Study Guide

The Shaws in Crazy Rich Asians

By Kevin Kwan

The Shaws

Nadine and her daughter Francesca, "the celebrated 'Shaw Foods heiress,'" rival Eddie for the title of Least Likable Characters in the novel. Nadine, like her friends, has married reasonably well by marrying the Shaw Foods guy (Ronnie Shaw, Jr.). Six years ago Sir Ronald Shaw the senior, her father-in-law, went into a coma, allowing Nadine and her husband to take control of the money. Overnight, she and her daughter transformed from dowdy to front-pagers.

Araminta tells Rachel, "When I first met Francesca in Sunday school, she had a plumpish round face and was wearing hand-me-downs. Her grandpa was a famous miser, and the whole family lived crammed together in an old shop house […] Almost overnight, Francesca got herself new cheekbones and a wardrobe from Paris—you won't believe how fast she and her mother transformed themselves" (2.8.47-2.8.49).

We know the Shaw women are about appearances. That is clear. But that is not what makes them loathsome. We have little indication these women actually care about anything other than money. For one, Nadine gets pleasure from watching Eleanor struggle with the notion that her son might be dating an American, Mainland Chinese or Taiwanese girl. "Nadine Shaw chimed in, though secretly the thought of any potential scandal that might bring those high-and-mighty Youngs down a peg filled her with glee" (1.13.37). Doesn't sound too friendly to me.

Francesca is even worse. She takes an active role in ruining Nick and Rachel's relationship. To be clear, she doesn't do this of her own accord, entirely. We know Eleanor has enlisted Francesca's help: "Don't worry, Auntie Elle. I promised you I would see to it and after tonight, Rachel Chu will wish she had never set foot on this island!" (3.8.38). But it's unlikely Eleanor told Francesca which tactics to use: shoving a mutilated fish in Rachel's purse and disclosing the details of a teenage threesome with Nick.

There's an interesting tension to consider here: do Nadine and Francesca think that Francesca could be the one paired with Nick? To some degree, yes. Francesca butters up Eleanor at every turn: "What a fabulous place, Auntie Elle! I want to move in right now" (2.18.54). However, there is little indication that Eleanor thinks Francesca is the right fit for Nick. In fact, she'd prefer Amanda Ling, Jacqueline Ling's daughter, over anyone else.

Perhaps this tension is what leads to Francesca's attack on Amanda after the wedding: "Really, Mandy, I could have milked that story way better. Your mother is right—you have lost your edge living in New York" (3.8.113).

Francesca has few redeeming qualities, so it feels particularly great when her grandfather wakes from his coma and reclaims control of his money. Does this change Francesca in any way? Nadine says, "She comes into our bedroom every night and screams and screams at us. She thinks we should have pulled the plug on the old man when we had the chance" (3.19.19). We're gonna say no.

Ultimately, the Shaw women demonstrate the cutthroat side of the social sphere. When keeping up with the Jonses (or the Youngs, in this book) is all that matters, friendship, kindness, and civility get tossed to the side. While "prosperity is nothing but an illusion," the way it changes people certainly isn't (2.16.25).