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

Rules of the Game

by Amy Tan
Start Free Trial

What's the internal and external conflict between Waverly and her mother in "Rules of the Game"?

Expert Answers

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

Th external conflict between Waverley and her mother lies in the way the latter often tries to control her daughter's actions. A great example of external conflict can be seen when Waverley practices her chess moves at home. Without fail, both mother and daughter often end up arguing about the game. While Waverley sees the benefit of incorporating hers and Lau Po's chess strategies, her mother approaches the game differently.

As she wiped each piece with a soft cloth, she said, "Next time win more, lose less." "Ma, it's not how many pieces you lose," I said. "Sometimes you need to lose pieces to get ahead." "Better to lose less, see if you really need."

At the next tournament, I won again, but it was my mother who wore the triumphant grin. "Lost eight piece this time. Last time was eleven. What I tell you? Better off lose less!" I was annoyed, but I couldn't say anything.

But I found it difficult to concentrate at home. My mother had a habit of standing over me while I plotted out my games. I think she thought of herself as my protective ally. Her lips would be sealed tight, and after each move I made, a soft "Hmmmmph" would escape from her nose.

Waverley's mother insists that losing less pieces will result in a stronger victory for Waverley; the latter disagrees. In the meantime, the mother hovers, while the daughter tries to fend her off. So, there is this unrelenting conflict between Waverley and her mother in the sense that their game strategies are diametrically opposed.

Interestingly, this external conflict exposes the internal conflict between the two. Both Waverley and her mother entertain different philosophies about life. As the parent, Waverley's mother believes that she knows best, and she expects her daughter to demonstrate her respect through external compliance as well as internal assent to her dictates.

However, Waverley wants to chart her own path in life; she resents being forced to act the role of the traditional Chinese daughter. When Waverley's mother proudly introduces her to everyone they meet one market day, Waverley loses her temper. She accuses her mother of using her to "show off." For her part, the older woman is aghast at her daughter's seeming ungratefulness and unfilial behavior. After investing her time and resources on her daughter, Waverley's mother believes that she deserves bragging rights for having raised such a talented daughter.

However, Waverley sees otherwise. By the end of the story, Waverley comes to understand that, if she wants to win the internal and external conflict with her mother, she must learn to harness the strategy of "invisible strength" in the game of chess as well as in the game of life.

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

This story is really one big struggle for independence between Waverly and her mother. Waverly, as the story progresses and she becomes more aware of her talent, shows embarrassment at the way her mother takes pride in her and wants to exploit her gift and talent to bring attention to her:

My mother would proudly walk with me, visiting many shops, buying very little. "This is my daughter Wave-ly Jong," she said to whoever looked her way.

One day, after we left a shop I said under my breath, "I wish you wouldn't do that, telling everybody I'm your daughter."

While the narrator enjoys the challenge of winning at chess for its own sake, clearly the mother enjoys the success of her daughter for the admiration it brings to her.

At the end, the imagery of the chess board in Waverly's dream is used to symbolise the conflict between Waverly and her mother, as each struggles for mastery over the other. The way that the story ends, with Waverly closing her eyes and "pondering my next move," indicates Waverly's desire to escape her mother and treats her conflict as a game of chess. Although Waverly has lost this round, she is considering how to eventually beat her mother and gain the independence she so desperately desires.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team