In the second half of Fun Home by Alison Bechdel, like the first, the pictures and words carry equal weight. While I believe that this story utilizes illustrations in a great way and would have to be written entirely different without the illustrations, I believe that it is Bechdel’s quality writing that makes this story so compelling.
The second half of the graphic novel is less uncomfortable in a sense and far easier to read. In the first half, Bechdel would drop these bombs on the reader such as her father having affairs with younger men, her father killing himself, and her father being abused as a child. While these developments make for a good story, in a way the pictures, while cartoons, make it much more real. Towards the end of the book, the focus is shifted to Bechdel’s attempts at a relationship with her father, in some ways humanizing him after all the things we learned about him in the beginning. I want to say that I expected some sort of resolution in Fun Home, but because of Bechdel’s sultry and morbid style in the beginning, I wasn’t quite sure how the rest would play out, which I enjoyed. It was a complete story and one that I was far more interested in than I expected I would be. It changed my view somewhat on graphic novels and what they can be and the way they can tell stories.
I enjoyed the second half of “Fun Home” much more than the first half. I think this was not only because I became more adjusted to reading the graphic novel format, but also I felt a lot less uncomfortable with the way Bechdel portrayed her life. I felt that, for me, for most of this second half of the book the words and pictures were almost equal in their power over my reading and understanding, but there were some times where the words were stronger than the pictures.
I found that the idea of Bechdel’s father living vicariously through her was much more pronounced in the second half of “Fun Home” as Bechdel shares more about her and her father’s relationship. Their strongest connection did come in the form of her father and her working on her English class together and throughout those times Bechdel did always suspect something about her father due to his excitement over and connection to certain books. When Bechdel and her father discuss their sexualities with each other it becomes apparent that he had a feeling that she was lesbian and that he was happy that she was able to live so openly. This connection over their sexuality is what drew them to be so close for a short time, and even for Alison to have someone to speak to her about her desires to be different as a child just like her father. It was nice to see the two of them have a closer relationship than at any other point in the book and did help me understand how repressed he really was throughout his whole life.
In the first half of “Fun Home”, we saw frequent revisitations of mentions and ideas explored. This technique of Bechdel’s is only amplified in the later half of her graphic novel, as she exquisitely ties up her and her father’s intertwining complex relationship. Through her use of graphics, light images can be revisited and easily remembered, as we saw on page 210 when the similar image is used to recall a brief mention she made in chapter 2. The memoir is not able to be fully grasped in a singular image or quote- the full power and notability derives from her involved and intricate symbols, allusions, and images that reflect the “entwined stories” of their unique father-daughter connection. As a closeted and repressed “gay” man (we only assume he’s gay- Bechel states herself he may have been bisexual or had a different orientation) and open lesbian woman, they live as inverses- mirroring the self-doubt and repression, attraction to literature, and homosexual preference. To me, the most distinct aspect of their relationship is Bruce (the father) tendency to live vicariously through her, even if subconscious. In her coming out, both in the first half of the story and later chapters, her father is decently accepting of her coming out- recommending to her that self exploration is good and necessarily. He “almost” comes out to her- his note is very ambiguous and hard to decipher. Nevertheless, the last chapter of “Fun Home” explores an evolving attention and bond, both in English and personal acceptance.
This last chapter is also my favorite, as I pieced and united together every literary device Bechdel employed to envision the tying of the final moments of their relationship. The story makes you forget it is in fact a memoir and true story- it is almost too interconnected and fitting. The final few months/years of the relationship provides you with hope, as Alison comes out to her father and met with acceptance, their bonds over English, his own opening up and admission of sexuality, and new attention and ties they make. One interesting image in Chapter seven was on page, 218 when Alison attempts to bring up the topic of homosexuality with her father yet is met with “derision… and fear in his eyes”. His mockery is almost apparent- he has a small grin, which is especially unique because he is frowning through out the entire book. In addition, the tiny smile is eerily similar to the uncontrollable grin Alison has at her own father’s funeral. However, we kind of know this one is controlled and forced- in hopes to hid the fear in his eyes, which we can’t quite see or know. But through Alison’s words and descriptions, and revisitation of “fear in [ones] eyes”, we know that this exists. Her combination of images and words, I believe, play an equally important parts- the graphic novel distinction helps us explore the relation between words, literature, meaning, appearances, and passions, more than may have been able to with just a novel. It is truly emphasized that every aspect she includes is intentional, taking the time to draw and include it.
