The Mother-Daughter Relationship is Insanely Complicated

The mother-daughter relationship is one of the more complicated human relationships. Often seeming contradictory and impossible to understand, this relationship can be difficult for both mothers and daughters to understand despite the fact that they are experiencing it. However, reading the short stories “Two Kinds” by Amy Tan and “How to Talk to Your Mother” by Lorrie Moore may help the reader to better navigate her own mother-daughter relationship. In the story “Two Kinds,” Jing-Mei (June) Woo has a very difficult relationship while growing up with her mother, Suyuan, and in “How to Talk to Your Mother” Virginia has a complex and imperfect relationship with her own mother. The reading of these two stories is beneficial for the reader because they will help her recognize truths about and to better experience her own mother-daughter relationship.

Although the plot of “Two Kinds” focuses more on June’s childhood and the plot of “How to Talk to Your Mother” focuses on Virginia’s adult life, these two stories’ plots share similarities. Both June’s mother and Virginia’s mother gave birth to female babies who died before the birth of the main characters. The death of these young daughters deeply affected each mother.

June’s mother, Suyuan, fled to the United States from China in 1949. When she left, “she had to leave her young twins for dead on a roadside, fleeing war-torn China (MagillOnLiterature Plus)”. This loss still affects Suyuan deeply. This is evident when June uses the twin daughters’ death as a weapon in an argument with Suyuan:

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 the magic words. Alakazam! – and 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 (754-755).

In this narrative it is obvious that Suyuan feels her twin daughters’ death very deeply even though it happened years ago, before June was born. This lingering sense of loss is not unique to Suyuan.

Virginia’s mother in “How to Talk to Your Mother” also loses a daughter. This daughter died before Virginia was born in 1939. However, Virginia’s mother obviously still dwells upon her earlier daughter’s death. This is shown in the entry from 1972, thirty-three years after Virginia’s birth: “Sometimes your mother calls you by your sister’s name. Say, ‘No, Mom, it’s me. Virginia (Moore, 113).'” The fact that Virginia’s mother is still thinking about the daughter she lost over thirty-three years after the event shows that, like Suyuan, she is deeply affected by the loss.

These two examples illustrate that even when a daughter is very young, a mother is very attached to her. This attachment is evident when the reader sees the traumatizing effect that a baby daughter’s death has on her mother. The average reader may not be exposed to this knowledge in her daily life. Therefore, it is worthwhile that she reads these two stories. Being exposed to this fact of mother-daughter relationships is very useful because she may be involved in this sort of situation in her life, whether she loses a daughter herself, her mother loses a daughter, or one of her friends experiences this type of loss.

Although Suyuan never actually says the words “I love you” to June, her actions clearly show that she does love her daughter. Though Suyuan’s actions may be misguided, she has good intentions. Suyuan believes that June has a prodigy inside of her and that her hidden talent will flow once it is discovered. June feels that her mother is pushing her too hard and expecting too much of her, but Suyuan does not think she is being unreasonable. “‘Who ask you be genius?’ she shouted. ‘Only ask you be your best. For you sake (Tan, 751).'” Even after June embarrasses herself by playing the piano badly at a talent show and refuses to continue learning the instrument, her mother still believes she has the potential inside of her. Years later, she tells June, “You have natural talent. You only one can play (755).” This belief comes from her maternal love for her daughter. She only wanted the best for her daughter, and this desire was fueled by pure love.

Like Suyuan, Virginia’s mother never tells her daughter that she loves her, but it is obvious through her actions and words that she does. In the entry from 1964, Virginia’s mother calls her daughter long-distance to ask her to come home for the holidays and is disappointed when Virginia tells her she cannot attend (114). “As a mother gets older,” Virginia’s mother says, “these sots of holidays become increasingly important (114).” At the holidays people surround themselves with family that they love, and in this event it is obvious that Virginia’s mother loves her daughter even though she does not directly say so. She does, however, say some things that indirectly could mean “I love you.” In the entry from 1971, Virginia brings her mother a pretty red stone. Virginia’s mother “grasps it and smiles. ‘You were always such a sensitive child,’ she says (113).” This sort of comment and recollection is not one a mother would have about a daughter she did not love.

