After reading the first three chapters of Fun Home, I feel sadness for Alison Bechdel. The three chapters focused on the controlling nature of the father and how she feels she had a play in his death. Bechdel’s family was not the typical one of loving and fun, because she was subjected to following commands. Her father seemed to be always stern and suppressing the mother’s happiness, while treating the children like objects. With his obsession of perfection of the house and having the children to help, it was clear to me that something had troubled the father that no one really knew.
This was evident when the mother told Bechdel that he had affairs with other men and boys before. I kind of saw it coming because Bechdel saw parallels between herself and her father, and how well the father handled the news of Bechdel realizing she’s a lesbian. However, while it seems like the endless pain and obsession with Fitzgerald took the father’s life, Bechdel can’t seem to shake off that she had a part in it. I feel like the father loved his children and wife, but never showed it. He had been through too much pain with being molested, and didn’t want his children to be hurt. He was being stern and obsessive to protect them, and when his daughter realized who she was, the father felt a feeling of acceptance and knew it was the right time to end the pain.
I really like the usage of graphics because it added an intriguing element to the story. To see Bechdel’s memories and father’s facial expression added to the emotion felt while reading it, it made me feel sadder for Bechdel.
I really enjoyed the way Bechdel used her grandmother’s story of her father getting stuck in the mud to reference at the end of chapter 2. For me, that connection evoked sadness which I hadn’t felt at all while reading the book so far.
I know that visual expression is supposed to help the reader properly contextualize and understand a text, but I felt like Bechdel’s use of art made the grave situation seem very trivial. Her delivery is very dry and it makes it hard for me to empathize with her and understand the way she thinks about things. Despite feeling really disconnected form her writing, I still enjoyed reading “Fun Home”. I feel like she kind of glazes over very important aspects of her father’s life which confused me. Instead of saying that her father was a flawed man because of his illicit relationships with his students, she focused on how much he paid attention to the renovation of his house rather than his children in his family was interesting. For example, at one point she casually mentions that her father slept with teenagers and doesn’t return to that until well into the book. That bothered me and made it hard for me to focus on what she was speaking about in the present, especially when most of the things she mentioned seemed trivial in comparison to her father’s other glaring flaws. Although maybe these two things are connected, and I’m just not paying close enough attention. I’m interested in seeing how the story progresses as Bechdel learns more and thinks more about her father and his death.
I found the passage of time really interesting in the first half of Fun Home. I think when writing an autobiography, it can be easy to just go in chronological order of one’s life, but Bechdel does a good job of organizing her sections around themes, rather than certain time periods. For example, Bechdel doesn’t even mention the Fun Home until the second chapter, even though it was an integral part of her childhood. While it feels like she left out a thematically important place in the first chapter, the first chapter isn’t about death—it’s about her father’s need to control the aesthetics of their house. Bechdel therefore mentions the Fun Home when it becomes relevant to her story, rather than when the time period is appropriate.
I thought that this lack of chronology was very much supported by the use of imagery in the graphic novel form. In a book, it’s difficult to jump time periods. Authors need to make an explicit statement, and often must remind the reader that a section is a flashback, or that many years have passed—and once an author jumps into the future, it becomes really difficult to then jump back into the past without confusion. However, Fun Home’s visual element lets Bechdel do just that with ease—every frame, we’re reminded of the time period based on Bechdel’s age. We can readily see where we are in time without as much setup, so Bechdel doesn’t have to sacrifice text space to situate the reader.
In the first half of Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home, Bechdel’s father experiences a need to have a perfect house and a spotless exterior. He forces his children to clean almost constantly, obsessing over the prestige and aesthetic beauty of his home. Meanwhile, Bechdel refers to herself as sloppy and not a fan of cleaning. While these personas may seem to characterize them fully, they are actually inversely indicative of the underlying control each of them has of their life and their sexuality. Bechdel has a firm and unapologetic grasp of her sexuality, so she does not feel the need to exert control over smaller aspects of her life. Her father, however, cannot accept his sexuality fully, and as a result feels the desire to control almost everything else in his life.
We see Bechdel’s father being controlling from the beginning, when she compares him to Daedalus of Greek mythology. He is insistent on every piece of ornate furniture being spotless and in peak condition. However, underneath the surface his life is significantly less pristine. He is in a loveless marriage with three children, and has sex with teenage boys, many of whom are his students. Such a life is taboo and messy, so his desire to be orderly is a way to try (and ultimately fail) to correct that.
On the other hand, Bechdel realizes her sexuality in college. When she depicts her first relationship, her room has books lying in a disorganized fashion. Such disorganization in her room but order in her life and feelings contrasts with the opposite situation of her father. While Bechdel is messy in her habits, her emotions are acute enough to make up for that.
