What is the main conflict in "The Rules of the Game" by Amy Tan?

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scarletpimpernel's profile pic

scarletpimpernel | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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Like all of the mother-daughter relationships in Amy Tan's The Joy Luck Club, the tension between Waverly and her mother in "Rules of the Game" (an excerpt from the novel) is the primary conflict. Waverly's mother wants her daughter to take advantage of the opportunities that America offers her--opportunities that Waverly's mother did not have in China. Similarly, Waverly is expected to bring pride to her mother as many of the other children in Chinatown do in the story's setting.

While Waverly is competitive and takes pride in her skills, she does not like being pressured to win for her mom's sake--which is what she feels. This tension is not simply an external conflict between mom and daughter; it is also a conflict between Chinese tradition (children submissively making their parents proud) and independence (a key element of 1960s America).

jameadows's profile pic

jameadows | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator

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In Amy Tan's short story "Rules of the Game," Waverly, the daughter of Chinese immigrants, uses chess to subvert her parents' traditional ideas. Her mother wants her to be quiet and traditionally Chinese. Her mother tells her the "strongest wind cannot be seen," meaning that Waverly should not complain or make her needs overtly known. Waverly, who has several brothers and is the only girl in the family, uses chess as a way to avoid the usual tasks and role that would fall to her as a girl. After she wins a tournament, she no longer has to do the dishes. When her brother complains, her mother says, "Is new American rules." In other words, by using chess, Waverly feels like she can subvert her mother's Chinese rules and live by American rules.

However, Waverly feels like her mother is taking over her glory. She gets angry with her mother for always telling people that Waverly is her daughter, and the mother reacts by ignoring her. When Waverly closes her eyes, she visualizes her mother as her opponent. Waverly's conflict with her mother is that she wants to use chess to define herself as an American and as the type of girl who has freedom. Her mother, on the other hand, wants Waverly's chess success to be part of her family's glory. In a traditional Chinese way, she thinks her daughter's chess victories are not just about Waverly but about the whole family. The idea of individuality versus family commitment is at the center of the mother-daughter conflict.


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