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The Joy Luck Club

by Amy Tan

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In The Joy Luck Club, in "Rules of the Game," is Waverley's mother a metaphor to the "strongest wind" that "cannot be seen"? Please explain.

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In Amy Tan's novel, The Joy Luck Club, "Rules of the Game" tells the story of Waverly Jong as she becomes a chess champion. However, more important is the theme that Waverly learns from her mother:

I was six when my mother taught me the art of invisible strength. It was a strategy for winning arguments, respect from others...

To better understand Lindo Jong (Waverly's mother), it is important to refer to the preface to this section of the book (called "The Twenty-Six Malignant Gates"). 

A mother tells her daughter not to ride her bike around the corner because then her mother cannot see her when she falls, and will not hear her. The child argues with her mother:

"How do you know I'll fall?"...

"It is in a book, The Twenty-Six Malignant Gates, all the bad things that can happen to you outside the protection of this house."

The mother explains that these things are [mystically, it seems] written down in Chinese [somewhere], and that the child would not understand the words. The child, in a fit of temper, tells her mother that she doesn't know anything—proceeds to jump on the bike, and... her hurry to get away, she fell before she even reached the corner.

This introduction is central to this section of the book—particularly to Waverly's story. We come to know Waverly's mother (Lindo Jong) who has old and vast knowledge and experience, beyond what her Americanized daughter (Waverly) can understand. It is here that I find that Lindo Jong is, indeed, a metaphor for "the strongest wind [that] cannot be seen."

Mrs. Jong's message to Waverly is that one must move with the wind and not against it. Waverly comprehends some essence of her mother's advice as she applies it to her chess playing. Waverly's game-playing strategies show Amy Tan's ability to draw a parallel between the rules of chess and those of life:

I learned why it is essential in the endgame to have foresight...and patience...I discovered for the whole game one must gather invisible strengths and see the endgame before the game begins...That is the power of chess. It is a game of secrets in which one must show and never tell.

As Waverly learns more, she becomes an extremely gifted player. At home her mother makes sure all of her energies can be turned toward chess. Although Waverly advances in her skill, it is her mother who allows her to grow, in allowing her first to play competitive chess; moving her bedroom; buying her dresses for the matches; and, rooting for her. Waverly mistakenly forgets her mother is the wind blowing—foolishly thinking she is now the wind. 

Like the child in the chapter's preface, Waverly loses sight that Lindo Jong is the "strongest wind" in Waverly's life—perhaps not forever, but at this time. Waverly foolishly tries to fight her mother. In the marketplace, Waverly complains that her mother publicly shows her off—as if Lindo has no part in her daughter's success, and no right to be proud of her, even though Lindo has made it all possible in the first place (invisibly, like the wind). She is furious. At home, Lindo announces she is no longer concerned with Waverly.

Waverly realizes she has been playing a game of life with Lindo—and she cannot win. She has forgotten the rules.

In my head, I saw a chessboard...Opposite me was my opponent, two angry black slits. She wore a triumphant smile. "Strongest wind cannot be seen," she said.

Waverly's strength rests with chess. Her mother's is found in knowing the secrets of life.

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