Like many mothers, Suyuan and Virginia’s mother care deeply about their daughters yet cannot tell them that they love them. However, it is obvious that they do. Many people have difficulties telling the important people in their lives that they love them, and mothers are no exception. This fact is one that some people miss in their lives. Thus, gaining this knowledge from these two stories is very beneficial for the reader. Learning this fact may help her identify in her own life that her mother does, likely, love her, even though she may not have directly said so.

Although it is not directly mentioned in “Two Kinds,” June has no children. This is shown by the fact that no children are mentioned in the short story “A Pair of Tickets” from The Joy Luck Club, which tells of June’s journey to China with her father after Suyuan’s death. This may cause the reader to ask: Why has June had no children?

Virginia, also, does not have children. In fact, she has an abortion in the entry from 1961, when she is twenty-two years old. The reader infers that she also had an abortion in 1970 (thirty-one years of age) and another in 1975 (thirty-six years of age). The reader may infer this because no mention of a birth is mentioned, and most of Virginia’s life events are mentioned. Moore’s characters’ “relationships with the opposite sex offer little real comfort (Sherrod)” but there has to be a reason Virginia did not feel a desire to keep even one of the children she became pregnant with.

It is likely that June and Virginia’s relationships with their mothers motivated them to not become mothers. This does not mean that Suyuan and Virginia’s mother were bad mothers; maybe June and Virginia never fully recovered from their mothers’ deaths. Perhaps the fact that their mothers never directly said “I love you” affected them. However, Virginia’s brother had children, and he was raised by the same mother. This shows that the mother-daughter relationship is different from any other relationship, even the mother-son relationship, which to the casual observer may appear to be very similar or even identical. This fact may not be easily observed in real life; therefore it is worthwhile for the reader to learn this through these two stories, so that she can apply this knowledge to her own life.

June and Suyuan’s relationship is punctuated by conflict in “Two Kinds.” Suyuan pushes June to the breaking point by forcing her to play piano and June brings up a subject – the death of Suyuan’s twin daughters – that shocks and emotionally wounds Suyuan. However, June and Suyuan’s relationship survives through this episode and through later years.

Virginia and her mother never had the best relationship, either. It was characterized by conflict in Virginia’s childhood, separation during Virginia’s early adulthood, and near-resentment toward the end of Virginia’s mother’s life. However, Virginia’s mother still loves her daughter, and even four years after her mother’s death Virginia still thinks about her.
These examples show that a mother and daughter’s relationship with each other is resilient. Even when subjected to intense conflict and separation, it still survives. The love of a mother for her daughter, and of a daughter for her mother, is pure and strong. At times a mother and daughter can be in so much conflict that it is difficult for either of them to consciously feel love for each other. However, that love ultimately returns, as is illustrated by these two short stories, and that is a very worthwhile lesson for the reader to learn.

The short stories “Two Kinds” and “How to Talk to Your Mother” illustrate the complicated mother-daughter relationship very well. These stories portray truths about this unique relationship that can be difficult to recognize during a person’s life. Therefore, these stories are very worthwhile to read, especially for female readers. These pieces provide deep insight into this complicated relationship, and reading them can only bring benefit to the reader. They may help her recognize aspects of and help improve the mother-daughter relationship in her own life.

Works Cited

“Two Kinds.” Rev. of “Two Kinds”, by Amy Tan. MagillOnLiterature Plus. EBSCO.
Riverside Community College Writing Center, Riverside, CA. 2 Nov. 2005

Moore, Lorrie. “How to Talk to Your Mother.” Literature: Reading, Reacting,
. By Laurie G. Kirszner and Stephen R. Mandell. Boston:
Wadsworth-Thompson, 2004. 109-117. Rpt. in Literature: Reading, Reacting,
. Ed. Aron Keesbury and Michael Burggren. 5th ed. Boston:
Wadsworth-Thompson, 2004. 109-117.

Sherrod, Nancy E. “Lorrie Moore.” Rev. of Lorrie Moore, by Lorrie Moore.
MagillOnLiterature Plus. EBSCO. Riverside Community College Writing
Center, Riverside, California. 2 Nov. 2005

Tan, Amy. “Two Kinds.” Literature: Reading, Reacting, Writing. By Laurie G.
Kirszner and Stephen R. Mandell. Boston: Wadsworth-Thompson, 2004. 748-756.
Rpt. in Literature: Reading, Reacting, Writing. Ed. Aron Keesbury and
Michael Burggren. 5th ed. Boston: Wadsworth-Thompson, 2004. 748-756.

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