 591).” Ni Kan slowly discovers that she is doing everything to please her and she is not in fact happy. She does not recognize herself until she stands in front of a mirror with tears in her eyes and sees the failed expectations inside her ordinary face (Tan 591).

In this moment Ni Kan decides that she will be her own person and not change for her mother. She begins to listen to her own thoughts and feel a sense of power, “I won’t be what I’m not,” she says (Tan 591). Ni Kan slowly begins to rebel and make it clear to her mother than she will no longer do what she asks to win her approval. She stops putting any effort and makes it clear to her mother that she has lost interest in finding a prodigy that will make her famous. Ni Kan hopes that this will make her mother surrender any hopes in finding the right prodigy and finally just accept her the way she is. Ni Kan purposely sabotages her piano recital that she openly admits to her mother that she is done trying to be the daughter she wants her to be.

In a heated discussion she tells her mother, “You want me to be someone that I’m not…I’ll never be the kind of daughter you want me to be (Tan 596)!” Ni Kan reassures her mother that she will never be a genius to state the fact that she will never win over her mother’s approval if she continues to search for someone that she is not. Ni Kan cannot see her mother is trying to push her to be her best. The only thing she sees are the high expectations her mother has set and the ones she will never be able to achieve. Although she is rebelling against her mother’s wishes, she is still hoping to win over her mother’s approval by convincing her to accept her just the way she is.

Feeling like she could never meet her mother’s expectations or never receiving her approval makes Ni Kan resent her mother and damages their relationship. Towards the end of the story Ni Kan recounts all her failed aspirations and realizes she never gave herself a real chance at becoming something great in life. She states, “I failed her so many times, each time asserting my own will, my right to fall short of expectations. I didn’t get straight As. I didn’t become class president. I didn’t get into Stanford. I dropped out of college” (Tan 597).

The fact that Ni Kan continues to feel as if she has failed her mother many years later may be an indication that she has not yet received the approval she was looking for as a child. Not having a parent’s approval can create long lasting consequences that carry into adulthood. Just like children, an adults’ self-confidence and self-worth can be compromised if they continue to seek their parent’s approval. Since they believe they will never be good enough many people do not take risks and set low or no expectations, so they do not fail.

Ni Kan also mentions, “For unlike my mother, I did not believe I could be anything I wanted to be. I could only be me” (Tan 597). Since Ni Kan is absorbed with the idea that she has failed her mother so many times and will not accept her the way she is, she may believe she will never be good enough not matter what she chooses to do. Ni Kan is essentially demonstrating a fixed mindset, where people believe their traits or talents are naturally fixed and cannot be developed over time. People with fixed mindsets believe they are either good or bad at something and nothing can change it.

When things get too difficult people with fixed mindsets may “become discouraged or defensive,” “withdraw their effort,” “blame others,” and “call their intelligence into question” (Dweck). By the end of the story Ni Kan has displayed each one of these characteristics when she mentions her mother “hoped for something so large that failure was inevitable” (Tan 597). Ni Kan spent so much time focusing on exceeding her mother’s expectations and trying to win over her approval, she was unable to see that her mother was trying to push her to be her best.

Although Ni Kan’s mother tries to control her behavior to motivate her to be her best, it leaves Ni Kan unable to see her self-worth without her mother’s approval. Ni Kan rebels against her mother but grows up with the idea that she has failed her many times and will never be able to be anything she wants to be. Seeking other people’s approval can cause damaging effects on children like self-doubt and low self-worth that can carry into adulthood and make it difficult to create a sense of self.


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