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Rules of the Game

by Amy Tan

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How does Waverly's mother's love act as a double-edged sword in "Rules of the Game"?

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This statement is true in the case of Waverly's mother in that her love can defend her daughter by giving her “invisible strength”. At the same time, however, it can destroy Waverly by putting too much pressure on her to become a child chess prodigy.

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Although there's little doubt that Waverly's mother Lindo loves her daughter, she has a funny way of showing it at times. Lindo's got it into her head that Waverly can and will become a child chess prodigy. To that end, she heaps a lot of pressure on Waverly's young shoulders, forcing her to practice for hours each day as part of her grand plan to see Waverly become a big success.

Even if one concedes that Lindo's plan is based on love for her daughter, it's a love that threatens to destroy her. For it soon becomes clear that Waverly finds it difficult to cope with the immense weight of expectation put upon her. Eventually, she runs away from home, but soon returns when she realizes that she has no place else to go. When she comes back home, she's immediately given the silent treatment by her mother, who acts as if she isn't there.

At the same time, one could argue that by teaching Waverly the power of “invisible strength,” she's actually defending her daughter from a harsh, uncertain world. Lindo knows from personal experience just how hard life can be, and she wants her daughter to have the strength to deal with life's many trials and tribulations. It may seem like a funny way of showing love, but there's every reason to believe that Lindo's methods of child rearing are nonetheless steeped in love, even if it is tough love.

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In Amy Tan's short story "Rules of the Game," Waverly's mother is portrayed as overprotective, authoritative, and stubborn. As a first-generation Chinese immigrant, Waverly's mother understands the hardships immigrants face in America and goes out of her way to instill positive character traits in her children. Waverly says,

My mother imparted her daily truths so she could help my older brothers and me rise above our circumstances (Tan 1).

Waverly's mother teaches her the art of "invisible strength," which allows her to become a chess prodigy. Waverly's mother demonstrates her protective nature by accompanying her daughter to every chess tournament and makes concessions to foster her daughter's success. As a successful chess player, Waverly does not have to do chores or listen to her loud brothers while she is practicing. Waverly's mother's sacrifices depict her devotion to her daughter and reveal the lengths that she will go to see her daughter succeed in America.

Unfortunately, Waverly's mother puts too much pressure on her daughter, which forces Waverly to quit playing the game she loves. Waverly's mother continually hovers over her daughter, making Waverly nervous and disrupting her practices. She also makes Waverly walk with her through the market so that she can receive compliments from others regarding Waverly's accomplishments. Essentially, Waverly feels as if her mother is using her to advance their family's social status and cannot deal with her mother's overbearing nature any longer. By the end of the story, Waverly and her mother become bitter enemies who do not see eye to eye on Waverly's future as a star in the world of chess.

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A parent’s love can both defend and destroy a child.  In “Rules of the Game,” Waverly Jong’s mother is a good example of this.  Waverly’s mother is very interested in and concerned about her daughter.  One way she shows this is in the way she teaches her to get along in America.  When Waverly receives the Christmas gift in the story, Waverly says, “My mother graciously thanked the unknown benefactor, saying, "Too good. Cost too much.”  Waverly’s mother knows that she must appear gracious about the gift, despite the fact that when she returns home, she is upset and tells the children to throw the chess set away. “ ‘She not want it. We not want it.’ she said, tossing her head stiffly to the side with a tight, proud smile.”  In this instance, Waverly’s mother shows her that she must accept the gift because it is the right thing to do, but she also demonstrates that pride is destructive.

If the children had listened to their mother about the chess set, Waverly would have never learned to play chess.  She would not have become an outstanding chess player, and she would not have learned the lessons she needed to learn in life.  Waverly wants to assimilate and become a member of American society, and her mother’s love is both helpful and an obstacle to her.  While her mother is a staunch supporter and very proud of her daughter, “At the next tournament, I won again, but it was my mother who wore the triumphant grin.”  On the other hand, she constantly hovers over her daughter and refuses to allow her to be independent.  Even though she knows nothing about chess, she insists on telling her daughter what to do.  In the end, this results in a war of wills between Waverly and her mother.  Waverly’s mother wins the battle, but it affects their relationship.  “ ‘She wore a triumphant smile. ‘Strongest wind cannot be seen,’ she said.”  The destructive nature of her mother’s love means Waverly only wants to be away from her.