Bechdel’s first three chapters are filled with the control ridden childhood that she lived because of her father’s issues. It was quite sad to see how the father’s repressed sexuality drove him to never develop relationships with anyone in his family, and that it caused him to remain solely focused on the redecorating of his house.
Bechdel uses many allusions throughout the first half of her piece, but the ones that stood out to me were the comparison of her father to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s and her family to the Adams family. Both of these references bring a dark light to her family dynamic and her father as a whole. She uses the Adams family reference to drive home the morbidity that surrounded her life due to a) her family working at the “fun home” and b) how cold her family unit was. She spoke about how the most striking resemblance between her family and the Adams family was the cavalier attitude that they had towards death due to the family business. After continuing to read about Bechdel’s attitude towards her father’s death I wondered if growing up around death made her less subject to grieve or her lack of a relationship with him influenced her. The comparison of her father to Gatsby and Fitzgerald himself really helped portray how unhappy her father truly was. These references also helped me further understand the line ” … my parents are most real to me in fictional terms,” Bechdel not only employs the use of allusion to help us further understand the dynamic between her parents but also does this to help us understand her view of them. Bechdel talks about how their marriage always seemed fake to them and these references helped me understand how far apart her parents really lived even under the same roof.
All in all, her family dynamic was quite disheartening, but Bechdel does a good job of helping the reader understand it through allusions.
The main themes of the first three chapters of Alison Bechdel’s graphic novel, Fun Home, seem to be centered around escaping from reality. With the structure of the graphic novel being starkly different from the other pieces we’ve been reading in class, Bechdel describes her father’s life in relation to her family with a series of anecdotes and literary references to characters in some of her and her father’s favorite books.
These first couple of chapters of the novel were very interesting albeit a bit morbid. It made me uncomfortable to get a glimpse into this dysfunctional family where the father was projecting his repressed sexuality onto his family through exerting his control over the redecorating of the house. His role was not one of a loving father, but rather one of authority. Both of his children and his wife were forced to walk on eggshells around him and were unable to voice their opinions in fear that he may lash out. The rule that the Bechdel children and Helen, their mother, agreed on —to never mention anything about what he wore whether good or bad— demonstrated just how controlling and volatile Bruce’s temper was.
Bechdel tries to understand her relationship with her father through drawing parallels between her family and the Greek myth of Daedalus and Icarus. Comparing her father to Daedalus, she notes that they are both geniuses in their own right, with Daedalus being a master inventor and her father being a master at altering appearances. Through Bechdel’s anecdotes about her father, it is clear that he is not comfortable with his identity. Thus, he attempts to escape the reality of his life —his wife whom he does not love, and his children— through trying to control the minuscule details that aren’t significant in the bigger picture. He channels his energy into redecorating their house, making it seem ornate and grandiose, in an attempt to hide the dysfunctionality of their family. Furthermore, Bruce’s repressed sexuality is apparent in their family dynamic. Comparing her family to the minotaur, Bechdel implies that her family is also trapped. However, instead of being trapped in a maze, her family is trapped by Bruce’s obsessions and repressed sexuality.
Further contemplating her father’s death, Bechdel struggles with her emotions regarding his death. Bechdel describes the way in which she and her siblings would have fun at the funeral home, smelling the mourners’ salts and playing around the caskets. Because the Bechdel children have grown up around a funeral home, their attitudes toward death have become desensitized. This desensitization leads to emotional issues when Bechdel’s father dies. She is unable to fully mourn her father due to the repression of her feelings, a repression she first exerted when seeing her first corpse. This leads to the opening of this wound later on in her life when Bechdel is able to fully accept her sexuality.
