Shanghai Girls

by Lisa See

Character Analysis

The Protagonist of Shanghai Girls is Pearl Chin, the older sister to May chin. She belongs to a wealthy family, yet she still brings in some money herself by modeling with her sister. However, this money is often all spent due to her lavish lifestyle. Pearl is often jealous of May as she thinks her parents like May more then her. She eventually marries Sam Louie to help pay off her Dad's debt to the Louie family. Later, her and Sam raise May's child, Joy. Although Pearl and May fight, Pearl still feels a sisterly connection to her sister, as she says "May and i are sisters. We'll always fight, but we'll always make up." Pearl also comments that "Parents die, daughters grow up and marry out, but sisters are forever." However, Pearl also has a somewhat pessimistic outlook on her life as she comments about her and May "We may look and act modern in many ways, but we can't escape what we are... obedient Chinese daughters".
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The setting of the story and the characterization of Pearl and May both help to advance the plot of Shanghai Girls by Lisa See. The story originally takes places in Shanghai, China right around the start of the second Sino-Japanese war. This causes the sisters and their mother to flee to Hong Kong where they hope to get a ship to San Francisco. However, on their way, their mother is raped and killed, and Pearl is also raped. The Characterization of the girls helps develop the plot, as we see them grow from two wealthy privileged girls into two responsible young women who don't necessarily do what they want, but what is best for their family. In the beginning of the book, the two sisters did not want to take part of their arranged marriages, so they stayed in shanghai. However, later in the book they end up taking part in these marriages so they can help pay off their families debts. The girls also take responsibility for each others actions as they mature. For example, Pearl raises Joy, May's daughter, as they didn't want Father Louie to find out May had a baby with someone besides Vern, her husband from the arranged marriage.
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Shanghai Girls by Lisa See is a great tale of two sisters who go from living a wealthy, lavish lifestyle in Shanghai, China, to struggling as Chinese immigrants in San Francisco, to just trying to survive and pay off their fathers debt in Chinatown in L.A. The main plot revolves around the struggles of the relationship between the two sisters, May and Pearl. Lisa See does a great job of developing Pearls character, and i think anyone who enjoys Stories with well developed characters will enjoy this book.