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A parent’s love can be described as a double-edged sword, as it has the power to both defend and destroy a child. Explain how this is true in the case of Waverly’s mother.

A parent’s love certainly has the power to both defend and destroy a child.

In the story, the mother clearly loves her daughter. Daily, she shares tidbits of generational wisdom with her daughter. Waverly tells us that her mother is always focused on the future.

My mother imparted her daily truths, so she could help my older brothers and me rise above our circumstances.

To Waverly's mother, success is not dependent on luck. As such, wisdom must be cultivated and used as a tool to engineer one's success in life.

When Waverly's brother receives a used chess set for Christmas, Waverly becomes curious about this foreign Western game. She inquires about its rules, but Vincent (her brother) has little patience for her inquisitive questions.

Waverley's mother encourages her to learn the rules for herself. This is how Waverly comes to excel at chess.

I learned about opening moves and why it's important to control the center early on . . . I learned about the middle game and why tactics between two adversaries are like clashing ideas; the one who plays better has the clearest plans for both attacking and getting out of traps. I learned why it is essential in the endgame to have foresight, a mathematical understanding of all possible moves, and patience; all weaknesses and advantages become evident to a strong adversary and are obscured to a tiring opponent. I discovered that for the whole game one must gather invisible strengths and see the endgame before the game begins.

Seeing her natural propensity for the game, Waverly's mother supports her as she gains new skills. She even defends Waverly when her brothers complain about having to do their sister's chores.

"Is new American rules," said my mother. "Meimei play, squeeze all her brains out for win chess. You play, worth squeeze towel."

By her ninth birthday, Waverly is a national chess champion. Her mother is justifiably proud of her, but a new conflict soon arises. For her part, Waverly resents being used as a means for her mother to "show off." She feels pressured to perform in order to keep her mother's approval. Before she knows it, Waverly begins to apply her recently acquired chess skills to life. She leverages the strategies she has carefully honed to prevail in a power struggle against her mother. This sets up a bitter rivalry between the two.

Even though Waverly's mother initially acts out of love, her obsession with status and success destroys the positive feelings between her and her daughter. Waverly comes to resent the pressure put upon her to excel. She no longer sees her mother's efforts on her behalf as loving actions. Instead of focusing on improving her chess skills and, thus, her prospects for the future, Waverly becomes preoccupied with retaliatory thoughts against her mother. In this way, a mother's love has the power to both defend and destroy her child.

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A parent's love can be described as a double edge sword, having the power both to destroy and defend a child. How is this true in the case of Waverly's mother?

Waverly’s mother, Mrs. Jong, is an interesting figure. On the one hand, she supports Waverly in amazing ways. On the other hand, she also exasperates her. In this way, we can say that a mother’s loves (or parent’s love) can both defend and destroy.

When Waverly becomes better at chess, Waverly’s mother supports her in amazing ways. For example, Waverly no longer has to do the dishes. Her brothers absorb these chores. Later when Waverly complains that her room is too noisy to concentrate, Mrs. Jong moves her brothers into the living room. All of this shows Mrs. Jong’s support.

Mrs. Jong also, perhaps without knowing it, exasperates her daughter.   She looks over her shoulder while Waverly is practicing.  She gives advice to Waverly without knowing much about the game.  And most of all, she insists that Waverly come with her to the market place, just to show off.  Waverly even remarks that Mrs. Jong buys little and talks much.  Mrs. Jong loves saying: “This is my daughter, Waverly.” This makes Waverly resentful. Waverly expresses her frustration and when her mother gives her “sharp silence,” she runs away.

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