The Rules of the Game by Amy Tan
Length: 1013 words (2.9 double-spaced pages)
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In "The Rules of the Game," a short story about a young Chinese-American girl, Waverly Jong, embarks journey to become a chess master. Waverly's mother believes she is a key component during this journey. Even though the mother actually has no true role in Waverly's adventure, she continues to believe it is her as the one who is succeeding. This belief is a necessity for Waverly's mother because she has nothing for herself. Waverly's mother has to live through her daughter because of her own lack of success.
Waverly's family is below the poverty level. They live in a flat above a pastry shop in Chinatown, and the Christmas presents she received are from people just giving old possessions away. The chess set that her two brothers receives is even missing two pieces. Waverly's mother first shows her overbearing pride when she tells the brothers to throw the chessboard away because it is just a pity gift that some Americans just want to throw away. "She not want it. We not want it,' she said, tossing her head stiffly to the side with a tight proud smile" (161). The mother is just ignorant sometimes. She is ignorant because she has to show others she has dignity and pride. Waverly's mother needs to do this because deep down she actually has none at all. Many times when people do not have something, they pretend that they really do possess a lot of something. Waverly's mother is so ashamed about her lack of pride and dignity, she uses her position of power to portray to her children that she did. She uses her children to make her feel better about herself. Waverly's mother is ashamed of how she lived a life of poverty and, the absence of purpose and success in her life. The worst parts about this are her lack of remorse and the despicable abuse of power within her own household. Waverly's mother unveils this aspect of her character throughout Waverly' journey to become a chess master.
Once Waverly begins to become a chess master, the mother is entering unchartered waters. There is a source of success, something that she has never experienced before. Waverly's mother has this sick and twisted belief that it is herself instead of Waverly as the true source of success.
This is shown when she forced Waverly to wear an uncomfortable, fancy dress to her first true tournament. This is symbolism for the mother trying to affect the outcome of the match as if it is her own. The dress is further proof of the mother trying to reach deep in her daughter's life. If she did everything that she could to make her daughter win, then Waverly's mother thinks that it is because of her own efforts. Waverly's mother is living vicariously through her daughter. Once Waverly wins, as she always does, her mother is the one who takes the success to her head. The mother is using Waverly to grasp something that she never had the chance to. She is grasping true success and taking full advantage of it. "I won again, but it is my mother who wore the triumphant grin" (163). The mother, once again, shows how she is taking the everlasting success of Waverly's journey as it is her own. A dependent relationship is formed between Waverly's mother and her daughter's victories on the chess board. The more success that Waverly has the more Waverly's mother thinks she has. The mother has become quite pompous. "My mother would proudly walk with me, visiting many shops, buying very little" (165). People boast because they have poor self-esteem and they never have anything to boast about before. "Why do you have to use me to show off? If you want to show off, then why don't you learn how to play chess?'" (166). Waverly's mom is just becoming more delusional by the second. It is growing out of hand. The mother is desperate enough to have favorites within her family. She gave Waverly's two brothers all the chores and gave Waverly her own room. When the mother did this, she portrays that she is doing everything possible to continue her daughter's success. She believes that if Waverly is happy with everything in her life, she will perform better in the tournaments. She cares about winning so much that she is neglecting her duties as a mother to love all her children equally to fulfill her fantasy. Waverly's mother probably cares about winning more than Waverly does herself. The mother is the initiator. She wanted Waverly to succeed so her fantasy could be satisfied. The most ridiculous aspect is the fact that the mother has no idea about the game of chess. "Next time win more, lose less" (163). Waverly even tells her that you had to lose some pieces to win. She didn't even understand the simple principles, yet, she still believed it is her who elated the success. Ironically, Waverly's mother takes the same approach on the situation as her daughter's chess philosophy. She is sacrificing her morals as a mother to win. As in, she is caring for Waverly more so she can fulfill her fantasy, her need of success that only her daughter can provide.
The simple solution is that the mother is a terrible mother who abused a position of power to take advantage of something that isn't hers. That solution is wrong. Waverly's mother is forced to do this. She has a pure need for this success. She has never possessed any of her own. Due to her own lack of success, Waverly's mother needed to take credit for her beloved daughter's achievements. "She wore a triumphant smile" (167).