Short Story: "Rules of the Game" by Amy Tan Practice

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Compare and contrast the narrator's motivations with her mother's.

Waverly "Meimei" Jong wants to excel at "invisible strength" so she can get what she wants and be respected for it. In this scene, she practices wielding "invisible strength" in order to get her mom to do something that Lindo Jong does not like to do: allow Meimei to play chess with strangers. To do this, Meimei appeals to Lindo's main motivation to help her children be successful in life. Instead of aggressively or forcefully expressing why she wants to go, Meimei instead speaks her mother's language. Lindo wants her children to master "American rules" and have a chance to do the opposite of shaming the family—be successful. By doing this, she's able to point out to Lindo that allowing Meimei to compete will give her the opportunity to be successful.

What does the word "pungent" mean?

It's an adjective meaning something that has an intensely heavy smell.

What is Meimei's main motivation in mastering the game of chess?

She wants to learn how to uncover the secrets of being powerful.

What motivates the narrator to "display [her] retort" rather than to respond verbally to the man?

the desire to master the art of "invisible strength"

What is theme? How do you find theme based on characters' actions? Analyze the actions of characters in the short story "Rules of the Game" by Amy Tan and infer the theme.

Theme is the central message or insight that is revealed through a story. One can find theme by analyzing the characters' actions and the consequences of their actions. If a character's actions help him or her reach her goals, then that action may be viewed more positively by the reader. The opposite is also true. In "Rules of the Game," Lindo Jong works hard to impart daily lessons that will promote her success to her daughter. Her actions encourage her daughter to try to succeed by mastering the art of "invisible strength." Waverly "Meimei" Jong wants to master the art of winning arguments and respect from others, but her actions do not always help her. Although she does observe her mother's successes at wielding "invisible strength" and succeeds even against Lindo in the story, in the end she has an emotional outburst. The outburst does not turn out well for Meimei. Based on the characters' actions and their resulting consequences, I believe that the theme is that true strength is calm, patient, and strategic.

Why does the narrator imagine an imaginary chess game in her mind in this excerpt? Explain what this imaginary chess game reveals about the narrator's motivations and her internal conflict.

Waverly "Meimei" Jong imagines a chess game in this scene, which occurs at the very end of the short story "Rules of the Game," because she has just made a bad strategic move regarding her relationship with her mother. She had an emotional outburst that has now led to her being ostracized for the evening. In the beginning of the story, Meimei observes that "invisible strength" helps one win "arguments, respect from others, and . . . chess games." In the last scene, she reflects on the argument and her current relationship with her mother like a chess game in which her mother is now winning. As Meimei ponders her "next move" she needs to figure out what she can do to master "invisible strength" and win the respect of herself and her mother again.

Describe the primary and secondary conflicts in the excerpt. Based on each character's motivations, analyze each character's actions in this scene.

The primary conflict in this excerpt is between Waverly "Meimei" Jong and her mother, Lindo Jong. Meimei feels frustrated, but she's having trouble expressing her frustration without offending Lindo. A related conflict is an internal conflict happening within Meimei. Up until now, her actions have been wise and deliberate. In this scene, she's acting on pure emotion with no strategy at all. Since Meimei's motivation is to master the art of "invisible strength," her actions in this scene are not wise and do not help her reach her goal. Instead of planning out a strategy that will get her mom to stop embarrassing her, she's made a bad move. Lindo, for her part, perfectly embodies "invisible strength." Meimei makes an obviously bad move by insulting her mother with the question, "If you want to show off, then why don't you learn to play chess?" Instead of responding with equal emotion, Lindo merely stares at Meimei. Her silence does what ten shouted words could not do; they shame Meimei so badly that Meimei runs off and further embarrasses herself by running into an innocent bystander. Lindo's main motivation is to help her children succeed, and in this scene she wisely models for Meimei the appropriate tool (according to Lindo's philosophy) to use if someone is being emotionally destructive: silence.

What is the primary conflict in the excerpt?

external: Meimei vs. Lau Po

Describe the primary and secondary conflicts in the excerpt. Then, analyze what motivates each character to act the way they do in the excerpt

The primary conflict in this passage is between Lindo and Meimei. Meimei is annoyed at Lindo for Lindo's critiques, which she finds illogical. This miscommunication is an external conflict. The secondary conflict is within Meimei herself. She's annoyed at her mom, but in the end, she knows that expressing that annoyance is not the way to win the argument. If Meimei is to master the power of "invisible strength" versus overt aggression, she has to figure out an angle that will work. Simply telling her mom to back off will not win her any points. For Lindo's part, she is motivated by a desire to see Meimei succeed. Although Meimei wins the games, Lindo knows that it's important that Meimei continue to improve. Since she doesn't know how to play chess, Lindo may not even be serious in her critique. Her main message is this: "Don't get complacent; keep improving!"

Why does the narrator bite back her tongue?

She doesn't want to reveal to her mother how much she wants to go.

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