Symbolically connect Waverly to the fish the family eats for dinner in the final scene of "Rules of the Game."  

Symbolically, the bones in the fish represent how Waverly has been worn down. "Vain escape" refers to her failed attempt to run away, and the idea of "swimming upstream" refers to the difficulties that Waverly has in getting along with her mother.

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By the time we've reached the end of the story, Waverly has just returned home after briefly running away. She was finding it increasingly hard to live with the pressure of being a chess prodigy, and was desperate to get away from her mother Lindo, whose idea it was for...

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By the time we've reached the end of the story, Waverly has just returned home after briefly running away. She was finding it increasingly hard to live with the pressure of being a chess prodigy, and was desperate to get away from her mother Lindo, whose idea it was for her to play chess in the first place.

But without anywhere else to go, Waverly had no choice but to return home, whereupon she is given the silent treatment by her angry mother. Just as Waverly returns home, her family is finishing their dinner, which consisted of, among other things, a large fish, which has been picked clean, with only its large head remaining.

In some respects, the fish aptly symbolizes Waverly and her unfortunate predicament. The poor fish was unable to escape when it was alive. Despite swimming upstream, it was eventually caught and eaten. Waverly herself tried to escape, but was unable to do so. She had to return to her family and face the music after briefly running away. Her attempted escape was as vain as that of the poor fish swimming upriver. And as she stands there waiting for her punishment, Waverly must feel as gutted as the fish.

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Rules of the Game” tells the story of a battle of wills between a young girl and her mother in a Chinese immigrant family. Waverly quickly picks up the game despite being encouraged only to do her chores. She swiftly rises to become a national chess championship, and her mother, despite her earlier discouragement, enters into a battle of wills with her. This is far from the first battle of wills which has taken place in the tenuous relationship between mother and daughter.

Here’s what we are told about the fish that Waverly’s family eats for dinner in the final scene: “On a platter were the remains of a large fish, its fleshy head still connected to bones swimming upstream in vain escape.”

I would argue that the word “bones” symbolically connects the fish to Waverly, because the latter has been worn down by her mother’s ongoing demands and the pressure she has felt to succeed.

“Vain escape” refers symbolically to Waverly’s attempt at running away, which fails when she realizes that she is too young to survive on her own and lacks the resources to live independently.

The notion of “swimming upstream” relates to Waverly’s feelings about her ongoing struggle to see eye to eye with her mother. It is very difficult to make progress if you are swimming upstream, and this is exactly how Waverly feels about her relationship with her mother.

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Waverly's mother is portrayed as an authoritative woman, who is extremely proud of her daughter's success but oppresses Waverly to the point where she no longer wishes to play chess. Waverly's mother hovers over her daughter while she practices and forces her to walk next to her in public. Waverly finds her mother's actions to be annoying and oppressive. She grows tired of her mother's peer pressure and high expectations and desires to quit the game that she once loved. One day, Waverly decides that she is done attending to her mother's demands and runs away from her in the marketplace. After Waverly runs away from her mother, she decides to return home while her family is in the middle of eating dinner. Tan writes,

On a platter were the remains of a large fish, its fleshy head still connected to bones swimming upstream in vain escape. (8)

The fish symbolically represents Waverly, who desperately attempts to escape her mother's oppressive supervision and influence. Similar to the dead fish, Waverly feels exhausted and incomplete because of her mother's constant demands and expectations. When her mother comments that their family will no longer concern themselves with Waverly's affairs, Waverly begins to contemplate ways to defeat her mother.

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“On a platter were the remains of a large fish, its fleshy head still connected to bones swimming upstream in vain escape.”

Waverly, the narrator and young chess champion who keeps struggling with her mother, describes the family’s dinner this way. She’s just shown up at home after being out by herself for a few hours, having run away from her mother in the market. Waverly is very frustrated and embarrassed by the way her mother introduces her to strangers in the market; the girl seems to think her mother is taking credit for Waverly’s success as a chess prodigy.

But while Waverly is sitting alone, angry and cold and tired from running, she realizes that she has nowhere to go. There isn’t any escape from her mother or from her situation. This realization leads Waverly reluctantly back home to sit down to dinner with the family.

So, you can understand why Waverly would describe the fish on the dinner platter as a creature “swimming upstream in vain escape.” She identifies symbolically with the fish; both the creature and the young girl are trying desperately to find freedom and escape from the forces that are directing their lives.

With “its fleshy head still connected to bones,” the fish can also be symbolic of Waverly’s family unit. Waverly is the head; her mother is the bones. (Or vice versa, depending on your interpretation—I see Waverly as the head, since she’s the one facing a certain direction, trying to nudge away from her mother.) The mother and child, like the head and the bones, are connected to each other deeply. No matter how Waverly struggles to separate herself from her mother, she’s still a child under her mother’s care, and she’s still strongly influenced by her mother’s ideas and perspectives.

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