One thing that I noticed a lot consistently throughout the first three chapters of “Fun Home” was the comparison between Alison’s father and Jesus Christ. This may seem a bit bizarre at first, given the resentment Alison clearly holds towards her father and the way that she highlights the dark sides of her father. To be honestly, I can only venture to guess why Bechdel would choose to portray her father in this way. However, there is a lot of clear visual and textual evidence.
I first noticed this comparison on page 7, where her father is pictured stoically heaving a column on his back. The column was supposedly used in Alison’s father’s endeavors to renovate their house. This immediately reminded me of Jesus carrying his cross, on which he was later crucified. This has some very interesting implications behind it, I would say. Jesus died on the cross that he carried, and I think that this implies that in a way, Alison’s dad’s obsession with rebuilding their house was the death of him. He was so focused on appearances and upholding pretenses that he ruined himself. Another way that he is similar to Jesus is in his ability and obsession with carpentry. In the bible, it is stated that Jesus himself was a carpenter.
In addition to this image of him carrying his own symbolic cross, Bechdel also describes him as “libidinal. Manic. Martyred” (7). By calling him martyred, Bechdel blatantly compares him to Jesus, while also using some interesting diction that contrasts the purity and goodness that Jesus is supposed to represent (“libidinal” refers to libido, which is definitely not what the image of Jesus is supposed to evoke). In this way, Alison’s father is distinguished as a kind of corrupted Christ figure.
I also find it interesting how Bechdel compared her father to Gatsby, one of literature’s most well-known corrupted Christ figures. The two are both obsessed with appearances and maintaining a false image, and they both seem to be infatuated with garishness and luxury in some sense.
As to why Bechdel chose to draw (haha “draw,” get it?) these parallels between her father and Jesus, I am not entirely sure. His death does not resemble martyrdom in the traditional sense, but perhaps there are some messages that we can draw from this comparison regarding his death.
I wasn’t exactly sure what to think of Bechdel’s “Fun Home”. It was quite a confusing and cryptic graphic novel, in the sense that it consisted mostly of strange anecdotes and references to different pieces of literature throughout each chapter. The first reference was about Icarus, and this reference was used as a metaphor for Bechdel’s father. Frankly speaking, the entirety of the first three chapters made me feel uncomfortable.
Seeing such a family dynamic, where the parents were not ‘in love’ and the children were treated with harsh consequences as a result of not complying to the father’s rules, made me feel discomfort in a way that I haven’t experienced before. Perhaps it was the case that I predicted that the father had a sexual history that was going to be unfolded, or perhaps it was the inclusion of images that seemed normal, but were accompanied by disturbing captions. Either way, whether it was the storyline or the format of the novel, I felt a distinct disgust at the reveal of the reality of the father’s history.
Additionally, I could sense that the father’s obsession with renovating the house and reading books had a largely negative impact on his relationship with the mother. Bechdel made it clear that there was distance between the father and the rest of the family, but there was a primary emphasis on the lack of classic relationship tropes between the father and the mother – namely, their relationship was mostly businesslike. This made me feel even more discomfort as I was unsure of what the dynamic was truly supposed to be a reflection of.
One of the most interesting parts of “Fun Home” by Alison Bechdel was the role of literary references within the graphic novel. Her father was described as both Icarus and Daedalus who are greek mythological father and son characters. Similarly to how the emotional costs of her father’s obsession with home renovation damaged their family, Daedalus was “indifferent to the human cost of his projects” (11). His coldness, and disregard for his family lead to a emotionless family dynamic. His fixation with changing appearances of homes is consistent with the theme that her father is uncomfortable with reality.
Perhaps his escape from reality was reading books. Among some of his favorite authors were Albert Camus and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Post suicide, she finds some underlined passages in Camus’ “The Myth of Sisyphus” talking about the relationship between absurdity and suicide and also how “we all live as if we don’t know were going to die” (48) but since her father’s was a mortician she feels as if he understood the inevitable well. His connection to fictional characters such as Gatsby who was out of touch with reality shows his unhappiness with his reality. His life lasted only three days longer than Fitzgerald’s life but it’s unclear as to whether this is a coincidence. She struggles with understanding this connection whether it was purposeful or not. I struggled to understand why she wanted the connection between her coming out and her father’s death to exist. Maybe because though “tenuous” (86) it shows that there was some kind of emotional connection between them that was deeper than she previously believed.
Because her father lived vicariously through novels, Alison grew up surrounded in literature and learned to interpret the world this way. Her grappling with her sexuality through books whereas maybe her father avoided his with books wasn’t unintentional. Whereas for her mother, after her father’s death she gave away most of his books over time. For her, these novels represented the negative aspects in their relationship that prevented them from having a healthy marriage.