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Rules of the Game

by Amy Tan

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What symbolism is present in Amy Tan's "Rules of the Game"?

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The story "Rules of the Game" by Amy Tan uses several symbols to convey deeper meanings. The wind symbolizes Waverly's imaginary friend, whispering wisdom and pushing her towards freedom, contrasting her mother's control. The trapped fish and turtles reflect Waverly's own entrapment by her mother's desires. Chess represents her journey to self-discovery and the game of life, while her disobedient hair symbolizes her rebellious nature that her mother attempts to control.

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One symbol that remains present throughout the story is the wind. In a way, the wind acts as Waverly's best friend. That's a bit sad to think about, but the wind functions very much like an imaginary friend. The wind whispers wisdom in her ear in the same way that little kids carry on conversations with friends that only they can see:

It whispered secrets only I could hear.

The wind also gives Waverly strength and hope. It should be noticed that it is the wind that pushes her "up toward the night sky." The wind pushes her toward freedom which is in opposition to what Waverly's mother is doing to her.

A second symbol present in the story is the fish and turtles that are held prisoner in the shop nearby Waverly's home. The fish and turtles are trapped just like Waverly is trapped. They struggle to escape, but they are not capable of it in the same way that Waverly is controlled and trapped by her mother and her mother's desires:

Farther down the street was Ping Yuen Fish Market. The front window displayed a tank crowded with doomed fish and turtles struggling to gain footing on the slimy green-tiled sides.

It is interesting to note that the fish and turtles are held up in front of everybody. They are on display in the same way that Waverly's mother puts her up on display, yet the quote states the display shows "doomed fish and turtles." The same could probably be said about Waverly. As long as she allows her mother to hold her up on display, Waverly is doomed. That's why the story ends on such a hopeful note about Waverly planning her next winning move, and we know it is against her mother.

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In "Rules of the Game" chess is, of course, a symbol, because the story tells about the game and "the secrets I found within the sixty-four black and white squares." As Waverly learns the game, she learns her inner strength. The game takes her on a journey which gives her notoriety but also teaches her the game of life and the ways she and her mother must navigate it.

Waverly's hair is also a symbol. This piece of her is used to represent her entire self. Her hair is described as "disobedient" and "thick," which are both terms her mother could use to describe her. Just as her mom fights Waverly's hair's natural tendencies, she also fights her daughter's natural wild tendencies. When her hair is formed into neat and tight braids, it is behaving—a symbol for when Waverly is also behaving.

Fish and turtles are also symbols for Waverly. As she struggles to gain her freedom, she finds herself just as stuck as the turtles "struggling to gain footing on the slimy green-tiled sides" and the fish dinner of "fleshy head still connected to bones swimming upstream in vain escape." The fish and turtles are stuck in their current situation just as she is stuck playing (and winning) chess, unable to escape from her controlling mother.

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In "Rules of the Game," by Amy Tan, the game of chess symbolizes "the art of invisible strength" (paragraph 1) necessary to play the game of life. The concept of invisible strength aids Waverly when she learns skills necessary to succeed both in chess and in life.

First of all, rules are integral to playing chess. Waverly learns the rules by studying them intently and looking up words she doesn't know in the dictionary. In this manner, she learns to use her mind. More importantly, she discovers that chess is much like life because chess is a game of secrets; one must never tell everything. This knowledge of chess and Waverly's opponents allows her to win in many of her battles with her mother. Waverly uses her invisible strength to get out of doing her chores and to obtain her own bedroom.

At the close of the story, Waverly envisions the chess board after her latest battle with her mother. She also visualizes her mother: "She wore a triumphant smile. 'Strongest wind cannot be seen,' she said." That strong wind represents the secrets one needs to win, and at this point, Mrs. Jong appears to have scored a victory over her daughter. Waverly contemplates her next move against her mother when she is alone at the end of the story and the strong wind symbolically takes her up into the night sky. Without the game of chess, she would not have been able to compete against her mother in the game of life.

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The chess set is symbolic.  At first, chess was a game.  It was fun for Waverly.  Then it became an obsession.  She genuinely loved winning.  However, when winning became the only thing that was important to her mother, chess lost its appeal.

