Shanghai Girls

by Lisa See
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After Joy points out the differences in the way Z. G. painted her mother and aunt in the Communist propaganda posters in Shanghai Girls, May says, "Everything always returns to the beginning" (page 267). Pearl has her idea of what May meant, but what do you think May really meant? What is Pearl's understanding of this saying at the end of the novel?

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In Lisa See's Shanghai Girls, May's remark that "Everything always returns to the beginning" refers on one level to the fact that May and Pearl are once again the subjects of art. These two sisters were "beautiful girls" in China, models who posed for artists for all kinds of advertising drawings and paintings. Here they are again, many years later, back to where they started, as subjects of art.

Yet on another level, May must feel sometimes as if the sisters' lives really haven't progressed all that much from those early days. They still have their trials and struggles, their conflicts and heartaches. They may live in a new place, and certainly some things are different, but life goes on, and relationships remain much the same.

By the end of the novel, Pearl has developed her own understanding of what May's words mean. Pearl is beginning a "new journey" back to China. Twenty years before, she recalls, she left China. She had lost her mother. She made many mistakes. Now, she is going back to fix those mistakes. She is a mother herself now, and she is following her daughter to her homeland. She is returning to her beginnings in order to make a new beginning.

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