Rules of the Game – Summary

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Rules of the Game – Summary


Overview:

This story by Amy Tam has many overlapping and intertwined themes. First of all, the story addresses a mother verus daughter conflict and struggle for control. Also, the story deals with conflict of the old Chinese world (represented by Mrs. Jong) and that of the new American world (represented by Waverly). Finally, we have the typical immigrant theme in which the new immigrant, who often starts off in poverty, struggles to get ahead in the quest to achieve the American Dream. The game of chess is used as a metaphor for the rules and skills that need to be obtained and mastered in order to succeed in life.



The setting:

San Francisco's Chinatown is the oldest Chinatown in North America and the largest Chinese community outside Asia. Since its establishment in the 1840s, it has been highly important and influential in the history and culture of ethnic Chinese immigrants in the United States and North America. Chinatown is an active enclave that continues to retain its own customs, languages, places of worship, social clubs, and identity. Popularly known as a "city-within-a-city", it has developed its own government, traditions, over 300 restaurants, and as many shops. There are two hospitals, numerous parks and squares, a post office, and other infrastructure. Visitors can easily become immersed in a microcosmic Asian world, filled with herbal shops, temples, pagoda roofs and dragon parades. In addition to it being a starting point and home for thousands of Chinese immigrants, it is also a major tourist attraction — drawing more visitors annually to the neighborhood than the famous Golden Gate Bridge.

Main Characters
: Waverly Jong- Meimei, (her Chinese name "little sister") Lau- Po- the chess teacher, Waverly's mother- Lindo.


Minor characters: Waverly's brothers Vincent and Winston, Waverly's father.

The time: The story takes place during Waverly Jong (Meimei's childhood) and adolescence. She is said to be born on March 17, 1951. In addition, in the story she says that she is eight years old. Therefore, when one looks at the clues and sees that she is eight and that she was born in 1951, the time would be around 1958. In the late 1950’s Chinese-Americans had a harsh life in America due to Chinese immigration laws.

Kleg Summary of Rules of the Game:

Part I.

At the beginning of the story, Waverly and her mom enter a store in which there are salted plums, a Chinese delicacy loved by Waverly. Waverly screams and her mother denies her the snack. Her mother urges her to use the art of invisible strength. The next time that Waverly enters the store, Waverly bites her tongue (doesn’t complain) and is rewarded by her mother who buys her the desired treat. From this point on, Waverly goes about mastering the art of invisible strength.

While Waverly’s mother does everything in her power to ensure the success of her children, the reader cannot escape the description of poverty put forth by the writer. The playground was well-worn and the children played in the alley behind the restaurants. The mother’s efforts to ensure that her children did not feel the economic situation is brought forward by the fact that her children are served three five-course meals each day.

The mother made every effort at seeing to it that her children could succeed in America. This included giving them American names. However, the names that she gave them suggest that the mother had a problem with the “rules of the game” herself. For instance, the name Vincent (given to one of the brothers) suggests an Italian immigrant, not that of an American. Winston, either suggests a cigarette brand or an Englishman, but not an American. As for Waverly, her name was taken from the street she lived on and is definitely not the name of a typical American girl.

Waverly is in constant conflict between the old and new worlds. On one hand she makes fun of a tourist who comes to China town by sending him to eat “disgusting food” at a restaurant that only had menus in Chinese. But then she plays the American and when she tries to get a rise out of her mom by asking about the term “Chinese Torture.” But her mom is not easily duped and uses the art of invisible strength by remaining calm and stating that, “Chinese people do business, do medicine, do painting. Not like American people. We do torture. Best torture.”

Part II.

In part two we see the art of invisible strength again at work. At a church Christmas party, she watches how the other children choose their gifts in order to understand which gifts are worthwhile to choose. She is quick to realize that size is not an important factor, and that the sound the gift makes when it is shaken is important.

Waverly also exhibits an unrelenting suspicion of the establishment when she is unsure how to answer how old she is. She does not know if to answer according to the American or Chinese calendar. She uses the art of invisible strength by deciding to state her birthday instead of her age. Her suspicious manner represents the attitude that many immigrants have towards the establishment of their host counties.

Next she understands what she must say to Santa Clause in order to get her gift. He understands the RULE --- she must say that she believes in Jesus Christ and that she has been an obedient daughter. She is also careful to answer in the serious manner that is expected of her. Yes indeed, this young girl has begun to understand and implement the rules need to survive in a foreign culture.

