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The Joy Luck Club

by Amy Tan

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In The Joy Luck Club, how did Waverly learn "invisible strength" from her mother?

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Waverly's mother teaches her the art of invisible strength by not making things easy for her.

Waverly says that her mother taught her the art of invisible strength when she was young, “a strategy for winning arguments, respect from others, and eventually … chess games.”  She told her daughter valuable lessons.

“…In Chinese we say, Come from South, blow with wind-poom!-North will follow. Strongest wind cannot be seen." ("Rules of the Game")

One of the ways that her mother teaches her this is by not giving her the treat when she cries for it, but only when she is quiet.  This is an early lesson.  Waverly gets the lesson in a much stronger way during the chess matches.

Waverly’s mother knows nothing about chess, but she still wants her daughter to win.  She teaches her, for example, to keep pushing herself.  When Waverly has observers in the park, her mother does not allow her to show her pride.  When she wants to participate in a tournament, her mother has her own ideas about that too.

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. ("Rules of the Game")

The strength that her mother is teaching her might be a hard lesson, but it makes Waverly stronger.  When her mother begins to show her off, and she feels as if she is being paraded around, Waverly uses the new invisible strength she has learned to fight back against her mother.  She tells her she wishes she would stop.  She is not prepared for her mother’s reaction.

        "Aii-ya. So shame be with mother?" She grasped my hand even tighter as she glared at me.

       I looked down. "It's not that, it's just so obvious. It's just so embarrassing." "Embarrass you be my daughter?" Her voice was cracking with anger. ("Rules of the Game")

Waverly has stood up to her mother.  It is a turning point in their relationship.  It changes who she is.  Ironically, by teaching her daughter the art of invisible strength, she taught her to stand up for herself.  Waverly recognizes that her mother is the master at the art of invisible strength, and the two are at a stalemate.

Although Waverly loves chess, she is not sure whether she will continue it.  She does not want to be a trophy for her mother.  However, she does not want to let her mother have her way either.  Both mother and daughter are using invisible strength.  Mother has much more practice, but that does not mean Waverly won't win.

The battle between mothers and daughters is an ancient one.  Poor Waverly has to learn how to exist alongside her mother.  In this chapter, she comes to appreciate that as strong as she has learned to become, she may not be as strong as her mother already is.

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