Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1087
Mr. Rory: Waverly’s hairdresser
Marlene Ferber: Waverly’s friend
Marvin Chen: Waverly’s first husband
Shoshana: Waverly’s and Marvin’s daughter
Rich Schields: Waverly’s fiancé, a tax attorney
Lisa Lum: Vincent Jong’s girlfriend
Waverly, age 36, describes meeting her mother for lunch in an unsuccessful bid to tell her she’s marrying Rich Schields. Lindo has never met him, and she changes the subject whenever Waverly mentions him. Waverly takes Lindo to her cluttered apartment to show off a mink jacket, Rich’s Christmas gift. Lindo criticizes its poor quality and refuses to acknowledge the unmistakable signs that Rich lives there.
Waverly comments that Lindo “knows how to hit a nerve.” The first time it happened, she was 10 and a chess champion. They argued in the middle of a busy street and didn’t speak to each other for several days afterwards. Waverly said she wouldn’t play chess again. After another argument Waverly came down with chicken pox.
Lindo returned to her usual self during her daughter’s illness. Waverly returned to chess, but she noticed that Lindo didn’t pay as much attention to her success as she had before. She began to lose more often. At 14, she quit.
Waverly thinks Lindo will criticize Rich a little at a time until it ruins her feelings for him, as she did with Marvin, Shoshana’s father. Waverly doesn’t want her mother to find flaws in Rich.
Finally, she figures out how to arrange for Rich to meet her parents. They visit Suyuan and Canning Woo one Sunday afternoon in time to be invited to stay for dinner. When she writes her thank-you note, she adds, “Rich said it was the best Chinese food he has ever tasted.” Shortly afterward, Lindo invites Waverly to bring “a friend” for a birthday dinner for her father.
When they arrive, she notices Lindo’s “forced smile” as she meets Rich. In the kitchen later Lindo remarks that Rich has “spots on his face” when asked what she thinks. At dinner Rich commits one error after another without even realizing it; at home he tells Waverly that he thinks everything went well.
The next day she drives back to her parents’, determined both to announce her engagement and to confront Lindo. Her mother is sleeping on the sofa and looks dead. Waverly starts crying, causing Lindo to wake up, afraid something has happened. Waverly announces she’s going to marry Rich and awaits Lindo’s criticism.
To Waverly’s surprise, her mother already knows they’re getting married. Waverly stammers that she knows Lindo doesn’t like Rich. Lindo is hurt Waverly thinks she would be so devious and accuses Waverly of being devious. Waverly, confused, says she isn’t sure what’s inside her. Half of her, Lindo explains, comes from her father’s Cantonese family. The other half is from her mother’s clan in Taiyuan. They have a pleasant conversation until Waverly confuses Taiyuan with Taiwan. To her they sound alike, but Lindo indignantly insists they are completely different.
Waverly doesn’t understand the point, but she learns something about herself. She sees that the little girl who ran away from her mother years ago has been hiding. When she finally lets down her guard a little, she sees “an old woman, a wok for her armor, a knitting needle for her sword, getting a little crabby as she waited patiently for her daughter to invite her in.”
The story shifts to the present. Waverly says she and Rich will postpone their wedding so they can honeymoon in China in October. Lindo mentions she plans to go back then, too, but not with them. Waverly knows Lindo really would like to travel with them. She knows it would be a disaster, but she also thinks it’s a good idea.
Tan returns to the motif of chess maneuvers to characterize the relationship between Waverly and Lindo. The story contains several allusions to chess, beginning with the argument on Stockton Street described from Lindo’s point of view in “Rules of the Game” and from Waverly’s perspective in this story. When Lindo does not speak to Waverly for a few days, Waverly recognizes a stratagem. Rather than responding in anger and falling into a trap, she, too, refuses to speak.
After a few days Waverly decides the next move is hers, and she stops playing chess. She even chooses “to sacrifice a tournament,” as she might strategically give up a chess piece. When the tournament comes and goes and Lindo still does not speak, Waverly’s next ploy is “to pretend to let her win” by announcing she wants to resume chess. She is startled when Lindo says “no.” In a scene reminiscent of the ending of “Rules of the Game,” she retreats to her bedroom and stares at her chessboard, trying to “undo this terrible mess.”
Chicken pox returns the mother/daughter relationship to a semblance of normalcy. Waverly returns to competitive chess, but Lindo no longer offers her support. Waverly loses a tournament and reports that Lindo looked satisfied, “as if it had happened because she had devised this strategy.”
As an adult, Waverly continues manipulating circumstances to her advantage. When Lindo refuses to react to the obvious signs that Rich lives with her, she devises a gambit to get her to meet him. It succeeds: after Waverly sends a thank-you note to Lindo’s arch-rival Suyuan, telling her Rich said it was the best Chinese food he had ever eaten, Lindo invites Waverly to bring a friend over for dinner. Waverly knew Lindo would want to outdo Suyuan.
After the dinner, Waverly says, “In her hands I always became the pawn….And she was the queen.” She visits her parents to announce her engagement and ends up talking with Lindo about her family background. At the end, she says, they have reached “a stalemate.” Neither dominates the other.
Tan offers hope for reconciliation between the women when Waverly acknowledges that the problems in her relationship with Lindo are at least partly of her own making. Waverly also sees that Lindo has not given up on her. The closing image, of Waverly, Rich, and Lindo flying to China together, “moving West to reach the East,” evokes Jing-mei’s observation in “The Joy Luck Club” that the East is “where things begin.” In the next section “Double Face” reveals Lindo’s attitude toward a new relationship with her daughter.
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