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What is the main conflict in "Rules of the Game" by Amy Tan?

The primary conflict of Rules of the Game revolves around the theme of "hidden strength." Hidden strength is a concept that Waverly's mother, Lindo Jong, instills in her from an early age. It is the idea that one can become victorious by remaining silent and not giving anything away. It is perhaps this lesson that allows Waverly to become a chess prodigy. As she rises through the ranks and even competes nationally, she is proud of her progress but is increasingly disturbed by her mother's tendency to fawn over her. From Waverly's perspective, Lindo is using her daughter to show off. This contention forms the primary conflict of the story and creates a tension that is very akin to the chess games that Waverly has mastered so easily.

After a particularly embarrassing and infuriating incident at the market, Waverly decides to run from her mother into the alleys surrounding her community. She soon realizes that not only does she have nowhere to go, but is also no longer being chased. Waverly realizes in this moment the hidden strength of her mother and how she had never brought up the fact that Waverly could not survive without her. In the final passage of the story, Waverly feels her mother approaching a checkmate, and she plots her next move.

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What is the main conflict in "Rules of the Game" by Amy Tan?

The primary conflict in Amy Tan's short story "Rules of the Game" concerns Waverly's struggle to subvert and break free from her mother's overbearing presence in order to enjoy competing in the game of chess. As the daughter of a Chinese immigrant, Waverly struggles to live up to her mother's high expectations and experience autonomy while playing chess. Instead of facilitating and encouraging Waverly's extraordinary talent, her mother becomes the source of extreme pressure and causes Waverly extensive anxiety and stress.

For example, Waverly's mother continually criticizes her for losing chess pieces even though Waverly wins matches and hovers over her daughter's shoulder while she practices. Waverly's mother also forces her daughter to walk with her in the market place and brags about Waverly's accomplishments, which causes Waverly embarrassment. Waverly's mother believes that her daughter's primary focus should be taking advantage of America's many opportunities and bringing pride to their family, while Waverly simply wants to enjoy competing and winning matches. By the end of the story, Waverly's relationship with her mother is severely strained, and she views her mother as her main opponent. Overall, the primary conflict in the short story concerns Waverly's struggle to overcome her mother's overbearing presence and experience autonomy as a successful chess player.

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What is the main conflict in "Rules of the Game" by Amy Tan?

In Amy Tan's short story "Rules of the Game," Waverly, the daughter of Chinese immigrants, uses chess to subvert her parents' traditional ideas. Her mother wants her to be quiet and traditionally Chinese. Her mother tells her the "strongest wind cannot be seen," meaning that Waverly should not complain or make her needs overtly known. Waverly, who has several brothers and is the only girl in the family, uses chess as a way to avoid the usual tasks and role that would fall to her as a girl. After she wins a tournament, she no longer has to do the dishes. When her brother complains, her mother says, "Is new American rules." In other words, by using chess, Waverly feels like she can subvert her mother's Chinese rules and live by American rules.

However, Waverly feels like her mother is taking over her glory. She gets angry with her mother for always telling people that Waverly is her daughter, and the mother reacts by ignoring her. When Waverly closes her eyes, she visualizes her mother as her opponent. Waverly's conflict with her mother is that she wants to use chess to define herself as an American and as the type of girl who has freedom. Her mother, on the other hand, wants Waverly's chess success to be part of her family's glory. In a traditional Chinese way, she thinks her daughter's chess victories are not just about Waverly but about the whole family. The idea of individuality versus family commitment is at the center of the mother-daughter conflict.

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What is the main conflict in "Rules of the Game" by Amy Tan?

Like all of the mother-daughter relationships in Amy Tan's The Joy Luck Club, the tension between Waverly and her mother in "Rules of the Game" (an excerpt from the novel) is the primary conflict. Waverly's mother wants her daughter to take advantage of the opportunities that America offers her--opportunities that Waverly's mother did not have in China. Similarly, Waverly is expected to bring pride to her mother as many of the other children in Chinatown do in the story's setting.

While Waverly is competitive and takes pride in her skills, she does not like being pressured to win for her mom's sake--which is what she feels. This tension is not simply an external conflict between mom and daughter; it is also a conflict between Chinese tradition (children submissively making their parents proud) and independence (a key element of 1960s America).