At the Christmas party, Vincent received a chess set, Winston a model submarine and Waverly a package of lifesaver candies. While on the surface the lifesaver candies do not seem to be such a wonderful gift, it is the way Waverly uses them in manipulating her brothers into letting her place chess with them that makes them a worthwhile gift. Her manipulation is yet another example of Waverly’s intelligence and use of the art of invisible strength.

This tool was also used by the mother when she thanked the churchgoers for the chess set, but then when she got home gave clear instructions to throw away the obviously used chess set with missing pieces.

However, while the directive to trash the chess set were never carried out, Mrs. Jong never made an issue of the fact that her command was not carried out. This is perhaps because she never intended for the children to rid themselves of the chess set and her “command” was intended to cause her children to want to play chess, something that few school age children enjoy doing. This is another aspect of the art of invisible strength – saying one thing and intending another just to manipulate a reaction of reverse psychology from an opponent.

When told the rules of the game of chess, Waverly is chastised by her brothers for being so curious, while her mother states that just like the immigrants to a new country must learn the reasons for the rules in order to get ahead in the host country, if she really wants to understand chess, Waverly must embark on a journey to discover the reasons behind each piece, its powers and its abilities. Waverly takes the challenge and eventually her new-founded knowledge results in her defeating her brothers in such a way in chess that they no longer wish to play with her.

Eager to continue playing chess, Waverly takes to playing with the men in the park. Her mentor, Lau Po, teaches Waverly all he knows, and before long Waverly becomes quite an attraction in the park as she defeats opponent after opponent. Despite her obvious pride in Waverly, her mom keeps to traditional Chinese values as she publically attributes Waverly’s success to luck.

Part III

In part three, a man who saw Waverly play in the park suggested to Lindo that her daughter play in the local tournament. However, Waverly who was certain that her mother would object to her playing with non-Chinese strangers, stated that she did not want to play in the competition despite really desiring to do so. In this case, Waverly was using reverse psychology against her mother and has seemingly defeated Lindo at her own game. However, it could be argued that Lindo, who wanted her daughter to succeed, would have made the same decision despite her daughter’s use of the art of invisible strength.

At the tournament, Lindo remained true to Chinese tradition and gave Waverly a traditional good luck charm made of red jade known as a chang.

Despite the win, Lindo is critical of the fact that her daughter sacrificed so many pieces to win. While Waverly is not pleased with her mom’s criticism, she backs down from a full-scale conflict with her mother. While her mother remains faithful to the concept of the “how” as being important, Waverly adopts the New World standard of “victory” as the only value. At this point we see that despite the good relationship between mother and daughter, the first inklings of cultural conflict impacting this relationship become quite evident.

In her community, Waverly has now become quite a celebrity and several businesses have decided to sponsor her. At home Waverly is rewarded for her success as her chores are dumped on her brothers so that she may concentrate on chess.

Waverly has obtained national recognition as a prodigy and takes joy in humiliating her older opponents. While the youthful Waverly relies on her mental ability, her fellow competitors have decades of experience behind them; thus making Waverly’s successes even more spectacular. And all this was before Waverly reached the age of nine-years-old.

Her old playing grounds in the back alley behind the restaurants have become foreign to Waverly as she goes straight home from school to hone her chess skills. This is yet another step towards Waverly’s Americanization as she departs from the normal Chinatown childhood experiences.

Part IV.

At the beginning of part IV Waverly states that she had a difficult time concentrating at home. Her home may been seen as representing the Old Chinese way which may have been becoming burdensome on Waverly – yet another sign of her departure from the path her mother had designed for her.

In their effort to appease Waverly, her parents made many compromises. At first, she complained that her mom standing over her made it impossible to practice. Then she was given a quieter room at the expense of her brothers who now must sleep in the living room overlooking the noisy street. Also, when she did not finish her meals, no one complained.

Yet, the weekly visit to the market on Sunday in which Lindo shows her daughter off is still a mandatory feature of Waverly’s life. Finally one Sunday, Waverly tells her that being shown off like a trophy in the window is an embarrassment. Lindo takes it as an insult and is certain that Waverly is embarrassed to be her daughter. While Waverly says that this is not the case, Lindo is not certain this is the case. Finally, Waverly says: “Why do you have to show me off? If you want to show off, then why don’t you learn to play chess?”

At this point, Waverly takes off and runs away only to arrive back at home at dinner time. As she approaches her house, she states that the light which should represent the warmth of a home looked scary like the eyes of a tiger. Her home was no longer a safe refuge for her.

