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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 452

Bondage, a one-act play set in a fantasy bondage parlor, is an exploration of racial, cultural, and sexual stereotypes. It is presented as an allegory depicting their overwhelming influence in society and offering one alternative for society’s progressing beyond them. The play demonstrates Chinese American playwright David Henry Hwang’s development beyond exclusively Asian American themes to encompass the destructiveness of all stereotyping, be it racial, cultural, or sexual.

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Mark, identifiable only as a male, is the client of dominatrix Terri, identifiable only as a female, in a fantasy bondage parlor. Both characters’ identities are fully disguised. They are merely a man and a woman who assume the characteristics required for whatever fantasy is suggested. During this encounter, however, both Mark and Terri refuse to accept the stereotypes associated with their fantasy roles.

Terri informs Mark that today he will be a Chinese man and she will be a blonde woman. She immediately characterizes Mark as a horn-rimmed-glasses-wearing engineer afraid of her because she is popular with cowboys and jocks. Mark rejects her Asian stereotypes and, in turn, uses blonde stereotypes to describe her. A personal confrontation ensues because Mark will not accept her ridicule.

This leads to male-female stereotyping, and on to progressive levels of racial stereotyping. As they are unable to resolve this confrontation, they move on to become a white man and a black woman, with underlying stereotyped images of the white liberal. Terri charges that he may try to “play” all races, but she has already “become” all races. Next they assume the roles of Chinese American man and an Asian American woman, exploring intercultural stereotypes. Finally they explore Mark’s need for penitence as a stereotypical businessman, which drives him to the bondage parlor to be dominated and humiliated in a fantasy world as he dominates and humiliates in the real one. The plight of both men and women, and the roles society forces upon them, dominate the final confrontation. Her resistance having been worn down by Mark’s arguing, Terri begins to remove her disguise. She offers Mark his moment of victory, but instead he, too, removes his mask. When he confesses his real love for Terri, she reveals herself—they are as the original fantasy, an Asian man and a blonde woman. Their confrontation has put the stereotypes of their disparate groups behind them. They see each other as individuals and are ready to move beyond their fantasies.

Hwang’s optimism that society can move beyond oppressing societal stereotypes pervades Bondage. He presents a balanced attack on all stereotyping, showing that regardless of cultural, political, or sexual identity, society will only move forward when all stereotypes are destroyed and people are regarded as individuals.

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