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What is the theme of the story "Rules of the Game" by Amy Tan?

The themes of "Rules of the Game" are all about conflict—first the eternal conflict between generations, then the equally well-established yet less clear-cut conflict between authority and and intelligence. There is also the more equal and cerebral conflict involved in a game of chess.

In the first few lines, Waverly says that when she was six years old, her mother taught her the art of invisible strength, which involves biting back her tongue. Waverly is rewarded when she does this, but it is always she who has to do it in conflicts with her mother. It is no strategy for winning arguments against Lindo. Indeed, it becomes clear that no such strategy exists. Waverly can use her intelligence to outwit her brothers and her opponents at chess but never her mother, who crushes her with the weight of authority. It does not matter that Waverly is right or that she is cleverer than her mother. Lindo scolds her for losing pieces in a chess game, even though she wins the game and a trophy.

"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.

This displays the pattern for Waverly's relationship with her mother, who supports her in her chess career but wins every domestic argument, despite Waverly's superior intelligence and understanding, by using her maternal authority to have the last word. This is the fundamental unfairness of the conflicts between youth and age and between authority and intelligence, an unfairness which is prevalent throughout life except in the artificial equality of a chess game, where only intelligence counts.

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What is the theme of the story "Rules of the Game" by Amy Tan?

Throughout the short story "Rules of the Game," Amy Tan examines the theme of coping with high expectations and performing under extreme pressure. Waverly Jong is a child prodigy. She is revered throughout her neighborhood for her accomplishments in the field of chess. Despite the fact that she receives high praise from her community and family, Waverly is forced to deal with the high expectations of her mother. Waverly's mother lives vicariously through her child and challenges her daughter to improve her performance after each chess match. Waverly begins to experience the pressure from her mother, particularly when she is practicing at home. Waverly's mother watches over her shoulder while she practices and forces her daughter into the community's limelight by making Waverly go to the market on Saturdays. Waverly begins to resent her mother's treatment and no longer wishes to play chess by the end of the story. Waverly is not able to cope with her mother's additional pressure and high expectations. She chooses to abandon her dreams of earning grand master status in order to escape her mother's oppressive nature.

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What is the theme of the story "Rules of the Game" by Amy Tan?

There are many themes in the story "Rules of the Game." However, the main theme is power. The opening lines of the work introduce the theme with these words:

I was six when my mother taught me the art of invisible strength. It was a strategy for winning arguments, respect from others, and eventually, though neither of us knew it at the time, chess games.

Waverly Jong uses what she learns about power and applies it to chess. She does very well and becomes a national sensation. From this perspective, she uses the art of "invisible strength" to defeat her opponents. 

As the story progresses, she also has conflicts with her mother. This is where the story becomes more interesting, because there is a contest of wit and will with her mother. Will Waverly admit that she is dependent on her mother and do what she is told or will she assert her independence? The question is who will win. 

At the end of the story, as the tension escalates, the reader is not given an answer of who will win (but it is implied that her mother was winning). More importantly, everything has morphed into a chess game of power. 

Her black men advanced across the plane, slowly marching to each successive level as a single unit. My white pieces screamed as they scurried and fell off the board one by one. As her men drew closer to my edge, I felt myself growing light. I rose up into the air and flew out the window. Higher and higher, above the alley, over the tops of tiled roofs, where I was gathered up by the wind and pushed up toward the night sky until everything below me disappeared and I was alone. I closed my eyes and pondered my next move.

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What is the theme of the story "Rules of the Game" by Amy Tan?

“Rules of the Game” is from The Joy Luck Club.  The story recounts Waverly’s time as a chess prodigy.  As a small child, Waverly had a predilection for chess.  However, after her mother and family focused too heavily on winning, she begins to feel embarrassed by being singled out.  She gets into an argument with her mother that results in her inability to play chess.

Chess is often described as a metaphor for life.  One theme of “Rules of the Game” is that no person should be defined by one single thing.  Another theme is that when parents try to live vicariously through their children, it is usually disastrous for both parent and child.

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What is the theme of the story "Rules of the Game" by Amy Tan?