When she enters the house, her family had just finished eating dinner and her mother gives the command for all to ignore her. In summary, the mother said that if Waverly is embarrassed of her family and background, then her family will not accept her either. (“We not concerning this girl. This girl not have concerning for us.”)

Waverly goes to her room and dreams that her mother’s chess pieces chased her pieces off the board. She realizes that her mother’s Old World methods have defeated her in this battle and she now considers how to move forward.


Cliff Notes on Rules of the Game:

Waverly Jong: Rules of the Game

Waverly Jong, the narrator of this section, explains that she was six years old when her mother taught her "the art of invisible strength," a strategy for winning arguments and gaining respect from others in games.


Waverly and her two brothers live on Waverly Place in San Francisco's Chinatown. The children delight in the sights, sounds, and smells of Chinatown, the sweetness of the pasty red beans, the pungent smell of the herbs doled out by old Li, and the sight of the blood-slippery fish that the butcher guts with one deft slice.
Waverly's brother Vincent received a chess set at the Baptist Church Christmas party. Waverly took to the game immediately, delighting in its strategy. After her brothers lose interest in the game, Waverly learns complex plays from Lau Po, an old man in the park: She begins to win local tournaments. By her ninth birthday, Waverly is a national chess champion. Her fame spreads; even Life magazine runs an article on her meteoric rise. Waverly is excused from her chores, but there is one task she cannot escape: accompanying her mother to market on Saturdays. Mrs. Jong delights in walking down the busy street, boasting that Waverly is her daughter. One day, mortified by what she perceives as exploitation, Waverly argues

with her mother and dashes off. For two hours, she huddles on an upturned plastic pail in an alley. Finally, she slowly walks home.

Taking their lead from Mrs. Jong, the entire family ignores Waverly, so she trudges to her darkened room and lies down on her bed. In her mind, she sees a chess board. Her opponent consists of two angry black slits, marching implacably across the chessboard and sending her white pieces fleeing for cover. As the black pieces get closer, Waverly feels herself getting lighter. She rises above the board and floats over houses. Pushed by the wind, she ascends into the night sky, alone. Waverly closes her eyes and thinks about her next move.

On the surface, "Rules of the Game" applies to the rules of chess, which Waverly masters with astonishing skill. Her success is even more admirable when we realize that she is only eight years old and almost entirely self-taught. Aside from some sessions with old Lau Po in the park, Waverly has taughtherself everything that she needs to know about chess in order to become a national champion. She understands the rules of chess. She knows how the game is played, and she knows how to psych-out her opponents.
Look, however, at the title from another perspective. In addition to the game of chess, the title alludes to the "game" of life--knowing the "rules" in order to get what you want. Mrs. Jong calls these rules "the art of invisible strength." Unlike the clear-cut rules of chess, however, the rules of the game of life are ever changing and brutally difficult to learn.
Waverly and her mother struggle for control. Waverly thinks of her mother as an adversary: "I could see the yellow lights shining from our flat like two tiger's eyes in the night," she says. To Waverly, her mother is like a tiger, waiting to pounce. Predatory, the older woman can destroy with one swipe of her powerful claws. Waverly clearly imagines herself the victim in their struggle. When she reenters the apartment, she sees the "remains of a large fish, its fleshy head still connected to bones swimming upstream in vain escape." Waverly sees herself as the fish, stripped clean by her mother's power, unable to break free.

Waverly, however, is young; she has not realized that as her mother teaches her the "art of invisible strength," Mrs. Jong is equipping Waverly with the very tools she needs to win the battles of life that she will encounter when she grows up. The "art of invisible strength" is self-control. Waverly likens it to the wind, invisible yet powerful beyond belief. The wind can whip up fierce storms and flatten entire communities, yet leave no trace of its presence. In its power and invisibility, it is the strongest of opponents. The "strongest wind cannot be seen," Waverly's chess opponent tells her. Like the human will, it cannot be seen or traced.

In another sense, the "art of invisible strength" represents female power. Women who have been denied conventional paths to power traditionally use their ability to persuade, to shape, and even to control events. If a woman cannot sit in the boardroom, she can shape events from her home--even though a man holds the reins of power. This force is even recognized (and sometimes derided) in the cliché "The woman behind the man." The "art of invisible strength" is also the power of foreigners, those considered ignorant because they cannot communicate fluently and effectively in the dominant language. For example, Mrs. Jong's fractured English is amusing. When Waverly fears that she will lose a chess match and shame the family,

Mrs. Jong says, "Is shame you fall down nobody push you." Under the humor of her syntax, however, her words are powerful and biting--that is, Waverly has no one to blame for her failure but herself. There is nothing humorous in her final comment to Waverly: "We are not concerning this girl. This girl not have concerning for us." With these blunt words, she demonstrates her mastery of the "art of invisible strength." It seems that Mrs. Jong has won this round--or has she?

