abstract illustration of a chess board with two disembodied eyes above it

Rules of the Game

by Amy Tan

Start Free Trial

What are two examples of sensory imagery in "Rules of the Game" by Amy Tan?

Quick answer:

There is a great deal of sensory imagery in "Rules of the Game." One passage describes a high school auditorium "that echoed with phlegmy coughs and the squeaky rubber knobs of chair legs sliding across freshly waxed wooden floors," using auditory imagery. A contrasting passage depicts the alley outside Waverly's apartment with visual imagery, including a depiction of "a printer who specialized in gold-embossed wedding invitations and festive red banners."

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Amy Tan's "Rules of the Game" is full of sensory imagery, with descriptions of the tastes, sounds, and smells of Waverly's childhood, in addition to any number of striking visual images. Taste and smell combine in the "fragrant red beans ... cooked down to a pasty sweetness," while the children use sound to choose the best gifts at the Christmas party, shaking the boxes to see if they can guess the contents from the noise.

When Waverly's picture is taken for a magazine story in which she will be hailed as a child prodigy, she is playing chess in an unfamiliar environment:

I was playing in a large high school auditorium that echoed with phlegmy coughs and the squeaky rubber knobs of chair legs sliding across freshly waxed wooden floors.

The auditory imagery adds to the strangeness of the setting, with two different types of unnatural sound. This is a sharp contrast to Waverly's home, the alley in which she lives, which is described with a wealth of detailed imagery, such as the visual vignette presented in this passage:

My brothers and I would peer into the medicinal herb shop, watching old Li dole out onto a stiff sheet of white paper the right amount of insect shells, saffron-colored seeds, and pungent leaves for his ailing customers. ... Next to the pharmacy was a printer who specialized in gold-embossed wedding invitations and festive red banners.

The colors here, from the white paper and saffron seeds of the herb shop to the red and gold of the printers next door, create the sense of a colorful, vibrant neighborhood, diametrically opposed to the clinical atmosphere of the high school auditorium where the chess tournament takes place.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Here are some additional examples of sensory imagery in Amy Tan's "Rules of the Game:"

In the early morning, when the alley was still quiet, I could smell fragrant red beans as they were cooked down to a pasty sweetness. By daybreak, our flat was heavy with the odor of fried sesame balls and sweet curried chicken crescents.

Above, the narrator appeals to our senses of smell and taste, describing the "red beans" cooked to a "pasty sweetness" as well as the "heavy" scent of the "sesame balls" and "chicken crescents." Even if we haven't sampled these foods ourselves, we can imagine their scents and their tastes, thanks to the specific words Tan has chosen, like "sweetness," "heavy," "fried," and "curried." As a result, we feel as if we are right there in the story, as if the story is real.

Next, here's Tan appealing to our vision, showing us the colors and consistencies of a gift that Waverly is about to unwrap:

I chose a heavy, compact [gift] that was wrapped in shiny silver foil and a red satin ribbon.

These details build our anticipation as we wait for Waverly to open the gift. Again, the effect of the sensory imagery is a sense of immersion: a feeling that the story is actually happening in front of our eyes.

So far, we've seen sensory details that appeal to our senses of smell, taste, and vision. Let's find some auditory imagery as well: the kind of sensory detail that appeals to our sense of hearing.

Narrating the story, Waverly describes listening to her father get ready for work, hearing how he "locked the door behind him, one-two-three clicks." These sounds echo in our own ears, as they're easy to imagine.

And, as we keep reading, Waverly describes the playground, "where old-country people sat cracking roasted watermelon seeds with their golden teeth and scattering the husks to an impatient gathering of gurgling pigeons." Did you catch that? She said the old-country people were "cracking" seeds and "scattering" them, and that the pigeons were "gurgling." These words help us "hear" the action of the story, bringing us into it, making it more real than if Tan had simply said that the men were "throwing seeds to loud pigeons."

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Sensory imagery is the use of the appeal to the senses by the author.  The author can describe sights, smells, sounds, textures, and tastes.  Amy Tan is an expert at using sensory description to create a more detailed world.  Here is an example from when Waverly’s mother tries to teach her to keep her thoughts to herself. 

"Bite back your tongue," scolded my mother when I cried loudly, yanking her hand toward the store that sold bags of salted plums. At home, she said, "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." 

The images of “salted plums” and wind create a picture in the reader’s mind to reinforce the idea.  Waverly’s mother is trying to teach her to keep quiet, and when she does she rewarded her with the treat.  The reader can almost taste the plums. 

The images of Chinatown also create a setting that serves as a vivid backdrop for the story.  The Ping Yuen Fish Market has “a tank crowded with doomed fish” and” turtles struggling to gain footing on the slimy green-tiled sides.”  Hand-written signs inform tourists that everything is for food and no animals will be sold as pets. 

