In "Rules of the Game," what is the art of invisible strength?

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gmuss25 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

At the beginning of the short story, Waverly's mother teaches her the art of invisible strength. Waverly's mother tells her daughter to bite her tongue because the "Strongest wind cannot be seen." The next week, Waverly watches as her mother secretly places some plums into their basket while shopping and leaves the store without paying for them. As a Chinese immigrant, Waverly's mother learns to remain quiet and appear timid while she secretly manipulates others into getting what she desires. Essentially, the art of invisible strength is a way to manipulate others by subtly attaining what one desires while appearing to be passive and submissive.

As Waverly begins playing chess, she uses the art of invisible strength to defeat her opponents. Many times, Waverly sacrifices various chess pieces in order to trick her opponents into making wrong moves. Waverly's subtle tactics and ability to manipulate her opponents give her an advantage during her chess matches. Waverly describes her use of invisible strength during a chess match by saying,

"Blow from the South," it murmured. "The wind leaves no trail." I saw a clear path, the traps to avoid. The crowd rustled. "Shhh! Shhh!" said the corners of the room. The wind blew stronger.  "Throw sand from the East to distract him." The knight came forward ready for the sacrifice. The wind hissed, louder and louder. "Blow, blow, blow. He cannot see. He is blind now. Make him lean away from the wind so he is easier to knock down." "Check," I said, as the wind roared with laughter. The wind died down to little puffs, my own breath." (4)

While the art of invisible strength allows Waverly to become a successful chess player, she also uses to it counter her mother's oppressive nature. At the end of the novel, Waverly retires to her room and contemplates how to challenge her mother's will by saying, "I closed my eyes and pondered my next move" (6). One can assume that Waverly will remain quiet around her mother while secretly manipulating her in order to gain the freedom and independence she desires.

accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

We find the answer to your question at the beginning of this short story that comments so much on the experience of migration coming from the point of view of Chinese immigrants to America and the conflict that occurs between these immigrants and their children, who are born in America and thus grow up learning very different values from their Chinese parents. Thus it is that Waverly, the protagonist and narrator of this short story, possesses a strange hybrid mix of values and lessons she has learned, some from her Chinese heritage taught to her by her mother, and some from her American heritage: her birth country.

The art of invisible strength, then, is part of Waverly's Chinese heritage:

I was six when my mother taught me the art of invisible strength. It was a strategy for winning arguments, respect from others, and eventually, though neither of us knew it at the time, chess games.

This "art of invisible strength" is described by her mother as not confronting others openly. Instead, you must seem to go along with them whilst subtly leading them in the direction that you prefer.

readerofbooks eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This is a good question. The above answer does a good job, but there is more. When Waverly was six years old, her mother began to teach her the art of invisible strength. According to Waverly, the art of invisible strength was a strategy that allowed her to win arguments and respect from others. Waverly's mother put it in these words:

"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."

Waverly's mother probably came to these conclusions as a Chinese woman who had to survive in a new world and land. She needed to be shrewd, wise, and even manipulative at times. She needed more than brute force; she needed invisible strength, an element of surprise. 

As the story progresses, Waverly also commented that the art of invisible strength was very helpful to her in her passion for chess. Finally, Waverly used this art to counter her mother. 

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Rules of the Game

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