The struggle for control between Waverly and her mother is symbolized in the dreamlike chess game in the final page of the section. Waverly's opponent in this game is "two angry black slits." When Waverly confronts her mother during their shopping expedition, Mrs. Jong's eyes turn into "dangerous black slits." In the final line of the section, Waverly thinks, "I closed my eyes and pondered my next move." Her mother has taught her to use her will to shape events. She now knows that getting what she wants should not be left to fate; rather, she herself can shape events to serve her purpose. The theme of heritage is also an important element in this strory. Mrs. Jong takes great pride in being Chinese. She explains that "Chinese people do many things. Chinese people do business, do medicine, do painting. Not lazy like American people. We do torture. Best torture." Her joy in Waverly's accomplishments is evidence of her great pride. Mrs. Jong delights in showing off her daughter to everyone; Waverly is her legacy to the world.

Mrs. Jong feels responsible for her daughter's success Waverly, on the other hand, thinks that she has accomplished everything on her own. She does not yet understand her mother's point of view.

__________________

sanddabs any of a number of West Coast flatfish.

Life magazine a large format, pictorial newsmagazine founded in 1936.

Invisible Strength

In the story “Rules of the Game” by Amy Tan, Waverly Jong's mother is always teaching her about the “art of invisible strength”. Waverly says that she uses this as a “strategy for winning arguments, respect from others, and eventually, though neither of us knew it at the time, chess games. Invisible strength symbolizes rules, and knowledge.

The game of chess has many rules just like the game of life. When Waverly asked about the many rules of chess, the mother said '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 forward. They say, Don't know why, you find out yourself. But they knowing all the time. Better you take it, find out yourself.”

Rules are invisible because they are just a concept and an idea, but they hold limitless power because they influence everyone. Waverly also uses the “art of invisible strength” to win when she is playing chess and in life. Waverly was taught this art by her mother who also used this art as a set of rules such as “Bite back your tongue.” Waverly learned these rules that linked directly to life through trial and error such as when she wanted the “forbidden candies.” She first whined for them and later received them because she showed self-control by no longer whining. In addition to self-control, invisible strength is the strength of the human mind.

In the beginning of the story Waverly did not understand anything about chess. She “read the rules and looked up all the big words in a dictionary ” and later she came close to becoming a grandmaster. This invisible strength is the strength of her mind.

The invisible strength is also like the wind, strong but invisible. After her two brothers abandoned chess for other recreational activities, Waverly still steadfastly stuck to chess showing her will to become good at chess. Waverly is unique because she is less than ten years old. She depends more on her mind and her ability to grasp new ideas quickly, compared to older chess players who depend on their experience that comes with their old age. Other players such as grand master Bobby Fischer said “There will never be a woman grand master.” He and other chess players underestimate the invisible strength or the knowledge of young and feminine people.

Waverly's mother also exhibits invisible strength. While she speaks broken English, Waverly's mother is smart and wise. She said “We not concerning this girl. This girl not have concerning for us.” With these few words, she makes Waverly feel shame. Waverly feels that her mother had beaten her with her invisible strength because she goes back to her room and imagines that “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.”

Throughout the story, Waverly's mother is teaching her about the power of invisible strength. It has unlimited power and is unexpected. She uses it in chess and learns from it through trial and error. Invisible strength symbolizes the power of the human mind.

Rules of the Game”- Additional Information and analysis

Amy Tan writes American literature with a Chinese-American view with her short story titled “Rules of the Game”, where she shows multiple themes like; chess is a game of life, mothers versus daughters, cultural gap, and the generation gap.



The Characters:

The writer Amy Tan uses similar experiences to give the characters life and a sense of real Chinese-American life and the clash between cultures. The Chinese have a life based on honor and luck and the American's life is portrayed as full of cockiness and inflated self-confidence.


The protagonist - Waverly, is a seven-year-old, Chinese-American stuck in between the two cultures. Being a round character, Waverly shows joy and aggravation. In showing joy, she is encouraged to go to chess tournaments and thinks to herself, “I desperately wanted to, but I bit my tongue back”. Wanting to join in the tournaments, she tells her mother she does not want to make her do the opposite.  Waverly gets very aggravated at her mother. Waverly says to her mother, “Why do you have to use me to show off? If you want to show off, then learn to play chess”. Waverly has had enough of her mother gloating and telling everyone how great Waverly is at chess. Since Waverly has multiple emotions she is a round character and well developed.

