Category: Fun Home Part 2

Fun Home by Allison Bechdel

Reconciliation

In reading part two of Fun Home, I found a lot of questions being answered. While the first part of the graphic novel struck me as confusing and disturbing, I felt a lot more comfortable reading the second part and delving deeper into the lives of Bechdel and her family members. It was specifically enlightening to learn more about her father and his past, as well as see their general relationship grow as she got older and revealed more moments that they shared together. It was also interesting to see the parallels between the two, such as the scene where Bechdel is reading a magazine with the image of a man with his shirt unbuttoned, spread across the double pages. Bechdel and her father share an admiration for ‘masculine beauty’ which I find slightly endearing, considering the fact that they were both in the closet at this moment in time. It was also interesting to see more of the father in a positive manner rather than the negative, almost morbid way that he was depicted in the first part. In fact, Bechdel even draws him smiling towards the final pages of the graphic novel, which I found bittersweet. It is true that Bechdel and her father had a complicated relationship, and I believe that this was portrayed accurately in the graphic novel through the shared features of images and prose.

Solidarity and Group Images

While reading the second half of “Fun Home,” I paid a lot of attention to the dynamic between the pictures and the words. In my opinion, each played a fairly equal role in conveying Bechdel’s message to the reader. I found it very interesting how the images shifted throughout chapters 4-7 from portraying the family as very isolated, to showing how in many ways they were very close. For example, on page 134, all of the Bechdel family members are pictured in separate, solitary parts of the house. All were attending to their own business, with no interaction whatsoever. This changes as the novel progresses, especially in the last chapter. Bechdel began talking about the time that she spent with her father and the bond that they had, and the images shifted into showing the family members doing things side by side.

One small example of this that I noticed was the piano. Bechdel mentioned early on in this section of the reading that she disliked how her parents would pursue their artistic endeavors and effectively ignore the children. However, on page 225, Alison and her father are pictured playing the piano together. While earlier in the book the piano was used as a device for solitude and withdrawal, it has now become something that brings Alison closer to her father.

Catharsis

I liked reading the second half of Fun Home much more than the first half. Bechdel’s portrayal of her life was not as disturbing as she focused more on how her father lived through her vicariously rather than his role in their family and his affairs with younger men. Additionally, her tone became less cold and more vulnerable, which I believe made the novel easier to read because it made Bechdel seem more human.

With regards to the weight the words and pictures held in the second half of the graphic novel, I would say that they were even for the most part, until around pages 220-221 where both Bechdel and her father confide in each other about their sexualities. In these two pages, the words hold way more weight than the images— there is not much action in the illustrations. This conversation between Bechdel and her father demonstrates a turning point in their relationship. Since her childhood, Bechdel has been trying to find common ground with her father in order to form a genuine connection and relationship with him. However, she has been unsuccessful until this moment. Bechdel is able to bond with her father about dressing in the opposite gender’s clothing and speak freely with her father.

However, Bechdel then continues on to compare their exchange not as the “sobbing, joyous reunion of Odysseus and Telemachus,” but “more like the fatherless Stephen and sonless Bloom having their equivocal late-night cocoa at 7 Eccles Street” (221). Rather than being a moment of acceptance for them both, this exchange is more of an unburdening for Bechdel’s father. Whereas Bechdel has been comfortable with her sexuality for much of her life, Bruce has had to repress his sexuality. Due to this, there is an unexpected shift in roles, with Bechdel mentioning that she felt “distinctly paternal” during this conversation (221).

This conversation is arguably the most important scene of the novel because of how it demonstrates both Bechdel’s and Bruce’s escape from their repressed feelings. I think that Bechdel chose to minimize the action in the images in order to emphasize exactly what is said between her and her father. The lack of action in the images also demonstrates the tone of the conversation, which in this case, seemed to be slightly awkward. Not only does it indicate the awkward tone of the conversation, but it also emphasizes the expressions on Bechdel’s face during the conversation.

Bechdel’s Confusing Tone

I enjoyed the second half of “Fun Home” much more than the first half. I think the tone of Bechdel’s writing became more vulnerable which is what I was looking for in the first half. I’m not sure if it’s unfair of me to demand vulnerability from her when writing the entire book was probably a very courageous act that required vulnerability. I felt like her writing matured as the story progressed. Despite the book’s achronological order, it seems to me that she spent the first half of the book fleshing out her childhood and her relationship with her father during that period of her life. In the latter half of the book, she focuses more on her adolescent and young adult life. I liked that Bechdel used her diary entries to describe what was happening during that one very important summer. It was interesting to see how she was able to draw so much information out of them despite how vague the entries were.

Throughout reading this book, I’ve struggled with drawing  conclusions from it. I’m still not really sure how i feel about it. I think that this is because I’m not used to reading stories with tragic themes in the format of a graphic novel. However I do think that the graphic novel format perfectly illustrated the way Bechdel views her family, her upbringing, and her father’s death. So unfortunate and painful that the only way you can cope with it is to reduce it to triviality and humor.

The Antihero

After reading the second half of Fun Home, I feel like the similarity between the father and its surroundings become apparent along with the complex love between him and Bechdel. As the reading goes on, there are huge similarities between Beech Creek and The Wild Wood and Surrounding Country, where Bechdel can relate events that happened in the book to her life. For example, Mr. Toad speeding along the road reminds Bechdel of a similar car accident that killed her cousin. Ultimately, this combined with how Bruce never ventured out of this place leads to believe that he is Beech Creek and is meant to die there. He even had made a recording about Beech Creek and had the deep Pennsylvania accent. You can also see his similarity to his wife when they both express their creativity in different ways and places. The wife is more music and play oriented, but they both end up using the same recording machine to express what they love.

