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Rules of the Game

by Amy Tan

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

Waverly and her mother are both strong, dominant, stubborn, and determined to win at all costs. However, Waverly, in addition to all the cultural differences one would expect from being brought up in America, has a subtler and more strategic mind than her mother.

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Waverly begins the story with something her mother taught her, “the art of invisible strength,” which she has remembered and used ever since. One reason for the frequent clashes between Waverly and her mother is the similarity of their personalities. They are both strong and dominant, with a ruthless, competitive streak which makes them desperate to win any conflict at all costs. This makes them a formidable team when they are on the same side, as they are when it comes to furthering Waverly’s chess career, but renders the conflicts between them even more bitter.

Several of the differences between Waverly and her mother are relatively superficial distinctions between a girl brought up in America and a woman raised in a traditional Chinese society. These distinctions are common to all the girls and mothers in The Joy Luck Club and, indeed, to Tan and her own mother (she presents their relationship in her essay, “Mother Tongue”). However, one important and profound difference between them lies in the quality and scope of their intellects. Waverly’s mother is not without intelligence, but her simple approach to life cannot compete with Waverly’s strategic understanding. This is illustrated when her mother scolds Waverly for losing too many chess pieces, failing to grasp that achieving checkmate is all that matters.

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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...

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game of chess becomes ametaphor for the transition between childhood and adulthood and its struggles.

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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.

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In Rules of the Game, what do you think Waverly is struggling for when she challenges her mother? What does her mother want? In what ways are Waverly and her mother similar?

When Waverly challenges her mother in "Rules of the Game," she wants some degree of independence. Playing chess allows Waverly to have her own room, separate from her brothers, and she also gets out of eating all her rice if she doesn't feel like it. When her mother goes around Chinatown introducing Waverly as her daughter, Waverly tells her to stop doing so. It's clear that Waverly wants to claim all the credit for her chess prowess as her own so that she can become more independent from her mother. 

In addition, Waverly wants to beat her mother at her own game. She says in the story's first line, "I was six when my mother taught me the art of invisible strength." Her mother teaches her to hide what she wants and that the "strongest wind cannot be seen." As Waverly improves her chess skills, she is developing this invisible strength to challenge her mother, just as her mother has taught her. She uses this strength to try to defeat her mother at her own game and to win some degree of freedom from her mother. Her mother also wants to use this invisible strength to control her daughter, and in this way they are similar.  

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In Rules of the Game, what do you think Waverly is struggling for when she challenges her mother? What does her mother want? In what ways are Waverly and her mother similar?

Waverly wants what all kids want: some independence from Lindo. Waverly believes that her skill in chess is all her own, not her mother's coaching. Lindo, doesn't see it this way. She is passing down what she has learned; that you must intuitively learn your life lessons like she did. Both of them are stubborn and devious. They carefully plan out their next move to ensure they have the best outcome.

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What is Waverly struggling for when she challenges her mother? What does her mother want?

This is a great question.  In the story Waverly matures.  At first she is under the  care of her mother in a direct way.  In the opening lines of the story, her mother teaches her the art of invisible strength, the ability to win arguments and respect from others. 

As the story progresses, Waverly learns.  In fact, she uses what she has learned in the game of chess.  She becomes so successful that she becomes a national sensation. The story even suggests that she might be a chess grandmaster.  

They ran a photo of me in Life magazine next to a quote in which Bobby Fischer said, "There will never be a woman grand master." "Your move, Bobby," said the caption.

Towards the end of the story, Waverly's mother has not changed. She still views Waverly as her little daughter.  So, when they go to the marketplace, she says "This is Waverly, my daughter, the chess champion."  The problem is that Waverly has changed.   She wants more independence. She is her own person.  Therefore, conflict ensues. 

From this perspective, Waverly struggles with breaking free and being her own person.  Her mother, on the other hand, does not want change.  The story ends without a resolution. 

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