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Rules of the Game

by Amy Tan

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How is the game of chess a metaphor for the game being played between Waverly and her mother in "Rules of the Game"?

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As chess is a game of strategy, so is the contest of wills between Waverly and her mother. Mrs. Jong utilizes her own rules to repress her daughter's stubborn temperament, while Waverly resorts to passive-aggressive rebellion to mitigate the suffocating effects of her mother's expectations.

At the beginning of the...

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story, Mrs. Jong tells Waverly that 'strongest wind cannot be seen.' Her belief in this principle underlines all her interactions with her daughter. She always seems to stay one step ahead of the hapless Waverly, effortlessly deflecting all her adolescent protestations. As a traditional mother, Mrs. Jong expects Waverly to obey her without question and to respect her judgment in all matters pertaining to Waverly's future. However, after having tasted the delicious independence modern American culture affords even young adolescents, Waverly is dissatisfied with the status quo.

She plots to protect every inch of her autonomy and agency in light of her mother's machinations to make her into a quintessentially obedient Chinese daughter. Unknown to Waverly, she has actually learned the 'rules of the game' from her own mother. Waverly plots silently and broodingly in her room after the embarrassing confrontation with her mother on market day. Her goal is to defeat her mother's will systematically and stealthily, using the same methods her mother has taught her about vanquishing enemies.

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. As her men drew closer to my edge, I felt myself growing light. I rose up into the air and flew out the window. Higher and higher, above the alley, over the tops of tiled roofs, where I was gathered up by the wind and pushed up toward the night sky until everything below me disappeared and I was alone. I closed my eyes and pondered my next move.

It is clear that Waverly views the psychological and emotional conflict with her mother as a game; since each party must make carefully planned, succeeding moves to accomplish the defeat of the other, the game of chess is an appropriate metaphor for the contest of wills between Waverly and Mrs. Jong. Neither discloses her motives in the contest, but each secretly plans to subvert the other's will through potentially devastating emotional maneuvers.

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