Playing Games as Cultural Expression: Mah Jong, Chess, and Bourré in the works of Amy Tan and Tim Gautreaux


  • Sara Hays Middle Tennessee State University


The opening lines of Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club, after the brief initial prologue, are: “My father has asked me to be the fourth corner at the Joy Luck Club. I am to replace my mother, whose seat at the mah jong table has been empty since she died two months ago. My father thinks she was killed by her own thoughts” (19). These lines connect for the reader, from the very beginning of the novel, the playing of mah jong to deeper considerations of culture, legacy, and tradition. While both mah jong and The Joy Luck Club are internationally popular, the opposite is the case for the Cajun card game bourré and the Cajun short-story writer Tim Gautreaux, whose story “Died and Gone to Vegas” utilizes bourré in a way that is thematically similar to, but culturally different than, Tan’s use of mah jong in The Joy Luck Club. This paper will examine both Tan’s and Gautreaux’s use of games—mah jong, as well as chess, and bourré respectively—as cultural receptacles and means of folkloric preservation.