Waverly as a static character is the same in the beginning as in the end. Her mother, in a pushy manner towards Waverly says, “Every time people come out from foreign country must know the rules.” In a sense also threatens her by saying, “You not know, judge say, too bad, go back,“ meaning that she could be sent back to China if she did not follow the rules. At the end of the story, her mother says to the rest of the family, “We not concerning this girl. This girl not concerning us.” That tells the reader that the family should have nothing to do with her and she is back to being the least liked in the family being a girl and last born in a Chinese family. These give the story the cultural influence of how Chinese parents teach and raise their children.



The mother Lindo as the antagonist.

The mother is portrayed as a round character throughout the story. She shows pride in the beginning of the story and then later in the story she changes, showing anger towards her daughter. Lindo in this text shows her support for daughter, “My mother would join the crowds during these outdoor exhibition games. She sat proudly on the bench, telling my admires with proper Chinese humility, ‘is luck”. Lindo in the beginning of the story shows that she supports her daughter by showing up to her games. Later on in the story, she changes faces from being a proud mother to being upset, angry, and not supportive towards her daughter. She shows this when Waverly sees, “My mother’s eyes turned into dangerous black slits. She had no words for me, just sharp silence”. This shows that her mother can change from being proud of her daughter to being angry with her because Waverly rebels agents her. Lindo being a round character affects the story because it showed multiple dimensions of her personality.

Not only is Lindo a round character, but she also is static. She does not change at all in this story. Her attitude stays the same thorough the story. From the beginning she did not want the chess set as seen from this text from the story, “When we got home, my mother told Vincent to throw the chess set away. ‘She said, tossing her head stiffly to the side with a tight, proud smile”. This shows that she does not want the set. Towards the ending, she shows the same attitude towards her daughter with this, “We are not concerning this girl. This girl not have concerning for us”. She shows the same exact attitude with first not wanting the set and now not wanting her daughter. Her being a static character influences the story in a way that shows how Chinese mothers were around in the 1950’s. Lindo’s goals are to teach her family the Chinese traditions and to live by them. Her goals were a very huge impact on the story. The impact was that she taught Waverly the rules of life throughout the story. This shows the theme that chess is a game of life. Some proof that she teaches Waverly is, “this American rules’ she concluded at last. ‘Every time people come out from foreign country, must know rules”. Lindo shows that when immigrates come to America, they must know the rules of life.


The tones and the atmosphere

Amy Tan goes into detail in the story with the tones and atmosphere. Tan uses many stressful situations like in this proof from the text, “But I found it difficult to concentrate at home”. This shows that Waverly tends to have an atmosphere where it is hard for her to concentrate and be alone. In addition, it must have been stressful to be the only girl besides her mom in this household and to have such a high expectation in the Chinese community, which was male dominated, with chess. Another reason things could be stressful for Waverly is that she needs to live up to her family’s name. Waverly considers this when she says this, “If I lost, I would bring shame on my family”. Losing games would have the complete Chinese community feeling let down. All of this over one girl's head has a heavy load of stress. The atmosphere of this story plays a huge role. It really shows how the Chinese-Americans lived in America.



The themes in the story           

Amy Tan sets up her story well. She uses her setting to show her themes, which affect the story. She shows the theme mother versus daughter throughout the story. Another theme that is shown in the story that is important to the setting is the generation gap.


The conflicts in the story All stories have conflicts that make the story interesting and give it meaning. Mothers and daughters can be best friends at times, but when they come from different cultures, and social lifestyles they fight. Mother versus daughter is the major conflict in the story. Cultural differences are another conflict within this classic short story. Chinese versus American culture is the minor conflict in this short story.

In the short story “Rules of the Game,” mother and daughter conflicts arise due to several reasons. Waverly’s mother is not completely accustomed to the American way of life. Her mother assuming she knows more about chess than Waverly says “Next time win more, lose less.”.  Waverly says back to her mother, “Ma, it’s not how many pieces you lose”. Waverly is starting to open her mouth and goes against what her mother believes to be the way chess is played. The conflict of mother verses daughter is understood by the critic Kate Covintree who states, “Her chess playing is a metaphor for her struggle with her greatest opponent, her own Chinese mother.” Her mother invades her space and creates more tension between them. Irritated, Waverly says to her mother, “Ma, I can’t practice when you stand there like that.” Her mother is very angry and leaves, but knocks pots and pans around to be obnoxious and retaliate. Waverly and her mother keep building on their different ways of thinking until Waverly finally has enough. Waverly being born in America and her mother being raised in China makes another barrier of conflict.