“Fun Home”, by Alison Bechdel, poses a starch contrast to our other readings and pieces studied. Bechdel examines her personal past in this visual memoir, constructing a introspective look into her experiences with love, family and sexuality. She begins her memoir examining her home and her father’s obsession with it. I thought that the first chapter was the basics of the entire title and book itself, but as I read further, I discovered it is further extended to the funeral home, her father’s death, her relationship with her family, and her own sexuality and place in her body. The piece contains hidden or briefly mentions of points she furthers on through out “Fun Home”, but through Bechel’s imagery in the visual pictures and comics, she is able to convey a multitude of points persistently throughout her piece.
In her first chapter, she examines her father’s obsession with appearances. Her focus on this is almost ironic due to her use of graphics to display the preoccupation. We are able to visualize preoccupation, but the form makes an interesting relationship as the graphics fixate on appearances too. In sexuality in general, there is an emphasis on the appearance of one- whether that is focused in ones’ gender, beauty, or sexual attraction. In “Fun Home”, Ashley’s father has an obsession with appearances that is apparent in his own physical looks, home, and presence in society. Even in his death, the symbolic nature of his tombstone is based in appearance. One thing I found interesting through Bechel’s pictures was on page 29, when she creates a mirror of her father’s own appearance to the obelisk. A major theme through out the three chapters, and I hypothesize through the entire piece, is symbolic nature and thematic presence on looks.
While there are a plethora of other interesting symbols and devices throughout the piece, one of the most intriguing I found was the stark juxtaposition of images throughout her graphics. On page 65, her father is writing a love letter to her mother during his time in Germany, while other men in the background wrestling. This intention juxtaposition serves many purposes, but primarily, it visible shows the difference of her father to the typical males.
“Blue Talk and Love”, the short story by Mecca Sullivan, explores the complex interworking and relationships of a coming of age girl named Earnestine. This story is very unlike other pieces we’ve read- both in format and subject matter. explores the relations of race, class, body issues, early sexualization, marriage, and urbanization all in one piece. In addition, she also addresses the ideas of loneliness and love.
Mecca Sullivan begins her piece discussing Earnestine relationship and friendship with Xiomara. Xiomara is the more idealized view of beauty in American Society, and E seems to be both jealous and crave her. Yet at the same time, she has an amount of hatred for her- their relationship is complicated, and reflects the complications of most relationships. Throughout the piece, there is attention to appearance and the way things look. She begins the piece describing what Xiomara and Earnestine look like and the implications of their appearance, raising discussion of body image. Often in her writing, Sullivan describes things and events as the way the look. For example, when Earnestine accidentally comes across pornographic movie, she describes and introduces the situation with, “Earnestine was looking at a naked man” (pg. 38). Sullivan’s emphasis on their appearance also raises the issue of sexualization of young girls- from her story, you may think the girls were in their later teenage years or into adulthood. However, in reality, the girls are only in sixth grade.
Sullivan also writes about the complicated marriage of Earnestine’s parents. Confusing mostly on her father, the third person emphasizes the worry Earnestine has about her father, as she sees him as being very lonely and emasculated. This is contradictory and in juxtaposition of the dreamt about marriage of stereotypical America.
Mecca Jamilah Sullivan’s Blue Talk and Love provides a melancholy, sober look into Earnestine’s life—while her exploration of her ambiguous sexuality is the center of the story, her desire, like those of most teenagers, are hidden underneath layers of body insecurity, feelings of otherness, discomfort, and envy, and worries about her life at home. Sullivan’s story exposes how complicated sexuality can be, and how coming to terms with an outside-the-norm sexuality can be difficult when one gets so easily distracted by other insecurities. Just as the story doesn’t expose Earnestine’s sexuality until its end—and never truly explains it—her feelings for Xiomara are hidden throughout the narration, rather than stated as truth by the narrator, or by Earnestine herself. Earnestine’s father’s issues and her insecurities about fitting into school dominate the narrative, only leaving her sexual orientation as a small thread that gets explored right at the very end. This construction reveals that sexuality remains private, predetermined, and unquestioned for most of our lives—Earnestine assumes that she hates Xiomara instead of considering that her feelings for Xiomara might be more complicated than that.
