Pearl and May seemed to be accustom to living an elegant, comfortable lifestyle in their fully staffed, Shanghai, home. They were able to enjoy modeling as Beautiful Girls as well as exploring nightlife to their hearts content. The setting advances the plot as the girls enter times of conflict. The amenities they once had disappear along with their father, Baba’s, money. When the financial struggles surface, the girls take a trip through the slums of Shanghai where they witness horrific poverty and misfortune. The setting give a sense of suspicion to the reader, by foreshadowing the possible lifestyle Pearl and May might face.
May’s growth and diversity as a character is enhanced as the plot goes on. Early in the novel, May is reliant on Pearl. She is much less educated than her sister and depends on her to keep her on track and safe. As time goes on May shows her abilities and that she is stronger than she once led on. As the plot thickens, she becomes more independent and competent. For example, after finding her mother dead in a shack and Pearl in horrible condition, she gathers the strength need to take care of her sister and keep alive.
Chinese society in the early 1900’s ranged from prosperous, wealthy people, to those so poverty stricken that they would abandon their infants on the street to die. Shanghai Girls, passionately written by Lisa See, exemplifies the wildly contrasting lifestyles through the hardship of two young women. See divulges and exposes the deepest bond of sisterhood; allowing the reader to connect emotionally to the characters and their journey.