Summary (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
The play’s title is explained by the character Dale in the first lines: “F-O-B. Fresh Off the Boat. F.O.B.,” which are also the play’s closing lines. Dale continues his speech by describing the characteristics of F.O.B.’s, Asian people who are recent immigrants to the United States. He calls them “clumsy, ugly, greasy” and “loud, stupid, four-eyed.” Dale himself is an A.B.C., an “American Born Chinese,” and traditionally the relationship between A.B.C.’s and F.O.B.’s has been anything but pleasant.
The play, which has only three characters, traces the difficulty of assimilation for Asian newcomers to the United States and the hostility they receive from Americans of Asian descent. There is the added conflict of jealousy when Dale’s cousin, Grace, a first-generation Chinese American, shows a friendly interest in Steve, an F.O.B., but the jealousy is played out in a way that is more comic than tragic. The play delineates a hierarchy of importance and power, self-assurance and self-delusion, within various immigrant groups of Chinese Americans, overlaid with sexual jealousy and identity in flux. Hwang has said that in F.O.B., he is exploring how much of a person’s identity is inherited and to what extent a person is shaped by surrounding influences. Because he is himself a person of Chinese descent born in America, Hwang thus uses his characters to explore his personal issues of identity.
There is also a...
(The entire section is 514 words.)
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Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
A second-generation Chinese American, Dale stands at a blackboard dressed in preppie clothes and lectures “like a university professor” about the meaning of the initials F.O.B. He explains that the initials stand for “fresh off the boat,” referring to a newly arrived immigrant, especially of Asian descent. Such F.O.B.’s, he asserts, are clumsy in appearance and dress and represent an embarrassment to an “A.B.C.”: an American-born Chinese.
Steve enters through the back door of a small Chinese restaurant that is not yet open for the day. There, he meets Grace, a waitress in her family’s restaurant who is also a student at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). Grace is in a bad temper because she is having difficulty taping a package closed and is being forced to deal with obnoxious customers. Over the course of the scene, Steve’s identity shifts: At first he and Grace are strangers, and he is a poor immigrant attempting to enter the United States; later, he takes on the identities of the Chinese god Gwan Gung and of the son of a wealthy Shanghai and Hong Kong family who has come to the United States to attend college. In the latter identity, he and Grace have already met each other at a Chinese American dance.
Steve insistently asks Grace whether the restaurant serves bing, a type of Chinese pancake, while Grace hostilely tells Steve that the restaurant is closed and that he should scrutinize a menu for the...
(The entire section is 1493 words.)