In the 1989 novel The Joy Luck Club, Amy Tan shows how Waverly learns invisible strength from her mother to help her defeat opponents at chess. Invisible strength is the force of staying quiet and betraying nothing (discomfort, thoughts, and feelings) in the face of opposition to hide or distort information, manipulate others, and/or concentrate. Like the wind, Waverly learns to “bite back [her] tongue;” this invisible strength helps her hide her desires from opponents, who ultimately give her what she desires. Waverly learns this strength at age six when she realizes that staying silent instead of begging for a bag of plums results in her mother buying them. Her mother rewards Waverly for patience and composure, both important factors in winning chess later.
After begging to join her brothers in playing chess and peppering them with questions, Waverly realizes that that only way she will truly master the game is through self-study and practice. She devours library books on chess to learn opening moves, strategies, attack tactics, and more. She discovers
why I should never reveal "why" to others. A little knowledge withheld is a great advantage one should store for future use. That is the power of chess. It is a game of secrets in which one must show and never tell.
Waverly learns from her mother invisible strength of manipulating others through silence or negation to obtain what she wants. When she first wants try chess tournaments, she knows that asking would not work; instead, she uses reverse psychology:
A man who watched me play in the park suggested that my mother allow me to play in local chess tournaments. My mother smiled graciously, an answer that meant nothing. I desperately wanted to go, but I bit back my tongue. I knew she would not let me play among strangers. So as we walked home I said in a small voice that I didn't want to play in the local tournament. They would have American rules. If I lost, I would bring shame on my family.
"Is shame you fall down nobody push you," said my mother.
During my first tournament, my mother sat with me in the front row.
This invisible strength also leads to intense concentration. During her first tournament, Waverly develops complete laser focus. As she starts to play,
the boy disappeared, the color ran out of the room, and I saw only my white pieces and his black ones waiting on the other side. A light wind began blowing past my ears. It whispered secrets only I could hear.
This wind helps her defeat her opponent and win her first tournament.
Waverly also employs the invisible strength of holding back in order to project a harmless façade and lull chess opponents into complacency. During matches against older competitors, she wears dresses made by her mother and “clasp[s] my hands under my chin, the delicate points of my elbows poised lightly on the table in the manner my mother had shown me for posing for the press.” She swings her patent leather shoes back and forth like a little girl, shows pursed lips, casually twirls her chess piece around, and then firmly plants it in a winning position on the board. Through this invisible strength, Waverly portrays herself as innocent, “green,” and harmless in order to gain power over and defeat her opponents.