What is the central conflict of "The Rules of the Game," by Amy Tan?

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"Rules of the Game," a short story from Amy Tan's novel The Joy Luck Club, features Waverly Jong and her mother Lindo. Like the other stories in the novel, especially those in the sections focusing on the daughters' generation, "Rules of the Game" centers on mother-daughter conflict.

Tan takes a unique approach in this story by using Waverly's growing prowess as a chess player as a sort of metaphor for her relationship with her mother. Waverly configures her communication with her mother in terms of strategy, such as when she ends the story thinking about her "next move" in dealing with her mother.

Early in the story—as Waverly's skills develop and she begins winning tournament after tournament—Lindo naturally becomes very proud of her daughter and brags about her publicly. However, Waverly resents what she senses as Lindo trying to take credit for her achievements or to draw attention to herself and away from Waverly. Take, for example, this exchange in the middle of the story:

I had to accompany my mother on Saturday market days when I had no tournament to play. My mother would proudly walk with me, visiting many shops, buying very little. "This my daughter Wave-ly Jong," she said to whoever looked her way. One day after we left a shop I said under my breath, "I wish you wouldn't do that, telling everybody I'm your
daughter." My mother stopped walking.

Lindo seems confused that her daughter doesn't want her to show her pride for Waverly's accomplishments. Waverly claims this is a misunderstanding on her mother's part. Clearly they aren't understanding one another.

Eventually, the tension rises, and Waverly exclaims:

I heard my voice speaking, "Why do you have to use me to show off? If you want to show off, then why don't you learn to play chess?"

Waverly resents Lindo's actions because Waverly is the one doing the "work" of playing chess. However, at other points in the story, Waverly recognizes that her mother "taught [her] the art of invisible strength." This strength is key to Waverly's work ethic and ability to strategize in chess matches. At the end of the story, she also realizes that she is trying to fight the person who taught her her own skills. Waverly recognizes:

In my head, I saw a chessboard with sixty-four black and white squares. Opposite me was my opponent, two angry black slits. She wore a triumphant smile. "Strongest wind cannot be seen," she said.

Here, Waverly explicitly sees her mother as her "opponent," and she imagines their conflict like a chess match. Her mother is "triumphant" because she has taught Waverly to be who she is. The story's conflict is complex and intriguing because the narrator, Waverly, understands that she is both influenced by and opposed to her mother.

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The central conflict in the story, "Rule of the Game," is the conflict between mother and daughter.  Waverly wants to break free from her mother and wants more independence.  What compounds this desire is that Waverly is more American in her outlook, whereas Waverly's mother is more Chinese. 

Throughout the story this tension is brewing.  For instance, Waverly's mother would look over her shoulder while she practiced chess.  She did this, because she was concerned.  She wanted Waverly to do well.  However, Waverly did not like this.  At one point she said:

"Ma, I can't practice when you stand there like that," I said one day.

What Waverly hated the most was what Waverly's mother loved the most - walking through the market and telling people that this is her daughter, the chess champion.  One day Waverly was fed up and lost it. She ran away. 

When she finally came home, she knew that her mother was deeply upset.  She did not know what to do.  This is why at the end of the story, she pondered her next move.

Her black men advanced across the plane, slowly marching to each successive level as a single unit. My white pieces screamed as they scurried and fell off the board one by one...

I closed my eyes and pondered my next move.



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