 

You can also see how Bruce used to be in Bechdel’s shoes. While he’s reticent and doesn’t like to approach the topic, he once too dressed in girl’s clothes and suppresses his sexuality. The theme of secret sexuality is present in both of them with Bechdel also defying sexual norms by liking to dress as a man and dance with girls. What’s different is that Bechdel has an opportunity and is more willing to share her sexuality, which creates a weird love between the father and her. For the whole book, it seemed that she hates her father because he is so stern and never was really there for her. But at the end of the book, she expresses how he is always there for her by “catching her when she leapt” and that they both needed each other. This only reinforces the title of the chapter of Bruce being an antihero and the closeness of their relationship. It’s also evident in the closing pictures where, for the first time in the book, they are playing the piano together and actually enjoying each other’s company.

Images are effective in displaying attitudes and relationships

In general, I don’t think I’ve ever read a graphic novel before. I think that really affects my opinions on how effective the graphic novel form was for me as a reader. I had trouble disassociating graphic novels and their pictures with picture book appropriate content. I also just wasn’t quite use to reading the text in order and also observing the images simultaneously. I usually felt like I was giving the text a lot more attention than the images in general. For some passages I felt like the text was enough to convey her ideas but in other places I felt as if the pictures supplemented her storyline sufficiently.  

On page 204 I felt like the images spoke to themes or enriched the content of the graphic novel beyond just the text. Here, her father is letting her borrow some novels from his library. Since these are his livelihood she finds the act endearing. I think their facial expressions convey the tone of their relationship in a way that the text doesn’t explore. When they are facing each other they solely look at the book because it is the books that are bringing them together. When her father turns around she looks up at him as he turns away. He is really happy to be sharing his books with her and she is happy that he is sharing but they don’t let the other one know. In general, I’ve noticed that her father is always portrayed as extremely serious in the novel and his mood and general attitude is often shown through images rather than text explanation.

I think after reading the entire novel and getting use to the form if I reread the book or when I read other graphic novels I can get a lot more out of them now that I have a better idea of how to balance both looking at the text and the images.

 

Tension in a Single Moment

Throughout, Alison Bechdel’s graphic novel Fun Home, the sizes of the panels vary along with the text on each page. Though some pages look similar, none are ever exactly the same in terms of formatting. However, there is one exception. On pages 220 and 221 towards the end of the book, Bechdel has a tense, yet enlightening conversation with her father on the way to a movie. On these pages, all of the panels are perfectly square in a neat, three-by-four arrangement with no text outside the panels.  This arrangement, which vastly differs from the rest of the novel, distinguishes the conversation and Bechdel’s thoughts during it as tense, yet extremely significant.

This passage is the only time in the book, and in Bechdel’s life, that her father explicitly talks about his sexuality to her. He opens up, even if only a little bit, and relates to his daughter. This relation later leads to them getting along more than they ever had, with people commenting that they were being unusually close. However, their moment of closeness is short lived; it comes to an end when Bechdel tries to relate their experiences in wanting to change as children. In fact, the entire conversation is one sided, with her father ending it as soon as she speaks again.

Despite the faults of the conversation itself, Bechdel’s representation of it captures the mood perfectly. The stagnancy of the panels conveys Bechdel’s fear of the end of the conversation, the panels of nothing define the awkward pauses and wait, and her expressions mirror her growing excitement, followed by her disappointment.

Words without action

Arguably the most pivotal point of Fun Home includes almost no visual action.  Towards the end, Alison is sitting with her father in the car on the way to a movie theater, where each finally opens up about their sexualities candidly—they connect, for example, over the fact that each wanted to be the other gender when they were younger (220-221).  What I found really interesting about these two pages is that while it’s an incredibly important moment in the story—the novel almost feels like it’s leading up to this exchange—there’s barely any visual action.  The two pages consist of profiles of Alison and her father sitting in the darkened car, with Alison’s narrations and their dialogue the only thing changing between each frame.  For the first time in the novel, too, Bechdel’s narrations are white-text-on-black, which makes them feel a lot heavier, emphasizing the importance of this conversation in the overarching narrative.

Alison essentially narrates her thoughts and fears during the exchange, starting with smaller observations like, “I kept still, like he was a splendid deer I didn’t want to startle,” and ending with grander interpretations of the exchange like “I had felt distinctly parental listening to his shamefaced recitation” (most likely applying her opinions retroactively from the future).  Bechdel pulls in her references from Ulysses and The Odyssey that have been woven through the entire chapter to compare their exchange to that of Telemachus and Odysseus or Stephen and Bloom, further demonstrating how Bechdel makes sense of her world through literature. With these final observations, Bechdel introduces the strange parent-child role-reversal she experiences with her father, asking, “But which of us was the father?” to reveal that both are coming to terms with their sexuality, and both need the guidance of a more experienced party.  I thought it was very paradoxical, but also very appropriate, that Bechdel relies more on words in this scene than images to express the importance of their conversation, taking a break from her normally more active imagery to emphasize the momentousness of this exchange with her father.