There are many themes within "rules of the game" by Amy Tan. The one that interests me the most, however, is that of the relationship between mother and daughter. Waverly and her mother have a good relationship towards the beginning of the novel, however as Waverly gets more Americanized, the their relationship seems to fade. Waverly is moving on, whereas her mother wants to stay in the Chinese traditions. That is the theme that intrigues me the most, however others in the novel include but aren't limited to, being a CHinese American, poverty, and chess.

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What is the tone of "The Rules of the Game" by Amy Tan?

Amy Tan's short story "The Rules of the Game" concerns the struggle between a Chinese mother and her daughter, Waverly. The family lives above a bakery in San Francisco's Chinatown. This setting serves to contrast Chinese tradition against the backdrop of American life. From the very beginning, Waverly finds herself battling her mother in a clash of wills as Waverly strives to establish her own identity.

The tone of this story is combatant, as mother and daughter are pitted against each other from the start. Waverly is only six when her mother teaches her "the art of invisible strength." This art teaches one how to win arguments and gain respect from others. It is this art that helps Waverly become a chess champion. Invisible strength requires Waverly to "[b]ite back [her] tongue", which she does more than once to her advantage. She is allowed to enter a chess competition when she tells her mother "in a small voice that I didn't want to play in the local tournament." Of course, Waverly's goal is to play in the tournament. Waverly wins one battle after another, such as getting the bedroom to herself, confronting her mother in the street, and planning her next strategy against her mother at the end of the story.

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What is the tone of "The Rules of the Game" by Amy Tan?

When thinking about the tone of a short story we can also consider the content of the story to help us determine what tone is adopted. This short story, like "Two Kinds", features the conflict between a Chinese mother who has emigrated to the States and her daughter, born in the States, who wants to forge an individual identity for herself. The tone can thus be said to capture the increasing resentment of Waverley against her mother for her insistence of showing her off but also her increasing defiance and stubbornness in her desire to be her own person. To me, a key passage is at the end of the story, when Waverley imagines a chess game to explore the conflict between herself and her mother:

In my head, I saw a chessboard with sixty-four black and white squares. Opposite me was my opponent, two angry black slits. She wore a triumphant smile. "Strongest wind cannot be seen," she said.

This imagery and the tone employed shows the reader how Waverley feels and views her mother's intrusion - she is depicted as a dangerous, frightening figure with "two angry black slits". The very last line of the story, "I closed my eyes and pondered my next move", seems to capture the defiance expressed by Waverley throughout as she considers what her next move in this "game" will be to beat her opponent and achieve independence.

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Why do you think Amy Tan called the story "Rules of the Game"?

The title highlights the importance of self-knowledge or the need to understand the "rules" for oneself, whether those rules pertain to a chess game, a domestic relationship, or the laws of a nation.

In the story, Waverly's mother makes an interesting observation after she hears Waverly discussing the rules of chess with Vincent:

"This American rules," she concluded at last. "Every time people come out from foreign country, must know rules. You not know, judge say, Too bad, go back. They not telling you why so you can use their way go forward. They say, Don't know why, you find out yourself. But they knowing all the time. Better you take it, find out why yourself."

Waverly's mother asserts that knowledge is a powerful weapon and that it is key to one's success. She contends that one must always strive to understand the rationale behind any rule or principle; it is the only way to craft effective strategies that will defeat one's competitors or enemies.

Even though Waverly is young, she is perceptive. As she listens to her mother's wise words, she begins to understand the importance of having foresight, the ability to see "the endgame before the game begins." She also begins to realize that "the one who plays better has the clearest plans for both attacking and getting out of traps." A formidable chess player is an expert strategist; her patience and meticulous planning allows her to hold her own, long after her opponent tires.

Waverly discovers that there are also "rules" that guide a mother-daughter relationship. Her mother is a formidable opponent and has myriad strategies for driving home her maternal advantage. However, Waverly has the advantage of youth and, with it, physical stamina. After confronting her mother in the marketplace, Waverly breaks free from her mother's hold and runs ahead of her.

She ignores her mother's frantic calls and runs into unfamiliar alleys. Although the exercise is cathartic, Waverly soon realizes that running away will accomplish little. Later, however, she revels in knowing that, for two delicious hours, she was the mistress of her own destiny. The story ends with Waverly pondering how she will outwit her mother.