Earnestine’s opinion of Xiomara—one of envy and distaste—is revealed to really be the product of her affection for Xiomara conflicting with the norms constructed by society. Earnestine assumes that Xiomara enjoys having boys chase after her, and that Earnestine herself should be searching for a boyfriend, too. While her sexuality is never explicitly stated—the narrator acknowledges that Earnestine desires boys as well as Xiomara, leaving her orientation outside the bounds of a label—Earnestine resents Xiomara for her alluring personality and looks. Sullivan treads a very fine line between the feeling of jealousy when comparing oneself to a more beautiful, more popular girl, and the feeling of longing to be romantically involved with her, and this ambiguity represents what it feels like for Earnestine to explore her sexuality.
In “Blue Talk and Love” by Mecca Sullivan Earnestine explores and experiences many different kinds of unconventional love in her life from her parents tumultuous marriage to her infatuation with her neighbor and peer Xiomara. As opposed to most of the articles we’ve read thus far, this piece is fictional but often I find that fiction can portray truths better than factual statements. Her style is borders on lyrical and has many lengthy descriptions.
When comparing herself to her peers, Earnestine feels as if she doesn’t live up to the white beauty standards around her which perpetuate that being white and thin is beautiful. Her male classmates often make fun of her for the way she looks. On the other hand, her father tells her that her appearance doesn’t matter, what matters is that she has soul. She often compares herself to Xiomara who is stereotypically beautiful and who is universally adored by boys at school and feels insignificant.
Her relationship with Xiomara is very personal and the time they spend together is intimate. She “felt that she and Xiomara were alone in a secret tropical cave beneath a post-apocalyptic city sometime around the year 2020–an impossible distance away.” (23) Spending time with Xiomara allows her to escape her reality. By the end of the story its implied that Xiomara and Earnestine have some kind of romantic or sexual relationship.
She often observes her parents fighting at home and “It was the small hidden questions of her parent’s lives that scared her.” (32) The communication issues between them are apparent. Her father often plays music after their fights and he plays September but “It was a ballad, a relentless tale of loss that brought to mind all of the things she feared most about love, and made her wonder how people managed to grow up at all.” (34) She doesn’t seem to understand how people fall in love or stay in love since her parents aren’t in love anymore. The connection between “blue talk and love” symbolizes how often with love there is sadness accompanied with it.
Roxanne Gay explores the effects of celebrities and public figures who choose to reveal themselves as members of the LGBTQ community. It is Gay’s belief that while interesting, these revelations don’t advance the agenda of the community, and that unrealistic expectations are placed on these celebrities to help do so. Gay examines the stories of Anderson Cooper, Frank Ocean, and Sally Ride in this piece to prove her point.
I agree with parts of what Gay says such as her opinion that we expect far too much of people in the public eye. “We expect role models to model the behavior we are perfectly capable of modeling ourselves” (p.169). Anderson Cooper, Sally Ride, and Frank Ocean are probably far too busy (and didn’t ask) to take on as behemoth of a task as engineering change for a whole community. “Despite our complex cultural climate and what needs to be done for the greater good, it is still an unreasonable burden that someone who is marginalized must bear an extra set of responsibilities” (p.168).
While I strongly agree with that sentiment, Gay somewhat loses me when she is discussing Frank Ocean. Her credibility takes a hit when she is discussing the “Odd Future” music collective. When reading it, it is easy to find yourself agreeing with Gay and her opposition to artists such as Tyler the Creator, but with a quick google search she could have found out that Tyler the Creator himself is a member of the LGBTQ community, having come out and addressed it multiple times over the years. While this doesn’t make her point moot, I think that her credibility definitely takes a hit as she is attacking a bisexual man for using a slur in a song. I’d imagine it to be similar to a black man using the “N” word in a rap.
Overall, I agree with Gay’s points, but it jumped out at me that she would write this as fact without including necessary details.