Analysis

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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 275

F.O.B. ("Fresh off the Boat") is a 1980 play written by American Tony Award-winning playwright David Henry Hwang. It is the author’s first play, and it covers a plethora of socially important themes such as immigration and cultural assimilation, as well as Asian American culture, tradition, and identity—particularly Chinese. The play tells the story of two Los Angeles based cousins, Dale and Grace, through whom the audience sees what it’s like to be Chinese in America.

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Dale is more Americanized, as he is second generation Chinese or “A.B.C.” (American Born Chinese), unlike his cousin Grace, who comes from Taiwan and is more traditional and respectful towards Chinese culture. Dale tends to criticize all of the new immigrants who come to America and mocks their attempts to assimilate to the western world. In fact, he is the one who introduces the term F.O.B. to the audience, explaining that all Asian Americans who come to live in America can be generally described as “Fresh off the Boat” newcomers.

Their dynamic is shaken with the arrival of Steve, a rich exchange student who has just come to America from Hong Kong. He is a bit egoistic and selfish, and Dale immediately dislikes him and even argues with him. Grace tries to patiently win him over with her peaceful nature and timid behavior, showing him all of the interesting things that Chinese culture has to offer. In the end, Steve and Grave leave together, and Dale is left all alone, bitter, angry, and resentful.

The play received many positive reviews and even won the 1981 Obie Award for Best New American Play.

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 448

F.O.B. opens with a prologue: Thoroughly Americanized Dale defines “F.O.B.” as “Fresh Off the Boat”—a derogatory label for Chinese immigrants who are unfamiliar with the American way of life. Desiring inclusion in American society, these immigrants fail to achieve seamless integration into mainstream culture because of their incomplete understanding of cultural patterns. F.O.B.’s also fall short of total Americanization through their inability to relinquish their dependence on the Chinese American community.

Act 1 opens in Grace’s family restaurant; Grace is struggling to wrap a box in tape. Steve enters, rich and confident that he is desirable to any Chinese woman. Grandly identifying himself as the warrior god Gwan Gung, Steve orders Grace to serve him. Grace refuses, announcing that she is Fa Mu Lan, the mythical woman warrior. As events fail to comply with his carefully formulated plans, Steve grows confused. He tries—and fails—to gain possession of Grace’s mysterious box.

Dale arrives to join Grace and Steve for dinner; Dale and Steve soon begin a series of competitions and verbal skirmishes. When Steve invites Grace to go dancing after dinner, Dale immediately takes offence at what he interprets as presumptuous behavior from an upstart immigrant. The situation worsens when Steve dumps hot sauce on Dale’s food. Dale retaliates by emptying the bottle of hot sauce onto Steve’s plate. They begin an eating contest, each man trying to prove that he can gulp down overspiced food without flinching.

In act 2, Dale intensifies his attacks, referring frequently and derisively to Steve’s F.O.B. status, while Steve fights back by reidentifying himself with Gwan Gung. To create a diversion, Grace announces a game of “Group Story.” Almost immediately, the group narrative becomes a mythologized account of the Chinese experience in the United States dramatized through the conflicts between Steve, once again in his Gwan Gung persona; Grace, fully empowered (in her mind) as Fa Mu Lan; and Dale, the assimilated American Chinese. The storytelling escalates into a mock sword fight...

(The entire section contains 958 words.)

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