Skillfully integrating traditional Chinese icons into a realistic portrayal of contemporary Chinese Americans, David Henry Hwang dramatizes issues that are crucial to definitions of American life. F.O.B. focuses on the themes of assimilation and acculturation as they relate to personal, cultural, and ethnic identity. Through three characters representing distinct stages in the Chinese American experience, Hwang asks important questions, but—because Chinese American history is still being written—provides no definitive answers. Through Grace, Steve, and Dale, Hwang shows that minority Americans face barriers within their own communities as well as in the wider context of American society.

Representing American-born Chinese, Dale scorns F.O.B.’s, whom he describes as “Like Lenny in Of Mice and Men.” The comparison reveals his utter Americanization. His allusions come from American literature, his friends from the Hollywood Hills, his ambitions—a Porsche Carrera, a show at the Roxy, dinner at Scandia’s—from the American Dream. As he points out, “I’ve had to work real hard . . . to not be a Chinese, a yellow, a slant, a gook.” Dale despises his parents—once F.O.B.’s themselves—whom he calls “yellow ghosts,” who have “tried to cage me up with Chinese-ness when all the time we were in America.” He feels threatened by F.O.B.’s such as Steve, who is rich enough to pay for his Americanization. Confronted with an F.O.B. able to buy at least a semblance of assimilation, Dale is forced to realize how tenuous his own American persona is, how dependent on externals—clothing, automobiles, cultural tastes—that Steve already possesses.

Caught between Dale and Steve, Grace is a first-generation Chinese American. Ten years old when she first arrived in the United States, Grace has experienced the prejudice of ABCs (American-born Chinese) against new arrivals. She remembers bleaching her hair in a desperate bid at “getting in with the white kids” when her Chinese peers ignored her. Now a university student, she accepts an identity that is equal parts Chinese and American. She can never be...

(The entire section is 881 words.)