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Rules Of The Game English Literature Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 1841 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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The main topic in this short story is the communicational barriers between mothers and daughters of different nationalities. All stories that make up the novel are related to this idea of not being able to communicate. First of all, it is hard enough to communicate with one’s parents because of the generational gap, but for Waverly it is even more difficult to communicate with her mother because they have been raised in different countries, in different cultures.

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First of all, at the beginning of the novel there is a little introduction that covers all the themes that the novel deals with. It is the story of a woman who left China accompanied by a swan with dreams and hopes for a better life and when she finally arrived to the United States of America, she was deprived of the swan and was left with a single feather. The woman now whishes she could give her daughter that feather and teach her “her meaning”. I think that this introduction is the summary of the whole novel, and a good way to understand “Rules of the Game”.

Here we can see that the introduction to the novel raises the issue of the linguistic and cultural barrier that exists between each immigrant mother and her American-born daughter. In this story, the daughter does not realize how lucky she is because she does not know her mother’s story. It is impossible for the daughter to understand her mother because she does not know her past. Moreover, the mother actually wants to teach her daughter about her past so that she can learn from it, but her wish is not granted because even though she wants to do it, she is reluctant to do so because she is afraid that her daughter might not understand her or might think that everything she says is nonsense. At the same time that she fears that her daughter will not care about it, she is also fearful that she will not leave a mark in the world.

And as we see in the story “Rules of the Game”, this also happens with the mother in “Rules of the Game”, Lindo, and her daughter, Waverly. Lindo wishes to teach Waverly everything she knows. Moreover, Lindo wants her daughter to have everything that she didn’t have growing up in China. That is the reason why she teaches her daughter the “art of invisible strength” which is actually self-control. Lindo learns this lesson, and the importance of self-control in a very hard way, as we can see in her tale in The Joy Luck Club, and she gives Waverly all her knowledge even though, by teaching her, she is actually giving her the power to defeat her. Lindo teaches Waverly how to keep things to herself and use them when she needs them. And as we can see, Waverly actually uses this to her advantage throughout the story, to get her mother to let her compete and also to win chess games. The power that Waverly thinks the “art of invisible strength” has is very well depicted in this quote:

“I learned why it is essential in the endgame to have a foresight, a mathematical understanding of all possible moves, and patience; all weaknesses and advantages become evident to a strong adversary and are obscured to a tiring opponent I discovered that for the whole game one must gather invisible strengths and see the endgame before the game begins.

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. That is the power of chess. It is a game of secrets in which one must show and never tell.”

However, the main problem is that Waverly thinks that her intelligence is everything that she needs to be good at chess. It will be later on in her life that she learns that “invisible strength” was a very big part in her winning those games. When Waverly is little she has no concern for Chinese culture and she thinks that everything that comes from China is not useful in America. However, even if she does not realize that she is learning from her mother she actually is, and moreover, her mother’s teachings have a big impact in her life.

On the other hand, there is also a different theme in this story, which is the need of American-born children to separate themselves from the Chinese culture that their parents represent and to have a more separate American identity. The cultural differences make Waverly misunderstand her mother’s pride in her achievements as pride in herself. But most importantly she wants chess to be a part of her own identity, separate from that of her mother and therefore, separate from Chinese culture. This is easily seen in her infuriating when her mother tries to advice her on how to play chess even though she “apparently” does not know anything about chess:

“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”.

Nevertheless, in the end, Waverly is able to win all those games, not only because of her aptitude but also because of her mother’s teaching of “invisible strength”.

As we can see in the following quotation, Waverly uses the wind as a metaphor for this invisible strength:

“Blow from the South”, it murmured. “The wind leaves no trail”. I saw a clear path, the traps to avoid. The crowd rustled. “Shh! Shh!” said the corners of the room. The wind blew stronger. “Throw sand from the East to distract him”. The knight came forward ready for the sacrifice. The wind hissed, louder and louder. “Blow, blow, blow. He cannot see. He is blind now. Make him lean lean away from the wind so he is easier to knock down.”

