|Rules of the Game- by Amy Tan
Background information on San Fancisco's Chinatown where the story takes place.
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 to 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 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 to be born on March 17, 1951 from this text, “I said I was born on March 17, 1951” (Tan 1112). 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. This has a very hard impact on the way the story is told due to the time and the tone and atmosphere around back in those times.
“Rules of the Game”- Summary of the story
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 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 thought of honor and luck and the American's is cockiness and self-confidence.
The protagonist- Waverly, is a seven-year-old, Chinese-American stuck in between the two cultures clashing. 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 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 manor 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. Waverly wanted to become the best chess player and learn the game to inside and out. Waverly states, “The chess board seemed to hold elaborate secrets waiting to be untangled”. She wanted to know how to counter and start every game. During a tournament she was about to face a boy and thought to herself, “A light wind began blowing past my ears. It whispered secrets only I could hear”. She becomes one with the chessboard and is strategizing every move possible.
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 form 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 she 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. 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 immigrated come to America one 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 with chess. Other 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 life styles 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. Shame and dishonor to a family is a cultural conflict since it is a Chinese belief and Americans typically go by trying the best that one can.
In the short story “Rules of the Game,” mother and daughter conflicts arise due to these differences. 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” (Tan 1116). 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 under stood 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” (Tan 1117). 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 to go about. In Chinese culture, being honorable and respectful in all manors is one of their beliefs. While Waverly and her mother are walking they get into an argument her mother says “Aiii-ya. So shame be with mother?”(Tan) In all, this is showing dishonor towards the family and especially her mother. Lindo wants to have a child that makes something of them self and she sees that in Waverly. Lindo wants to push Waverly and to get better with chess by saying, “Is shame you fall down nobody push you” (Tan). She is telling Waverly that she is a shame since she does not do tournaments yet. Wanting to take control of the situation Lindo allows Waverly to go and not be a shame. Widening the gap between their cultural beliefs makes conflict rise. Lindo forces her ideas upon Waverly making a conflict. Conflicts occur within every story and make the story interesting
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 out smarting the next person is a part of lives lessons but in chess, it is too. Waverly understands what she must do to win and states, “It is a game of secrets in which one must show and never tell” (Tan 1113). She learns secrets of the game but still is too young to understand real life. The game with holds many opportunities as does life and the secrets are an invisible strength that others cannot use. Waverly learn 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 her way to America” (Poquette). Invisible strength also refers to using calmness and kindness rather than to win and gloat about winning. She uses it to her advantage and it can be said that it made her win.
Waverly is praised by her mother for 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” (Tan 1116). 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 chore 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 miss judgment 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” (Tan 117). 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.
Symbols in the story: These symbols represent life, how chess is equivalent to life and a battle, and a girl breaking away from the normal female life. Chess and life are similar and that battles are to be fought and won but can be done various way as to tactics. There are very many ways to start a chess match 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 taking the forefront.
As one can see, Tan uses her lessons in literary elements to show her themes of her story the “Rules of the Game”. In the element of setting Tan shows the themes of mother versus daughter, and the generation gap. Each theme on there own show a life lesson that Tan has been through herself. The element of symbols shows the theme that chess is a game of life. In the story it has reveled that you need to play buy the rules of life. Many critics are agreeing that Tans story is bringing the cultural gap of Chinese and American closer
together. As one critic stated about Tans story, “winning approval of critics and readers alike, is that it makes clear in every line that Tan understands Chinatown culture inside and out” (Kelly). Many can now say that Tan is one that has broken the boundaries of the cultural gap between Chinese and Americans. This story is worth analyzing because it shows the representation of the Chinese-Americas life in the 1950’s.
In the story “Rules of the Game” by Amy Tan, Waverly Jong's mother is always teaching her about the “art of invisible strength”(p.37). 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, she 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”(p.43). 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”(p.37) 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. She “read the rules and looked up all the big words in a dictionary.”(p.43) and later she came close to becoming a grand master. This invisible strength is the strength of her mind. The invisible strength is also like wind, strong but invisible. After her two brothers abandon 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 then 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”(p.48). 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”(p.51). 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”(p.52).
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.
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