Inside, the butchers with their bloodstained white smocks deftly gutted the fish while customers cried out their orders and shouted, "Give me your freshest," to which the butchers always protested, "All are freshest." On less crowded market days, we would inspect the crates of live frogs and crabs which we were warned not to poke … 

The sensory images of the markets, the fish, the tourists, and the shops help the reader picture the backdrop to the story and the cultural setting.  The same is true when the author describes Waverly’s opponents, or her outfits, in detail.  Sensory details help the reader imagine the story.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What are two examples of imagery or sensory details in "Rules of the Game"?

This piece of writing has excellent sensory details that really engage the reader's senses. This is one of my favorite examples:

In the early morning, when the alley was still quiet, I could smell fragrant red beans as they were cooked down to a pasty sweetness. By daybreak, our flat was heavy with the odor of fried sesame balls and sweet curried chicken crescents. From my bed, I could listen as my father got ready for work, then locked the door behind him, one-two-three clicks.

These are the smells and sounds of the narrator's childhood, and there is routine in these familiar sounds and smells. These details convey the rich smells which envelop the young girl in her two-bedroom flat which rests over a Chinese bakery and the finality of her father's departure from that little flat each morning as he left for work.

Another example is located later as the narrator describes the process of getting ready for school:

Each morning before school, my mother would twist and yank on my thick black hair until she had formed two tightly wound pigtails. One day, as she struggled to weave a hard-toothed comb through my disobedient hair, I had a sly thought.

The visual details of this process demonstrate the rigor with which the Waverly's mother tackles her daughter's hair each morning. The final product is a tight hair style, capable of lasting through her daughter's school day. Waverley's hair reflects her own spirit, a bit wild and untamed.

Later, Waverly has the opportunity to choose a Christmas gift at the First Chinese Baptist Church. She describes the method behind selecting a wrapped gift:

As I peered into the sack, I quickly fingered the remaining presents, testing their weight, imagining what they contained. I chose a heavy, compact one that was wrapped in shiny silver foil and a red satin ribbon. It was a twelve-pack of Life Savers and I spent the rest of the party arranging and rearranging the candy tubes in the order of my favorites.

These sensory details bring to life the sights and sounds of Christmas, familiar details for many readers. These details connect the reader to a familiar joy of eager anticipation, the wrapping paper and ribbons conjuring warm memories of childhood.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What are two examples of imagery or sensory details in "Rules of the Game"?

Amy Tan uses sensory details and imagery to give the reader a sense of what it is like for Waverly to grow up in Chinatown in San Francisco. For example, the author writes:

We lived on Waverly Place, in a warm, clean, two-bedroom flat that sat above a small Chinese bakery specializing in steamed pastries and dim sum. In the early morning, when the alley was still quiet, I could smell fragrant red beans as they were cooked down to a pasty sweetness. By daybreak, our flat was heavy with the odor of fried sesame balls and sweet curried chicken crescents.

This example includes details that help the reader imagine the way Waverly's surroundings smell. The sensory details provided allow the reader to experience what it is like to walk down Waverly's street or be in her apartment, in which delicious smells of baking Chinese delicacies waft all day.

Later, the author provides the following sensory details in a description of how Waverly's forceful mother grooms her daughter's hair: "She wetted her palm and smoothed the hair above my ear, then pushed the pin in so that it nicked sharply against my scalp." These details help the reader imagine the way Waverly feels as her mother is helping her with her hair, and the details appeal to the reader's sense of touch. The imagery in this passage helps the reader really put him or herself in Waverly's shoes and understand how forceful the mother can be towards her daughter. 

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What are two examples of imagery or sensory details in "Rules of the Game"?

"Rules of the Game" is rich in sensory detail; we can find imagery in nearly every paragraph. Let's check out some of the most masterful examples.

In the beginning of the story, Waverly describes her neighborhood setting, detailing the creatures both living and dead that were for sale:

"On less crowded market days, we would inspect the crates of live frogs and crabs which we were warned not to poke, boxes of dried cuttlefish, and row upon row of iced prawns, squid, and slippery fish. The sanddabs made me shiver each time; their eyes lay on one flattened side and reminded me of my mother’s story of a careless girl who ran into a crowded street and was crushed by a cab."

This imagery gives us a richly detailed view of what Waverly sees as she walks through the market, but it also hints toward the general theme of confinement and the need for escape ("crates," "boxes," "eyes lay on one flattened side... [like] a careless girl who ran into a crowded street and was crushed"). In particular, the image of the sanddab prepares us for the final scene in which Waverly sees herself in the fish's body on the dinner table, both her and the fish stuck as victims of confinement.

“I was playing in a large high school auditorium that echoed with phlegmy coughs and the squeaky rubber knobs of chair legs sliding across freshly waxed wooden floors."

The above sentence is full of auditory imagery, or the sensory detail of sound: you can hear the scene in your mind, since the narrator tells you that there are coughs that sound phlegmy and squeaks that sound like rubber moving across wood. The effect here is one of realism and tension: the fact that Waverly conveys the sounds so clearly clues you in to the idea that she’s hyper-focused on her surroundings as the chess competition is starting.

(Originally, this question also asked for examples of personification from the story as well as an explanation of how the fish and Waverly herself are symbolically connected. Please follow the respective links for those separate discussions.)

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Last Updated on