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

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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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.