At the heart and soul of it, Rachel Chu is the catalyst for a lot of drama in Crazy Rich Asians. But let's be clear: that does not mean she herself is dramatic, but her mere existence in the world of the Singapore rich creates D-R-A-M-A.
As a person, Rachel is well-educated, measured, career- driven, and beautiful. As Nick puts it, "a natural, uncomplicated beauty" (1.4.6).
Because lineage is important to this book, we should explore Rachel's here:
She is Chinese-born, but American-raised: she's been in the US since she was six months old when her mother smuggled her out of China to save her from grandma's plan "to pour acid" in her eye (3.20.22). Yes, you read that correctly. She and her mother toured around the U.S. as her mother took any job that would hire her, eventually settling in northern California. From there Rachel had a comfortable life that afforded her the chance to go to Stanford and Northwestern and later work at NYU. Not too shabby, Mama Chu.
Despite her pretty elite education background, Rachel is totally unpretentious and down-to-earth. While many of the other female characters in the book are materialistic and only concerned with clambering up the social ladder, Rachel is uninterested and even bothered by the wealth: "all these people whose lives revolve around making money, hiding money, controlling others with money, and ruining their lives over money" (3.15.148).
For all of Rachel's virtues, the only flaw we really see in her is that she's too nice. Wondering how being too nice be a flaw? Well, you know those people in middle school who were so nice to everyone and ended up getting excluded from everything or bullied by everyone? That's Rachel.
In this world of cutthroat, winner-take-all "romance," Rachel is naïve and easily taken advantage of by other women—mainly, in fact, by Nick's mother.
Araminta's bachelorette weekend is series of examples of Rachel getting picked on. When she says her friend Sylvia set her up with Nick because Sylvia "thought Nick was cute and a total catch," her benign words lead to…er, unexpected consequences (2.11.28). At the end of the night, her "bag was filled with a large fish that had been badly mutilated, blood seeping out from its gills" (2.11.82). Yowsa!
Don't get us wrong, though. We're definitely not saying that Rachel deserved any of this, but her naivety certainly sets her up for some terrible treatment at the hands of Francesca Shaw and the other girls at the bachelorette party. Now those are some girls we can find flaws in.
While most of the novel is a number of events happening around and to Rachel, which can make for a pretty flat character, Rachel does get a moment to flex her muscle and actually do something.
When she's sick of being treated like a second-class citizen by Nick's family, she calls it all off. She realizes that having a loving family for her children is important to her: "[…] as much as I love you, Nick, I don't want to be your wife. I never want to be a part of a family like yours. I can't marry into a clan that thinks it's too good to have me" (3.15.148).
In this moment, Rachel realizes and acts on something that several characters in the novel had taken years to figure out (if they figured it out at all): I determine my self-worth, not this stupid family. Check out our analyses for Michael Teo and Fiona Cheng for more on this idea.