Bistable liquid crystal displays (LCDs) offer the potential for considerable power savings compared with conventional (monostable) LCDs. The existence of two (or more) stable field-free states that are optically distinct means that contrast can be maintained in a display without an externally applied electric field. An applied field is required only to switch the device from one state to the other, as needed. In this paper we examine the basic physical principles involved in generating multiple stable states and the switching between these states. We consider a two-dimensional geometry in which variable surface anchoring conditions are used to control the steady-state solutions and explore how different anchoring conditions can influence the number and type of solutions and whether or not switching is possible between the states. We find a wide range of possible behaviors, including bistability, tristability, and tetrastability, and investigate how the solution landscape changes as the boundary conditions are tuned. © 2013 American Physical Society.