Amy Tan's Rules of the Game Research Paper

Amy Tan’s Rules of the Game, a short story included in her 1989 debut The Joy Luck Club, is a richly detailed story about growing up in a Chinese immigrant community in 1950’s America. The protagonist and narrator, Waverly Jong, recalls her life in San Francisco’s Chinatown and the lessons she learned about “the art of invisible strength,” both from her strict mother and from the game of chess.

Waverly discovers chess by chance when her brother Vincent gets a chessboard as a Christmas present. Although the set is used and missing pieces, Waverly learns how to play, first from Vincent, and then from an old man who plays in the park named Lau Po. Lau Po teaches her more complicated strategies, and Waverly becomes a skillful player, and eventually a prodigy. Waverly struggles with her overbearing mother, and comes to see their relationship as a kind of chess game.

Rules of the Game provides a great wealth of material for a good research paper. Here are some ideas:

  • Compare and contrast the mother-daughter relationship between Waverly and her mother in “Rules of the Game” and Jing Mei “June” Woo and her mother in “Two Kinds.” Both mothers are strict and want their daughters to be a success. Waverly is a successful prodigy but June is not. Are there any other significant different differences or similarities?
  • Like her protagonist, Amy Tan was born in 1950’s California to Chinese immigrants. Are there any other details from her life that are relevant to Rules of the Game? What is the relationship between an author’s life and their fiction?
  • The title Rules of the Game doesn’t just refer to the game of chess. Waverly learns to apply what she learns about chess to life as well. Think about how the lessons of chess, such as “the tactics between two adversaries are like clashing ideas,” and “It is a game of secrets in which one must show and never tell,” might also apply to other aspects of the story, such as family life, the life of Chinese immigrants in America, or life as a woman in a male-dominated society.
  • The Communist People’s Republic of China was formed 1949, not long before this story takes place. How did the turmoil of recent Chinese history shape the lives of the people in this story?