In F.O.B., the subject of identity is subdivided into immigrants’ identity in the new land, their identity in their native land (partly related to their identity in the new land), and the connection between gender and identity. The play’s characters represent a range of immigrant identities, from newly arrived (Steve), to foreign born with ten years’ experience (Grace), to second-generation American born (Dale), while their American first names all suggest the desire for assimilation. The facets and range of identity are well represented in the repeated fluctuations and metamorphoses of Steve: At various times during the play, he is a child sent to America for the sake of his parents, a nineteenth century recruit from China, a starving nineteenth century worker with a finished contract, a 1914 hopeful being reviewed by the immigration board, a newly arrived wealthy F.O.B., and the warrior and god Gwan Gung. The bing that Steve devours at the play’s end suggests that the hungry Chinese immigrants from the 1800’s through the 1940’s he has represented over the course of the play are finally being fed. They are also an assertion of Chinese identity embodied in a preference for a Chinese dish. Gwan Gung (originally named Guan Yu), like Fa Mu Lan, was a real warrior who was gradually deified and whose warrior identity suggests the necessity of struggle in the process of settling into a new country.
Grace’s metamorphosis into Fa Mu Lan suggests her personal struggles after arriving in the United States at the age of ten and finding herself somewhat at odds with both Caucasian society and the American-born Chinese students in her elementary and high schools. Fa Mu Lan contends with patriarchy in China, as well as among male Chinese immigrants to America—one point implied in the dialogue between Grace and Dale contrasting the history of Dale’s father with that of Grace’s mother in the new country. The fine cloth blindfold donned by Gwan...
(The entire section is 807 words.)