In "The Rules of the Game," how are Waverly and her mother different and how are they alike?

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accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Although this excellent short story primarily concerns the conflict between a first generation Chinese immigrant to the United States and her daughter, who is born in the United States and therefore has a very different experience of migrancy from her mother, there are actually a number of similarities between Waverly and her mother. Mostly these are based around their shared Chinese heritage and the way that this comes to be a force of strength for both of them. Both of them come to be defined by the various bits of Chinese lore and culture that identify them. Consider the lesson that Waverly is taught by her mother at the beginning of the story:

Wise guy, he not go against wind. In Chinese we say, Come from South, blow with wind--poom!--North will follow. Strongest wind cannot be seen.

This is a philosophy that both characters use and in particular Waverly adopts this to ensure success in her chess matches. In addition, both characters show incredible independence and resilience in learning the "rules" of the various games that they play. Waverly's mother has been forced to learn the rules of immigration, just as Waverly herself learns how to play chess.

However, in spite of the similarities based around a similar Chinese heritage, these two characters are defined more by their differences than by their similarities. In particular, Waverly feels mortified and embarrassed by the way in which her mother shows off her daughter and takes the credit for her succes:

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.

This is the central point of conflict between the mother and Waverly, as Waverly asks her mother to stop behaving like this: "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?" In the struggle for Waverly to develop into her own individual person and establish her identity, she feels her mother is a force against which she must struggle, which is dramatically presented in the dream Waverly has at the end of the story.

reidalot eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Amy Tan's short story, "The Rules of the Game," Waverly and her mother are both different and alike.

First of all, their differences lie in their views of life, even though they both learn to play "the game." Mrs. Jong, as an immigrant, has learned "to bite back your tongue." That is, she has learned to navigate American culture through hiding her true thoughts. For example, when given the chess set, Mrs. Jong says, "Too good. Cost too much." However, arriving home, she tells Vincent to throw the game away as it is an American game, and she wants to cling to Chinese culture.

On the other hand, Waverly is unafraid of the chess game and wants to learn the intricacies of winning, which she does. In fact, she learns to tout her victories openly as when she is playing chess against Bobby Fischer and looks at him with a "triumphant smile" when she places her chess piece in a "threatening place." This example illustrates the differences between the traditional culture of Mrs. Jong and Waverly's integration into the new American culture.

However, both mother and daughter are alike as they both have learned the "art of invisible strength." On one hand, that strength has to do with Mrs. Jong's control over Waverly and her ability to function within American culture. However, as Waverly proceeds to master the art of chess, she also masters the art of winning against her mother. This invisible strength signifies the rules and knowledge of life and is emphasized at the end of the short story when Waverly closes her eyes and ponders her next move. This move is against her mother. Therefore, the game of chess becomes a metaphor for the transition between childhood and adulthood and its struggles.


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Rules of the Game

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