The title reinforces the importance of knowing the "rules of the game," whether the rules pertain to relationships or a chess game.

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Why do you think Amy Tan called the story "Rules of the Game"?

There are two interpretations of the title "Rules of the Game"--one literal, the other figurative.  From a literal perspective, "Rules of the Game" refers to the rules of chess that Waverly learns to master while she plays with first her brothers and later her competitors.  Waverly becomes a chess champion because she feels in-sync with the game and its strategies.  However, this sync is broken when she begins to feel embarrassed by her mother's public sense of pride.  She does not understand why her mother must broadcast her accomplishments to all whom she knows.  To get back at her mother, Waverly decides to quit playing chess.  When she decides to play again, it is without her mother's blessing, and Waverly fails to continue her championship reign.  Here, the figurative meaning of the title comes into play--Waverly does not understand the "rules of the game" of life that dictate her relationship with her mother.  Waverly still has much to learn about life and relationships, and this is evident in the story.

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What is the mood of the short story "Rules of the Game" by Amy Tan?

In Amy Tan's "Rules of the Game," the mood is preeminently one of tension. This tension is caused not by suspense or secrecy but by the conflict (generally unspoken) between Waverly and her mother. In a story of a few pages, the words "my mother" are repeated 35 times, reporting something her mother said or did and generally in opposition to the authorial "I." The writer's voice is literate, eloquent, fully assimilated, while her mother speaks in staccato Pidgin English versions of Chinese proverbs.

The mother in the story is powerful and domineering, forever telling her daughter what to do. She often fails to understand the "rules of the game," as she does when Waverly has to tell her that the object of chess is to checkmate one's opponent, not to take as many pieces as possible. Though Waverly is right here, her mother triumphs when Waverly wins the next tournament while losing fewer pieces. Even when Waverly wins the game, she cannot win against her mother, hence the atmosphere of tension between the generations which pervades the story.

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What is the mood of the short story "Rules of the Game" by Amy Tan?

In a short story, the mood can be described as the general atmosphere that evokes certain feelings in the reader. This can be achieved in a number of ways: through the use of vivid imagery, the detailed description of important events, or the skillful employment of language designed to provoke an emotional response.

In "Rules of the Game" when Waverly starts getting interested in chess, her mood is one of excitement. She begs her brothers to let her play until, eventually, they relent. Yet Waverly's excitement is at odds with the generally oppressive atmosphere that hangs over every page of the story. Such an overbearing mood is mainly generated by the strict parenting methods of Waverly's mother, which are expressed in curt commands such as "Bite back your tongue."

Even as Waverly rapidly turns into a child chess prodigy, the mood remains oppressive. There's never any sense that she enjoys the game; she always has her mother looking over her shoulder, both literally and figuratively. Waverly's mother dominates the action in such a way that it is as difficult for the reader to escape her domineering presence, as it is for Waverly herself.

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What is the mood of the short story "Rules of the Game" by Amy Tan?

Good question! When thinking about the mood of a short story we can also consider the content of the story to help us determine what mood is adopted. This short story, like "Two Kinds", features the conflict between a Chinese mother who has immigrated to the States and her daughter, born in the States, who wants to forge an individual identity for herself. The mood can thus be said to capture the increasing resentment of Waverley against her mother for her insistence of showing her off but also her increasing defiance and stubbornness in her desire to be her own person. To me, a key passage is at the end of the story, when Waverley imagines a chess game to explore the conflict between herself and her mother:

In my head, I saw a chessboard with sixty-four black and white squares. Opposite me was my opponent, two angry black slits. She wore a triumphant smile. "Strongest wind cannot be seen," she said.

This imagery and the mood employed shows the reader how Waverley feels and views her mother's intrusion - she is depicted as a dangerous, frightening figure with "two angry black slits". The very last line of the story, "I closed my eyes and pondered my next move", seems to capture the defiance expressed by Waverley throughout as she considers what her next move in this "game" will be to beat her opponent (her mother) and achieve independence.

You may want to consider reading the book from which this short story is taken - The Joy Luck Club, which is an excellent book developing the conflicts between four sets of Chinese mothers and daughters.