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She, as it has already been said, thinks of the invisible strength as the wind, thus aligning herself with the same element her mother had identified with when facing her arranged marriage in China as we can see in the story “Red Candle”. So it is actually because of her mother’s Chinese culture that she gets to be a chess champion. Furthermore, the way Waverly uses this metaphor is very similar to what we think of as Chinese imagery. Lindo is not the only source of “Chiniseness” that Waverly is exposed to, but also Lao Pao uses a lot of Chinese imagery when he is teaching Waverly to play chess.

Another example of the fact that Waverly sees her mother, who represents Chinese culture, as something to reject and fight is that she depicts her mother as an actual opponent. The struggle for control between Waverly and her mother is symbolized in the dreamlike chess game at the end of “Rules of the Game”. Waverly’s opponent in this game is “two angry black slits.” When Waverly confronts her mother during their shopping expedition, Lindo’s eyes turn into “dangerous black slits.” In the final line of the story, Waverly thinks, “I closed my eyes and pondered my next move”. Waverly does this in an attempt to break from the Chinese culture and trying to achieve an identity of her own, separate from that of her family, and, especially, her mother.

Aside from the issue of linguistic and cultural barriers, and the need for a separate identity for the second generation, another important theme that this story deals with is storytelling.

In the introduction of the novel, Tan uses a very short story in which we find the little tale that we mentioned before and which we may even consider it as a fairy tale. This brief introduction to the novel, like the feather that the introduction’s main character owns, symbolizes the importance of knowing the past to learn from it, and the only way to do it is by telling past experiences so that other people might learn from them. By stating this, all significance is given to storytelling.

Additionally, storytelling acquires even more relevance for the children of Chinese immigrants, who are neither fully Chinese nor American and seek their identity in those stories. The oral tradition of the Chinese culture is like Russian matriuska dolls or a spiral case, as there is always a story embedded on another which is told from one person to another and thus there is no end to it. In this case, the introduction is a story in itself about a woman who is immigrating to America; this story has a fairy tale inside: the story of the duck stretching its neck to become a goose and instead became a swan. The mothers in the novel, by telling tales are ensuring that their story, the people in it, and their culture will not die with them, all those things will pass onto following generations, starting with their daughters. They also achieve the goal of making their daughters feel like they belong somewhere. When Lindo tells Waverly stories she is ensuring that she will be remembered by her daughter, and that she will pass on to her all her knowledge.

Aside from this we should also make clear that circularity is a main characteristic of storytelling and also of this short story too. At the beginning of the short story, Lindo tells Waverly that “strongest wind cannot be seen”, and at the end of the short story we get the same sentence “strongest wind cannot be seen” even though this time it is Waverly who imagines her mother saying this. Therefore we can see how circularity and storytelling shape this short story.

It is important to add that various narrators throughout the novel dwell on the idea of not being able to translate ideas, feelings, or cultural concepts from one language to the other. Mothers and daughters do not share the same language and therefore communication becomes only possible with the translation of Chinese into English, or vice versa. Thus the whole meaning that they want to pass onto the other person is lost in translation, their intentions might be misinterpreted. The mothers in this novel choose storytelling as their way of communicating due to the fact that neither the daughters speak much Chinese nor the mothers much English; there is an evident language barrier that they overcome by telling stories that they can all understand and from where they can simply get the moral. For example, Waverly remembers that her mother told her the “story of a careless girl who ran into a crowded street and was crushed by a cab”. So, as we can see storytelling in this case is being used as a cautionary tale. Moreover, Lindo does not explain explicitly the importance of self-control, but she actually uses a metaphor, the wind, to teach Waverly about this. And we can also see that because of the lack of communication, Waverly misinterprets her mother, and thinks she is giving herself credit for her daughter’s achievements.

In conclusion,


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