Rules of the Game
Of the two stories, ["Rules of the Game"] was the most interesting to me. Amy Tan is quite an engaging writer and provides a great sense of depth to her characters in such a short amount of space.
The microcosmic view of Asian families was definitely interesting. Through the eyes of the daughter, in relating her childhood, she would represent her mother in the broken English while the fluid English of her own thoughts and words were quite in contrast. Seeing the lack of cultural adaptation on the part of the mother was a stark contrast to the acceptance by the daughter and even her brothers. The familial dinners, the differences (and changes) in priorities in chores based on activities, and the role of pride and honor in the family was all very choice.
I found the scene with the rule book to be amusing. The rules for chess have not changed significantly in over six hundred years, so the mother’s rant about throwing out the rule book and learning for one’s self was the object lesson not only of immigration, which she seemed to be relating out of experience, but of life itself. We don’t have a rule book for life for the very reason that each of us is individual, making our own individual moves with the pieces on the board, and bringing our own unique style to the game of life. Even when we know that pawns will only move a certain way and bishops move a different certain way, our style of play is unique. If we all had the same rule book and played by the example given therein, it would be a boring match indeed. But the daughter took that advice and did go learn her own method of play.
But it was fascinating to see the daughter learn her own style and play her own way only to find herself bound up still by her cultural ties. The mother wanted to show her off. The daughter seemed to be okay with merely winning the games. The daughter wanted to study in peace. The mother wanted to hover over her. Even though she threw out that rule book on her mother’s suggestion, the daughter never really could separate herself from being bound by the rules. No matter how hard we try or hard far we run from our cultural heritage, it still influences us and provides at least some of the rules we follow whether we comprehend that influence or not.
I have a personal view of American culture that it is not actually a culture itself but an ever thickening mess of various cultures that don’t always mix well together: it is a melting pot rather than a plate of delicacies. I quite prefer a certain amount of cultural insulation not for any kind of prejudice but for the ability to see distinctly the beauty and influence of individual cultures and be able to taste test those cultures with a sense of integrity. I don’t believe that a pancultural approach necessarily means that we should have a fusion of cultures as we should have and teach an overwhelming (and humbling) appreciation for the diversity of cultures. The influence of various cultures is going to happen. We cannot—nor, in my opinion, should we desire to—stop this intercultural influence from happening. But what I perceive more often than not, and sadly more often among Caucasians than any other group, is a desire to eliminate cultural diversity through a fusion of disparate cultural nuances and create this bland unculture that levels the playing field and has neither any inherent beauty nor any promise of translating cultural values and mores to anyone at all. It is a neutering of culture for the sake of fitting in and being anonymous, “equal,” and tolerable in a society that doesn’t know how to get along with each other any other way.
[Edited from 01 Sept 2008 and reposted]