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What is the central conflict of "The Rules of the Game," by Amy Tan?

"Rules of the Game," a short story from Amy Tan's novel The Joy Luck Club, features Waverly Jong and her mother Lindo. Like the other stories in the novel, especially those in the sections focusing on the daughters' generation, "Rules of the Game" centers on mother-daughter conflict.

Tan takes a unique approach in this story by using Waverly's growing prowess as a chess player as a sort of metaphor for her relationship with her mother. Waverly configures her communication with her mother in terms of strategy, such as when she ends the story thinking about her "next move" in dealing with her mother.

Early in the story—as Waverly's skills develop and she begins winning tournament after tournament—Lindo naturally becomes very proud of her daughter and brags about her publicly. However, Waverly resents what she senses as Lindo trying to take credit for her achievements or to draw attention to herself and away from Waverly. Take, for example, this exchange in the middle of the story:

I had to accompany my mother on Saturday market days when I had no tournament to play. My mother would proudly walk with me, visiting many shops, buying very little. "This 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." My mother stopped walking.

Lindo seems confused that her daughter doesn't want her to show her pride for Waverly's accomplishments. Waverly claims this is a misunderstanding on her mother's part. Clearly they aren't understanding one another.

Eventually, the tension rises, and Waverly exclaims:

I heard my voice speaking, "Why do you have to use me to show off? If you want to show off, then why don't you learn to play chess?"

Waverly resents Lindo's actions because Waverly is the one doing the "work" of playing chess. However, at other points in the story, Waverly recognizes that her mother "taught [her] the art of invisible strength." This strength is key to Waverly's work ethic and ability to strategize in chess matches. At the end of the story, she also realizes that she is trying to fight the person who taught her her own skills. Waverly recognizes:

In my head, I saw a chessboard with sixty-four black and white squares. Opposite me was my opponent, two angry black slits. She wore a triumphant smile. "Strongest wind cannot be seen," she said.

Here, Waverly explicitly sees her mother as her "opponent," and she imagines their conflict like a chess match. Her mother is "triumphant" because she has taught Waverly to be who she is. The story's conflict is complex and intriguing because the narrator, Waverly, understands that she is both influenced by and opposed to her mother.

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What is the central conflict of "The Rules of the Game," by Amy Tan?

The central conflict in the story, "Rule of the Game," is the conflict between mother and daughter.  Waverly wants to break free from her mother and wants more independence.  What compounds this desire is that Waverly is more American in her outlook, whereas Waverly's mother is more Chinese. 

Throughout the story this tension is brewing.  For instance, Waverly's mother would look over her shoulder while she practiced chess.  She did this, because she was concerned.  She wanted Waverly to do well.  However, Waverly did not like this.  At one point she said:

"Ma, I can't practice when you stand there like that," I said one day.

What Waverly hated the most was what Waverly's mother loved the most - walking through the market and telling people that this is her daughter, the chess champion.  One day Waverly was fed up and lost it. She ran away. 

When she finally came home, she knew that her mother was deeply upset.  She did not know what to do.  This is why at the end of the story, she pondered her next move.

Her black men advanced across the plane, slowly marching to each successive level as a single unit. My white pieces screamed as they scurried and fell off the board one by one...

I closed my eyes and pondered my next move.

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What are three prominent themes in "Rules of the Game," by Amy Tan?

There are many themes in the short story, "The Rules of the Game." 

First, it is important to note that Waverly Jong is a Chinese-American girl. More to the point, she is from an immigrant family. So, there is a clash of cultures. Her Chinese culture is more oriented towards the family and community, whereas her American upbringing is more individualistic. She is, therefore, trying to find her way. 

Second, there is also the rivalry between her bothers. We can say that sibling rivalry exists. In addition, since she is a girl and her brothers are boys, there is also a battle among the sexes. In some ways, Waverly intimates this, as she was able to play chess with them by coaxing her brothers with candy. In other words, she had to be cunning in order to get her way. 

Finally, the most dominant theme is the rivalry and struggle between mother and daughter. Waverly wants to break free and be her own person, but her mother resists. At the end of the story, the conflict escalates, and Waverly ponders what she should do. 

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