Art of invisible strength



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Rules of the Game by Amy Tan

Invisible Strength
Waverly Jong's mother is always teaching her about the “art of invisible strength“ which symbolizes rules and knowledge.

The game of chess has many rules just like the game of life. Rules are invisible because they are just a concept and an idea, but they hold limitless power because they influence everyone.

Waverly 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”(p.37). Waverly learned these rules that linked directly to life through trial and error such as when she wanted the “forbidden candies” (p.37). 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 but she learned them through dictionaries, searching in the library and the help of Lau Po. This invisible strength is the strength of her mind.


Mrs. Jong's victories:

• Waverly "bites back" her tongue when she goes into the shop with her mother. She does not ask for the salted plums again. Her mother taught her obedience.

• After the incident in the market Waverly arrives home for dinner and the mother orders everybody else around the table to ignore the child "We not concerning this girl. This girl not have concerning for us"(73/ 18). Her brothers obeyed their mother.

• Waverly's mother is winning the imaginary game of chess at the end of the story. When Waverly realizes that she can't defeat her mother in the imaginary game, she retreats and quits the game, flying out of the house above the city, until she is completely alone. Metaphorically she escapes her mother's influence.



Waverly's victories:

• Waverly taunts her mother when she makes a remark about Chinese torture, knowing something that her mother didn't hear of.

• Waverly is using reverse psychology strategy to cause her mother to let her play in the local tournaments. She gets her mother's consent for this.

• She is exempted from doing her chores around the house.

Waverly also complains that the bedroom is too noisy. She is asserting herself even if it leads to confrontation, and finally her brothers move to sleep in the living room.

• Waverly tells her mother that she can't concentrate when her mother stands over her. Consequently her mother is hurt and retreats angrily to the kitchen.



The Jong family has kept some of its Chinese customs in America

The values of self control, modesty and respect for elders.

• Chinese humility: Mrs. Jong says "Is Luck" when Waverly wins at chess.

• The customs of eating –types of food (rice, "soup full of mysterious things") and how it is eaten (in a bowl).

• They live in Chinatown and shop in Chinese stores.

• Waverly calculates her age by the Chinese calendar.

• The belief in magical charm: Mrs. Jong gives Waverly a charm, a small tablet of red jade.
The Jong family has been influenced by American culture
• They give their children American names.

• Waverly calculates her age the American way.

• They celebrate Christmas / go to church.

• They are competitive, wanting to win the chess tournaments.

The children assert themselves, not always doing what their parents want.

For example, Waverly's brothers don't throw out the chess set although their mother told them to.

Waverly says that she can't practice with her mother standing over her.

• Winston and Vincent like to play at being cowboys.

• The boys have to do Waverly's chores ("Is new American Rules")
Cultural Conflict
The Chinese immigrant parents want to preserve their traditional culture, whereas the children want to integrate into American society. Waverly's mother emphasizes traditional Chinese values of self-control and obedience, whereas Waverly wants to assert her independence.

As a Chinese mother, Mrs. Jong wants her daughter to succeed in American terms (to do well in chess tournaments and have status), but she expects her to retain Chinese values of family loyalty and respect. As Waverly becomes increasingly Americanized, she is embarrassed by her mother's old-fashioned ways, and her mother is disappointed at her daughter's dismissal of tradition. For example, Mrs. Jong expects Waverly to accompany her on market days and be shown off to people without protesting.


Generation Gap

The theme of conflict between mothers and daughters is reflected in the relationship between Waverly and her mother. When she is younger, Waverly accepts her mother's right to set the rules and control her life. As she grows older, however, she begins to assert her independence.

Waverly's impatient behavior and the intolerance of her mother cause conflict. For example, Mrs. Jong misunderstands the chess game, thinking that it is better to lose fewer pieces. Waverly gets annoyed at her ignorance, especially because it is disobedient to correct her. Waverly is rude to her mother in the market. Mrs. Jong misunderstands Waverly, thinking that her daughter is embarrassed to be seen with her. But Waverly doesn't want to be "displayed". Mrs. Jong is insulted and Waverly is frustrated and runs away.

The game of Chess is used as a metaphor for life

The chess game is a metaphor for her struggle and rebellion against her mother, and therefore for growing up. In her imaginary game, Waverly breaks free from her mother's influence. She is free but also alone with no one to guide her or tell her what to do. She must now make her own decisions. Waverly has to plan her next move at home concerning her relationship with her mother. The imaginary game could symbolize the transition from childhood to approaching adulthood.


The rules of chess that Waverly learns are similar to the life skills for achieving success. (invisible strength.)
1. Self control –"Bite back your tongue" (57 / 4)

2. Hiding your desires –"strongest wind cannot be seen" (57/ 8)


3. Withholding knowledge – "I also found out why I should never reveal "why" to others. A little knowledge withheld is a great advantage one should store for future use". (64/ 8-10)

"It’s a game of secrets in which one must show and never tell." ( 64/ 11)


4. Foresight – "see the endgame before the game begins"

"… it is essential in the endgame to have foresight, a mathematical


5. Reverse psychology – "I knew she would not let me play among strangers. 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". (67 / 8-11)
6. Remain modest –" Never announce "Check" with vanity" (66 / 23- 24)






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