The primary theme of "Two Kinds" by Amy Tan is the mother-daughter dynamic and the clash between traditional and contemporary values. These themes are common ones revisited in many of Amy Tan's books. Many of Amy Tan's stories feature a mother who grew up in China and a daughter who is born in America and rejects many of the traditional requirements.
In "Two Kinds," the main character's mother is determined for her daughter to succeed in America, a place where she believes nothing is impossible. To that end, she tries to find the perfect niche for her daughter to pursue. She tries acting, intellectual pursuits and finally settles on piano. She then trades work to provide her daughter with lessons and eventually finds enough money to buy a piano. However, the daughter resents being forced to learn piano and plays badly. She eventually starts to believe she could be a prodigy, but at a recital it is obviously she does not know how to play.
The book explores the strong belief in the American dream held by many immigrants. It also explores the relationship between immigrant parents and their naturalized children who often believe that they must reject their parents to find themselves.