What is the symbolism in the story "Rules of the Game" by Amy Tan?

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One symbol that remains present throughout the story is the wind. In a way, the wind acts as Waverly's best friend. That's a bit sad to think about, but the wind functions very much like an imaginary friend. The wind whispers wisdom in her ear in the same way that little kids carry on conversations with friends that only they can see:

It whispered secrets only I could hear.

The wind also gives Waverly strength and hope. It should be noticed that it is the wind that pushes her "up toward the night sky." The wind pushes her toward freedom which is in opposition to what Waverly's mother is doing to her.

A second symbol present in the story is the fish and turtles that are held prisoner in the shop nearby Waverly's home. The fish and turtles are trapped just like Waverly is trapped. They struggle to escape, but they are not capable of it in the same way that Waverly is controlled and trapped by her mother and her mother's desires:

Farther down the street was Ping Yuen Fish Market. The front window displayed a tank crowded with doomed fish and turtles struggling to gain footing on the slimy green-tiled sides.

It is interesting to note that the fish and turtles are held up in front of everybody. They are on display in the same way that Waverly's mother puts her up on display, yet the quote states the display shows "doomed fish and turtles." The same could probably be said about Waverly. As long as she allows her mother to hold her up on display, Waverly is doomed. That's why the story ends on such a hopeful note about Waverly planning her next winning move, and we know it is against her mother.

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In "Rules of the Game" chess is, of course, a symbol, because the story tells about the game and "the secrets I found within the sixty-four black and white squares." As Waverly learns the game, she learns her inner strength. The game takes her on a journey which gives her notoriety but also teaches her the game of life and the ways she and her mother must navigate it.

Waverly's hair is also a symbol. This piece of her is used to represent her entire self. Her hair is described as "disobedient" and "thick," which are both terms her mother could use to describe her. Just as her mom fights Waverly's hair's natural tendencies, she also fights her daughter's natural wild tendencies. When her hair is formed into neat and tight braids, it is behaving—a symbol for when Waverly is also behaving.

Fish and turtles are also symbols for Waverly. As she struggles to gain her freedom, she finds herself just as stuck as the turtles "struggling to gain footing on the slimy green-tiled sides" and the fish dinner of "fleshy head still connected to bones swimming upstream in vain escape." The fish and turtles are stuck in their current situation just as she is stuck playing (and winning) chess, unable to escape from her controlling mother.

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In "Rules of the Game," by Amy Tan, the game of chess symbolizes "the art of invisible strength" (paragraph 1) necessary to play the game of life. The concept of invisible strength aids Waverly when she learns skills necessary to succeed both in chess and in life.

First of all, rules are integral to playing chess. Waverly learns the rules by studying them intently and looking up words she doesn't know in the dictionary. In this manner, she learns to use her mind. More importantly, she discovers that chess is much like life because chess is a game of secrets; one must never tell everything. This knowledge of chess and Waverly's opponents allows her to win in many of her battles with her mother. Waverly uses her invisible strength to get out of doing her chores and to obtain her own bedroom.

At the close of the story, Waverly envisions the chess board after her latest battle with her mother. She also visualizes her mother: "She wore a triumphant smile. 'Strongest wind cannot be seen,' she said." That strong wind represents the secrets one needs to win, and at this point, Mrs. Jong appears to have scored a victory over her daughter. Waverly contemplates her next move against her mother when she is alone at the end of the story and the strong wind symbolically takes her up into the night sky. Without the game of chess, she would not have been able to compete against her mother in the game of life.

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The chess set is symbolic.  At first, chess was a game.  It was fun for Waverly.  Then it became an obsession.  She genuinely loved winning.  However, when winning became the only thing that was important to her mother, chess lost its appeal.

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