Perfectly Contented and Pleading Child

Perfectly Contented and Pleading Child

Michael Herschel

Task List: LTR215-0903A-05: World Literature

For Gerald J. Honadle

Sunday, September 12, 2010


            Discuss a Literary analysis of Two Kinds by Amy Tan (Tan, 2009). Identify the theme and how the setting, characters, plot development, and symbolism lead to that story’s expansion.

Perfectly Contented and Pleading Child

A literary analysis of Two Kinds by Amy Tan

The short story by Ms. Tan speaks masterfully to the world of the first generation Chinese-American. The theme is developed as personal growth of an unsuspecting nature. As the plot develops, one is lulled to distraction by the consistent juvenile assertions of ‘me, me, me’, ‘so bad, so sad’, ‘gotta be me’ that the reader is conditioned to expect the child to never find personal enlightenment of any kind as the time line in the chronicle advances. Then suddenly, at the very end of the story, the child that was always pleading to be left alone finds that she has become perfectly contented after all (Tan, 2009).

Written in first person, the character development draws the reader almost unconsciously into the Chinatown of San Francisco, California in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. And the piano lessons the recalcitrant, self-loathing young girl is forced to suffer become part of the theme of unexpected self-growth. As a literary device, the use of first person allows a certain personal relationship with the reader to develop. It is at once an art form that can express specific meaning through language by which the observer (reader) can gain understanding and appreciation of the scene created before them (Braiman, 2007). Allowing one into the mind, as it were, of the speaker specifically identifies parts of the setting the author wishes to underscore to create the elements of conflict and surprise at the interaction of other characters. The development of these newly introduced people has special meaning if great care is taken, as Ms. Tan did, in bringing the characters to life in the plot surrounding the piano lessons the young girl certainly had no wish, as a youngster, to tolerate. The conflict that piano lessons created between the young Ms. Tan and her mother were made exasperatingly clear as the rendition of the composition “Pleading Child” was followed by a poor showing at a recital insisted upon by her demanding mother. Through the device of using first person, the broken heart her mother suffered was known only to the reader as one is made aware that the young girl had no caring for the feelings of others.

The young Ms. Tan had little regard for the other characters in the story either. As the plot develops, the characters are introduced into what becomes for the reader, a well-known area of Chinatown – San Francisco style. The deaf piano teacher was a source in the story for the childish misbehavior of cheating the teacher of understanding that his ward was not playing her lessons well. This literary license of first person alleviated the burden for Ms. Tan of inventing characters and story line (Foote, unknown).

Every scene in this story is enhanced by the characters introduced. Because each scene must have a purpose in order to advance the plot (Jansen, 2009). The scene in which the ill-fated recital was written was all the more poignant because the picture it provided introduced characters in the family’s immediate circle of friends and the neighborhood in which they lived that served the story line’s sub-theme of embarrassing Ms. Tan’s mother. The young Amy played so poorly that peers in the audience were heard to say, “That was awful! (Tan, 2009). But the scene created the most important revelation of all, as the devastated young musician understood how her mother internalized the concert.

But my mother’s expression was what devastated me: a quiet, blank look that said she had lost everything. I felt the same way, and it seemed as if everybody were now coming up, like gawkers at the scene of an accident, to see what parts were actually missing.

The coda of the theme is the unexpected realization that the author exists as two sides of the same coin. As an older person, Amy finds herself as a young woman that had not accomplished much with her life but had found solace and détente with her mother with the reintroduced literary device of the piano that had been the source of so much pain for both of them. The manuscript of the infamous “Pleading Child” sheet music had a part of it re-introduced that was long forgotten and more easily played than she could imagine. The counterpart to the composition was called “Perfectly Contented.” And after playing both a few times she realized that they were “two halves of the same song” (Tan, 2009).


Braiman, J. (2007). Literary Devices. Retrieved July 10, 2009, from Literary Devices:             

Foote, T. (unknown). Literary Journalism. Retrieved July 10, 2009, from Literary                         Journalism:

Jansen, J. (2009, April 30). Every Scene Must Have a Purpose. Retrieved July10, 2009,  from http://writing-           

Tan, A. (2009). Two Kinds. Boston – New York: Bedford/St. Martin’s.

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