Early in the story, what happens when Waverly cries to get a bag of salted plums? 

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When Waverly cries for a bag of salted plums, her mother orders her to "bite back" her tongue or to cease making a fuss.

For her part, Waverly's mother does not comply with Waverly's demands. Mother and daughter return home without the bag of plums. At home, Waverly's mother shares...

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When Waverly cries for a bag of salted plums, her mother orders her to "bite back" her tongue or to cease making a fuss.

For her part, Waverly's mother does not comply with Waverly's demands. Mother and daughter return home without the bag of plums. At home, Waverly's mother shares one of the most famous idioms of the novel:

"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 idiom is clear to Waverly, but what does it mean? Basically, the Chinese believe that requests must be accompanied by dignified speech. In fact, losing one's temper is very bad form and unlikely to bode well in any type of negotiation scenario. Knowing the strength and weaknesses of one's adversary, however, gives one an advantage. In this conflict, Waverly's mother has the upper hand. After all, she is the parent.

Waverly would have served her cause better by asking for the bag of plums courteously. Of course, there is no guarantee that her mother would have acquiesced to her demands, even if Waverly had asked politely. However, there is a high likelihood that Waverly's request would have been received with greater charity. As a result, a successful future outcome would have been more likely.

This interesting idiom teaches Waverly the importance of knowing the strengths and weaknesses of one's adversary. We may not be able to overcome a stronger adversary by conventional means, but we can use any acquired knowledge about our adversary to our advantage.

In this case, Waverly should have understood that she would never be able to move her mother (an "adversary" with a stronger will) by resorting to emotional theatrics. Later, after Waverly learns to "bite back" her tongue, her mother surprises her by purchasing the coveted bag of salted plums.

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When Waverly cries to get a bag of salted plums, her mother, Mrs. Jong, scolds her.  She does not give in for a moment.  In fact, she says: “bite back your tongue.”  This incident comes directly after Waverly’s recounting of her mother’s lessons about the art of invisible strength.  According to Waverly, this art was used to win arguments and respect from others. In light of this, we can say Mrs. Jong was teaching her about how to live life well and how to succeed.

From this perspective, this incident, though small, was actually profound in shaping Waverly.  That this lesson worked can be confirmed, because there is another plum story that follows.

Waverly and her mother were at the store again. It can be assumed that Waverly still wanted the salted plums, but this time she did not cry or throw a tantrum. When Mrs. Jong saw this, she bought a bag of plums for Waverly.

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