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Rules of the Game

by Amy Tan

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How does Amy Tan choose to develop Waverly Jong from beginning to end?

Waverly Jong starts off as a submissive little girl who does what she is told and does not question orders. She wants to please her mother and although she is curious about the world, she knows it is wrong to ask questions and just goes along with what her mother says. As Waverly gets older she becomes more independent, but still needs her mother's support. Waverly learns that sometimes you have to fight for what you want in life even if it means going against your family.

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Amy Tan's short story "Rules of the Game" bears witness to the psychological growth and development of young Waverly Jong, who evolves over the course of three years from an ordinary six-year-old growing up in Chinatown to a nine-year-old chess prodigy with a mind of her own.

As a young girl, Waverly assumes the traditional role of a young Chinese girl under the fierce watch of her mother, Lindo Jong. Waverly must help her mother with chores, obey all the rules of the household, and fit the mold of "Meimei," the "little sister." She occasionally tests her mother's boundaries--like when she asks Lindo about Chinese torture--but is mostly attentive to the woman's instruction, particularly as it relates to "the art of invisible strength" and the uses of silence. 

Waverly changes dramatically once she begins to learn the rules of chess. After her brother Vincent receives a used chess board for Christmas, Waverly's interest in learning the "American Rules" is sparked. Waverly researches strategies and moves in the library and by practicing with old men in the park, and for the first time, she has an outlet for her intellectual curiosity. She begins to shed the stereotypes and gender roles of being a girl. Even her mother, who at first proclaimed that these wins are merely a matter of "luck," begins to take pride in her daughter's accomplishments. While Waverly is allowed plenty of free time to practice her chess strategies, her brothers must take on her chores. Waverly eventually becomes a national champion.

Despite this success, Waverly still struggles with her mother's habits, particularly her propensity for bragging about Waverly's wins as if they were her own. This prompts Waverly to tell her mother not to use her to "show off." Although Waverly tries to run off in order to assert her independence, it becomes very quickly evident that she won't be able to survive on her own. At the end of the story, it's clear that although Waverly has grown tremendously in her abilities, she is still at the mercy of Lindo's superior "invisible strength." 

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