Chinese and Americans live very different life styles and have different beliefs as how to go about life. In Chinese culture, being honorable and respectful in all manners is one of their cultural attributes. While Waverly and her mother are walking they get into an argument her mother says “Aiii-ya. So shame be with mother?” This is showing dishonor towards the family and especially her mother. Lindo wants to have a child that makes something of herself, and she sees that in Waverly, but not at the expense of important cultural beliefs.

Being a part of American culture, Waverly mixes her Chinese rules with American. Chess is a battlefield set on a board. War and fighting fascinates the human mind.  Waverly sees chess as a game of life and a way to expand her mind and use her invisible strength. The use of tactics and outsmarting the next person is a part of life’s lessons as it is in chess. Waverly understands what she must do to win and states, “It is a game of secrets in which one must show and never tell.”

She learns the secrets of the game, but still is too young to understand real life. The game which holds many opportunities, as does life, and the secrets are an invisible strength that others cannot use. Waverly learns at a young age about invisible strength, “Waverly’s mothers knows that, as Chinese Americans, her children will need to learn the art of invisible strength to make their way in America”. Invisible strength also refers to using calmness and kindness rather than to gloat about winning. She uses it to her advantage and it plays a major role in her success.

Waverly is praised by her mother only when she does well. In most societies women, and especially younger girls, are the least respected. Waverly surprising says, “Winston and Vincent had to do my chores.” In Chinese society, boys usually do not do the chores before the girls.  A first-born son is considered lucky in Chinese culture. Since Waverly is doing something to honor her family, her success changes her home dynamics, and she does not have to do chores or finish her meals and gets a room all to herself. Waverly starts to think that she can do and say anything since she is so good at chess. She makes a misjudgment on what she can say. Lindo was very proud of her daughter and Waverly said, “My mother would proudly walk with me, visiting many shops, buying very little.” Her mother is very proud, but Waverly mistakes her mother’s pride as her taking credit for what she has done. Lindo takes Waverly around glorifying her daughter. Waverly talks back and she does not understand life completely yet, and does not “bite her tongue back.” She gets into a lot of trouble and dishonors her family in the marketplace when she runs away from her mother.


 Symbols in the story: The symbols in the story represent life itself. Chess is equated to life and a battle with a girl breaking away from the normal female life and from her mom. Chess and life are similar with battles to be fought and won, but this can be done using tactics. There are very many ways to start a chess match as there are many ways to start life. Women still were not as highly respected in the in the Chinese culture, putting a twist on the story, since a female figure is the main character.

The Rules: Quotes and what they mean.

Quote

Significance

“Strongest wind cannot be seen.”

The mother uses an epigram to teach her daughter the value of self-control. Her message is a paradox.

“…people sat cracking roasted watermelon seeds with their golden teeth…”

The speaker uses imagery to describe people who live in her neighborhood.

“One day as she struggled to weave a hard-toothed comb through my disobedient hair, I had a sly thought.”

Amy Tan characterizes the daughter as rebellious by describing her appearance and thoughts as “disobedient” and “sly.”
The “hard-toothed comb” symbolizes her mother’s rules and discipline.
Amy Tan foreshadows the daughter’s future rebellion.

“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.

The mother uses a metaphor to compare the immigrant experience to a game of chess. You have to know the “rules” to move forward in life.


“Never say check with vanity, lest someone with an unseen sword slit your throat.”

Amy Tam uses hyberbole to warn against the possible consequences of being too cocky.

“It [the wind] whispered secrets only I could hear.”

The personification of the wind illustrates the intensity of her extraordinary performance at the chess game.

“Check,” I said, as the wind roared with laughter.

The wind’s whispering also symbolizes her mother’s presence pushing her forward.

“I would swing my patent leather shoes back and forth like an impatient child riding on a school bus.”

This simile emphasizes her youth. It contrasts her immaturity with the maturity required to play chess with strategy and self-control.

“…I could see two yellow lights shining from our flat like two tiger’s eyes in the night.”

The lights, which symbolize the warmth of her home, are compared to a tiger’s eyes to illustrate the animosity (hostility) between mother and daughter.


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