Rules Of The Game Theme

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

Expert Answers
readerofbooks eNotes educator| Certified Educator

There are many themes in the story "Rules of the Game." However, the main theme is power. The opening lines of the work introduce the theme with these words:

I was six when my mother taught me the art of invisible strength. It was a strategy for winning arguments, respect from others, and eventually, though neither of us knew it at the time, chess games.

Waverly Jong uses what she learns about power and applies it to chess. She does very well and becomes a national sensation. From this perspective, she uses the art of "invisible strength" to defeat her opponents. 

As the story progresses, she also has conflicts with her mother. This is where the story becomes more interesting, because there is a contest of wit and will with her mother. Will Waverly admit that she is dependent on her mother and do what she is told or will she assert her independence? The question is who will win. 

At the end of the story, as the tension escalates, the reader is not given an answer of who will win (but it is implied that her mother was winning). More importantly, everything has morphed into a chess game of power. 

Her black men advanced across the plane, slowly marching to each successive level as a single unit. My white pieces screamed as they scurried and fell off the board one by one. As her men drew closer to my edge, I felt myself growing light. I rose up into the air and flew out the window. Higher and higher, above the alley, over the tops of tiled roofs, where I was gathered up by the wind and pushed up toward the night sky until everything below me disappeared and I was alone. I closed my eyes and pondered my next move.

gmuss25 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Throughout the short story "Rules of the Game," Amy Tan examines the theme of coping with high expectations and performing under extreme pressure. Waverly Jong is a child prodigy. She is revered throughout her neighborhood for her accomplishments in the field of chess. Despite the fact that she receives high praise from her community and family, Waverly is forced to deal with the high expectations of her mother. Waverly's mother lives vicariously through her child and challenges her daughter to improve her performance after each chess match. Waverly begins to experience the pressure from her mother, particularly when she is practicing at home. Waverly's mother watches over her shoulder while she practices and forces her daughter into the community's limelight by making Waverly go to the market on Saturdays. Waverly begins to resent her mother's treatment and no longer wishes to play chess by the end of the story. Waverly is not able to cope with her mother's additional pressure and high expectations. She chooses to abandon her dreams of earning grand master status in order to escape her mother's oppressive nature.

litteacher8 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

“Rules of the Game” is from The Joy Luck Club.  The story recounts Waverly’s time as a chess prodigy.  As a small child, Waverly had a predilection for chess.  However, after her mother and family focused too heavily on winning, she begins to feel embarrassed by being singled out.  She gets into an argument with her mother that results in her inability to play chess.

Chess is often described as a metaphor for life.  One theme of “Rules of the Game” is that no person should be defined by one single thing.  Another theme is that when parents try to live vicariously through their children, it is usually disastrous for both parent and child.


janeyb eNotes educator| Certified Educator

There are many themes within "rules of the game" by Amy Tan. The one that interests me the most, however, is that of the relationship between mother and daughter. Waverly and her mother have a good relationship towards the beginning of the novel, however as Waverly gets more Americanized, the their relationship seems to fade. Waverly is moving on, whereas her mother wants to stay in the Chinese traditions. That is the theme that intrigues me the most, however others in the novel include but aren't limited to, being a CHinese American, poverty, and chess.