The Joy Luck Club Questions and Answers
by Amy Tan

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In The Joy Luck Club, what are some literary devices used in the chapter "Four Directions"?

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When Waverly's mother specifies that her soup at the restaurant must be served very hot, Waverly says that "it was by her tongue's expert estimate 'not even lukewarm.'" Of course, one's tongue is not actually capable of being an expert or making an estimate, but the tongue works together with one's brain to respond to heat or cold; the whole self is needed to perform this action. Therefore, Waverly uses synecdoche—when one substitutes a part for the whole—to describe her mother's response. It makes Waverly sound rather wry and ironic, as though she is mocking her mother a bit.

Waverly also uses a metaphor—a comparison of two unalike things where one is said to be another—when she describes a telephone that her daughter and her fiancé took apart as "disemboweled." A phone does not actually have bowels, but people do, and this comparison helps to establish the mood of the chapter, as Waverly is feeling uncertain and fearful of her mother's response to her news. This is also an example of personification, or ascribing humanlike qualities in inhuman things.

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As the first chapter where Waverly is introduced to us demonstrates, one key aspect of Waverly and her relationship with her mother is the chess game that acts as a powerful symbol of the conflict between them as Waverly grows up and tries to find her independence and break free from her mother's hold over her. This helps us to understand the way in which chess playing acts as a powerful metaphor throughout her narrative. Consider the following example from the chapter you have identified:

And she was the queen, able to move in all directions, relentless in her pursuit, always able to find my weakest spots. 

Waverly here uses this metaphor to describe how she feels persecuted and pursued by her mother, and how she also feels curiously vulnerable, as if she were a pawn being pursued by a chess piece that is much more powerful and mobile than herself. 

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