Who is the protagonist and antagonist in Amy Tan's short story The Rules of the Game?

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durbanville's profile pic

durbanville | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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Waverly Jong is the protagonist in Amy Tan's short story The Rules of the Game. There are certain essential clues that a reader should look for in identifying the protagonist and the antagonist in any story.

1. The protagonist will be central to the theme and the person whom the reader most wants to succeed (or fail). Note that not all protagonists are clasically "good." 

2. He or she must face conflict whether it be any real threat, physical impediment which must be struggled against, another character or a psychological barrier. Conflict involves the struggle of man versus nature, man versus man, man versus himself and so on. 

3. He must make difficult choices and decisions and those choices will affect the development of the plot. 

Recognizing an antagonist can be difficult as he or she does not have to be the typical "villain." The antagonist can be someone whose views oppose the ideals of the protagonist such as in this story where Waverly's mother is the antagonist because her choices, opinions and her expectations threaten Waverly's future and Waverly is forced to make choices against her mother's wishes. To a lesser extent, the aunt is also an antagonist as she tries to hamper Waverly's progress by promoting rivalry between Waverly and her cousin. In recognizing the antagonist, there are certain essential elements to consider.

1. The antagonist helps to identify the conflict and as conflict drives the plot forward and helps to bring a story to a climax, the antagonist helps develop the protagonist.

2. The antagonist does not have to be a character. In terms of its association with conflict it can be tangible or intangible but is that element which is central to the conflict and forces the protagonist to make choices. It should be noted that conflict may exist without an actual antagonist because conflict may be a series of challenges which are not necessarily contrary to the protagonist's own goals.

3. Further to the point above, there must be a distinction between something which is an obstacle to the protagonist's future and the actual antagonist. Those things which simply impede the protagonist, but do not necessarily oppose him or threaten him are stumbling blocks and help develop character but they cannot be considered to be antagonists. They do not actively or purposefully oppose the protagonist.  

4. The protagonist has to fight against the influence of the antagonist. The antagonist has contrary goals and characteristics which clash with those of the protagonist.

amy-lepore's profile pic

amy-lepore | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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another antagonist to consider is Waverley's cousin and aunt.  The cousin is the great Chess player who wins all her tournaments and the aunt is always throwing her daughter's successes in both Waverley's and Waverley's mother's faces.

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Jamie Wheeler | College Teacher | eNotes Employee

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Waverly Jong is the protagonist.  It is Waverly who becomes the chess champion, against many odds.  Her mother, Lindo Jong, can be described as the antagonist.  Although her intentions are to see her daughter succeed, and she does love her daughter, often the pressures she puts on young Waverly are tremendous.  The mother and daughter not only experience the normal control-and-rebellion issues, but also the clash of cultures.  Waverly knows really only American life, while her mother is still enmeshed in the ways of China. 

Btw, this story was the impetus for Tan's best-selling novel, The Joy Luck Club in which Waverly and Lindo's stories are included. 


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