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Rules of the Game

by Amy Tan

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How is Meimei's relationship with her mother like a game of chess?  

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Rules of the Game” by Amy Tan is a short story narrated by a young Chinese-American girl named Waverly Jong, known to her family as Meimei. Meimei, who becomes an excellent chess player, is in a constant power struggle with her mother. Her mother is extremely strict as she tries to teach Chinese cultural values to her children.

As Meimei’s mother consistently attempts to influence her daughter, Meimei responds by trying to resist her mother’s control. This mother-daughter conflict is where we can see a parallel to the game of chess. Chess is a game of strategy, and it is very similar to war. Because of the confidence and strategic skills she gained from playing chess, Meimei asserts her dominance in the relationship for the first time.

At the end of the story, Meimei’s narration directly compares her mother to a chess opponent. She says:

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.

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.

The story ends that way, with the reader in suspense about who wins the chess match and who wins the battle between mother and daughter.

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There are many interesting similarities between chess and real life in “Rules of the Game.” In chess, the white piece always moves first. Symbolically, this could represent the idea in "Rules of the Game" that Chinese culture is considered inferior to the white culture. The Christmas party scene, in which Meimei’s family is given the used chess set but cannot complain, is a good example of this. In chess, the queen is the most powerful piece and can move in any direction as long as it represents a straight line. In the story, she is represented by Meimei’s mother, who has all the power. Meimei, then, is the pawn. In chess, a pawn can only move forward one square at a time, not backwards, and the pawn can only capture diagonally. This is akin to Meimei, who is controlled by her mother and only has a limited number of moves available to her.

Interestingly, a pawn in chess, if it reaches the other side of the board, can be promoted to any other piece, and often a pawn is promoted to queen. This reflects the idea in the story that Meimei, once she becomes a chess champion, believes she has power over everyone in the family. She feels equal to her mother. In the end, however, Meimei chooses to make a move a pawn cannot make by choosing the power play of disrespecting her mother and running away. Her mother, who the family considers the most powerful member of the family, wins by forcing the family to ignore Meimei when she comes home. Meimei may have had the advantage of understanding the “white” world and making the first move, but in the end, her mother, the black queen, won the game.

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