Waverly Jong is in a predicament. Though she is an intelligent adult, she still fears her mother’s disapproval. She has been unable to bring herself to tell Lindo that she is about to remarry, for she does not want to see her mother’s reaction. Lindo never liked her first husband, and Waverly indirectly blames her for the failure of the marriage. Now Waverly is afraid that her mother’s disapproval of Rich Shields will poison this second marriage as well.
Waverly makes many plans about ways to break the news to Lindo. She takes her to a restaurant called “Four Directions,” where she plans to tell her about her upcoming marriage. Lindo, however, occupies the conversation by criticizing the food and the waiters. Since her mother is already in a negative frame of mind, Waverly decides not to tell her about her marriage plans. Later, she invites her mother to the house she shares with Rich, hoping that her mother will see the unmistakable signs that they are living together and question Waverly about her future plans. Her mother comes for the visit, but makes no comments; an astonished Waverly remains silent. Next Waverly takes Rich with her to her mother’s house for dinner. Rich tries to please the family, but fails miserably, for his actions appear contrary to Chinese customs. He seems oblivious to his mistakes, but Waverly is upset by them and filled with irritation for Rich. Finally, on the day after the dinner party, Waverly tells her mother she plans to marry. To Waverly’s surprise, Lindo is kind and supportive, causing Waverly to burst into tears.
Within the chapter, Waverly recalls a time when she tried to rebel against
her mother’s control of her life. She tried to upset her by giving up
chess. The plan, however, backfired, for it was Waverly who missed the
game. Before long, she was playing again, but she never was as successful.
Finally, she feared that she had lost her talent and she permanently gave
up playing chess competitively.
“The Four Directions” is really a follow-up to “The Rules of the Game.” In the earlier episode, Waverly mastered the game of chess and succeeded in becoming a champion. In this chapter, she relives the past when she lost interest in the game and gave up her title of a champion. To rebel against her mother’s control of her life, Waverly quit practicing chess. She thought she was getting even with Lindo, but her mother appeared unaffected by Waverly’s decision; it was the daughter who missed the game terribly.
Waverly, who has always been a sensitive and defensive female, is the perfect example of a self-fulfilling prophet. She fears things so much that she nearly makes them happen. She married the first time against her mother’s will. When the marriage failed, she indirectly blamed Lindo for it. Now Waverly is afraid to tell her mother that she is about to remarry. Although she loves Rich, she also fears her mother’s disapproval. She makes several attempts to break the news to Lindo, but they all fail. Then when she senses that Rich is not meeting her mother’s high expectations, she finds herself irritated with him for little flaws. It is clear that Waverly is strongly influenced by Lindo, like all of the other Chinese American daughters in the book.
The title of this chapter, “Four Directions,” carries more that one meaning. The most obvious is that it is the name of the restaurant where Waverly takes Lindo in order to tell her the news about Rich. When Lindo occupies the conversation with varied criticisms of the food and the waiters, Waverly is unable to tell her mother about her plans to remarry. More importantly, “Four Directions” refers to Waverly’s life, which is pulled in many directions. Even though Waverly is a successful tax accountant with a good position, she lacks self-confidence, especially in dealing with her mother. Her insecurity and indecisiveness make her a bundle of nerves. She always fears the worst will happen with Lindo, to the point that she often causes bad things to happen. She reads wrong meanings into her mother’s words and creates a barrier between herself and Lindo, leading to needless misunderstanding and tension between them. When she finally gains the courage to tell Lindo about her plans to marry Rich, she realizes that she has misjudged her mother. In truth, her mother loves her deeply and wants her daughter to be happy; as a result, she is very supportive of her plans to remarry.
It is clear that Mrs. Jong is a sensible woman, even though she is uneducated and rooted in Chinese tradition. When Waverly was a champion chess player, Lindo did not know the rules, but she could still give her daughter wise and helpful suggestions based upon her keen observations and common sense. In a like manner, she is able to sense the correctness of the relationship between Rich and Waverly and blesses their plans to marry. Since Lindo did not approve of Waverly’s first marriage, which ended in failure, it is obvious that Lindo’s common sense estimate of it was correct; she knew that her daughter was marrying the wrong man, for the wrong reason, to spite her mother.
The themes of mother-daughter conflict and the importance of Chinese heritage are further developed in this chapter. From the time of her youth, Waverly has feared the disapproval of her mother. Since Lindo expected so much from her, she was afraid to show her true self to her mother. When she rebelled as a youth, giving up the game of chess to hurt her mother, the plan backfired, for Lindo did not seem to mind; it was Waverly who greatly missed playing chess. As an adult, Waverly still seeks Lindo’s approval, but silently rebels against her. Although she knows that her mother disapproved, she married her first husband. She also lives with Rich before they are married, even though she knows Lindo does not approve.
Like the other Chinese American daughters in the book, Waverly desires to
hide her Chinese side and enhance her American character. Ironically,
Shoshana, her daughter from her first marriage, possesses the best of
both cultures. She emerges confident and cheerful, proud of being a Chinese
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