Date Added: March 22, 2022
Contrary to classical times, today’s family tenets have significantly changed, especially the relationships between parents and their children. While the past involved absolute and unquestioned respect for parents by children, today’s generation is increasingly becoming less obedient and more rebellious. It is the case with Alice Walker’s Everyday Use and Amy Tan’s Two Kinds. Walker’s story describes an interaction among rural-based African American Johnson’s family members.
Dee, also called Wangero, the only formerly educated member of this family, demonstrates to her mother and younger sister, Maggy, the transformations that come with education and contradict culture. Tan’s story describes a contentious relationship between a Chinese mother and her American-born daughter. She rebuilds her life in San Francisco after the death of her twin daughters in China. The mother forces her daughter, Jing-mei, to attain American Dream. The two short stories depict similarities and differences in terms of their themes.
The theme of parental expectation prevails in both the short stories. In Everyday Use, Wangero’s mother has high expectations that even after Wangero undergoes formal education and learns of new ideas and ways of the world, she must remain committed to the traditional way of life. She expects Wangero to treat the family’s heritage, represented by the quilts that Maggie and her mother sew, in the same manner she used to do before she went for her education (Walker 8). Similarly, Jing-mei’s mother has high expectations for her daughter, believing that America provides many opportunities that her daughter can seize. She wants her daughter to be the best that she can be. “You can be best anything,” her mother told her (Tan 1). She even decides that Jing-mei becomes a prodigy and admits her to piano lessons that she attends every day (Tan 2). Like Wangero, who proves to her mother and Maggy that she no longer values her heritage, Jing-Mei disappointed her mother by trying hard not to be the best pianist her mother wants.
The theme of identity also demonstrates worth noting similarities. In Waker’s story, Dee’s mother believes that Dee has lost her identity, albeit necessary. When Dee returns home, he comes with a new name. She removes the name Dee and replaces it with Wangero Leewanika Kemanjo. When her mother calls her Dee, she objects, “No Mana, Not Dee, Wangero Leewanika Kemanjo” (Walker 5). Essentially, Dee changes her name because she believes she was named after people who oppress her. Changing the name is a sign of losing identity and detaching from family backgrounds. Mama thinks that Dee’s education has exposed her to urban black identity, which inspires her feeling of resentment from her traditional and rural identity. However, for Dee, there is a need for people to transform and embrace a new idea.
The difference between Dee’s mother and her perception of identity sustains quarrels between them. On the same note, Jing-Mei’s identity comes into the limelight as the story unfolds. Notably, her mother encouraging her to embrace the American Dream indirectly urges her to recognize her American identity and not the Chinese identity. In both short stories, the concept of identity matters a lot to the parents.
Meanwhile, the theme of transformation also appears in both stories. The similarity in this concept is that Wangero and Jing-mei are both under pressure to transform according to their new experiences and exposure. Notably, Dee’s (Wangero) access to an urban black environment exposes her to enlightenment, resulting in her feeling ashamed of having a poor background in the deep South. After interacting with others, she learns of the Black Consciousness movement, which gives her a new understanding of her African roots. Similarly, Jing-mei’s pressure to transform compels her to adopt the American way of life, even though she demonstrated adamancy.
There is a sharp contrast in the parents’ expectations depicted in the two short stories. The difference emanates from the traditional cultural frameworks that form the background of the families. While the family in Walker’s novel has an African American background, Tan’s story has a family of Chinese origin even though they later settle in the United States. The significant difference between these parents’ expectations regarding their cultures is that Dee’s mother expects her to remain faithful to the family traditions while Dee refuses.
On the other hand, Jing-mei’s mother expects her to abandon Chinese traditions and embrace the American Dream, which involves pursuing opportunities lying bare. Unlike China, America is full of possibilities. For instance, unlike before her education, Dee today puts on dark sunglasses that “hide everything above the tip of her nose and her chin” (Walker 8). Her mother perceives this to be demonstrating a break away from the traditions and family’s traditions. Because of her seemingly permanent transformation from her rules, Dee’s mother snatches the quilts from her hands. She gives them to Maggy, whom she believes is still true to the family’s traditions and heritage.
Similarly, it is imperative to note that while both mothers in the stories emphasize the concept of identity to their daughters, they do it differently. While Dee’s mother wants her to remain faithful to her traditional rural African American culture and heritage, Jing-mei’s mother wants her to change and adopt American identity and forget about being Chinese. However, Jing-mei refuses the desired changes. She thought, “I won’t let her change me. I promised myself. I won’t be what I am not” (Tan 2). The traditional identity that Dee appears to have lost culminated in her mother and sister’s mistrust of her which becomes evident in their treatment of the quilts. Dee’s mother and Maggy believe that instead of saving the quilts. The mother recollects how Dee despised the quilts she gave her before college. She states, “I had offered Dee (Wangero) a quilt when she went away to college. Then she had told me they were old fashioned, out of style” (Walker 7). Dee’s response enabled her mother to understand that she no longer appreciates her identity.
Meanwhile, the aspect of transformation differs in the stories. While Dee undergoes a change that her mother is against, Jing-mei is reluctant to transform as her mother wants. She demonstrates the dislike by taking the quilts from Dee and giving them to Maggy (Wanker 8). On the other hand, Jing-mei’s mother wants her to transform and adopt American life while she is unwilling to change. For instance, her mother slaps her when she tries to resist piano training (Tan 2). These examples demonstrate that even though the characters undergo a transformation, their forces occur differently.
Walkers and Tan’s short stories depict similarities and differences concerning the themes of parental expectations, identity, and transformations. Dee’s and Jing-mei’s mothers have expectations of their daughters, but their expectations are different. Similarly, although they want their daughters to transform, their perceptions of transformations contradict each other. The same applies to the parent’s understanding of the aspect of their daughters’ identities.
Tan, Amy. “Two kinds.” The joy luck club (1989): 132-48.
Walker, Alice. Everyday use. Recording for the Blind & Dyslexic, 2004.