What is the mood of the short story "Rules of the Game" by Amy Tan?

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In Amy Tan's "Rules of the Game ," the mood is preeminently one of tension. This tension is caused not by suspense or secrecy but by the conflict (generally unspoken) between Waverly and her mother. In a story of a few pages, the words "my mother" are repeated...

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In Amy Tan's "Rules of the Game," the mood is preeminently one of tension. This tension is caused not by suspense or secrecy but by the conflict (generally unspoken) between Waverly and her mother. In a story of a few pages, the words "my mother" are repeated 35 times, reporting something her mother said or did and generally in opposition to the authorial "I." The writer's voice is literate, eloquent, fully assimilated, while her mother speaks in staccato Pidgin English versions of Chinese proverbs.

The mother in the story is powerful and domineering, forever telling her daughter what to do. She often fails to understand the "rules of the game," as she does when Waverly has to tell her that the object of chess is to checkmate one's opponent, not to take as many pieces as possible. Though Waverly is right here, her mother triumphs when Waverly wins the next tournament while losing fewer pieces. Even when Waverly wins the game, she cannot win against her mother, hence the atmosphere of tension between the generations which pervades the story.

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In a short story, the mood can be described as the general atmosphere that evokes certain feelings in the reader. This can be achieved in a number of ways: through the use of vivid imagery, the detailed description of important events, or the skillful employment of language designed to provoke an emotional response.

In "Rules of the Game" when Waverly starts getting interested in chess, her mood is one of excitement. She begs her brothers to let her play until, eventually, they relent. Yet Waverly's excitement is at odds with the generally oppressive atmosphere that hangs over every page of the story. Such an overbearing mood is mainly generated by the strict parenting methods of Waverly's mother, which are expressed in curt commands such as "Bite back your tongue."

Even as Waverly rapidly turns into a child chess prodigy, the mood remains oppressive. There's never any sense that she enjoys the game; she always has her mother looking over her shoulder, both literally and figuratively. Waverly's mother dominates the action in such a way that it is as difficult for the reader to escape her domineering presence, as it is for Waverly herself.

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Good question! When thinking about the mood of a short story we can also consider the content of the story to help us determine what mood is adopted. This short story, like "Two Kinds", features the conflict between a Chinese mother who has immigrated to the States and her daughter, born in the States, who wants to forge an individual identity for herself. The mood can thus be said to capture the increasing resentment of Waverley against her mother for her insistence of showing her off but also her increasing defiance and stubbornness in her desire to be her own person. To me, a key passage is at the end of the story, when Waverley imagines a chess game to explore the conflict between herself and her mother:

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

This imagery and the mood employed shows the reader how Waverley feels and views her mother's intrusion - she is depicted as a dangerous, frightening figure with "two angry black slits". The very last line of the story, "I closed my eyes and pondered my next move", seems to capture the defiance expressed by Waverley throughout as she considers what her next move in this "game" will be to beat her opponent (her mother) and achieve independence.

You may want to consider reading the book from which this short story is taken - The Joy Luck Club, which is an excellent book developing the conflicts between four sets of Chinese mothers and daughters.

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