Fun Home struck a nerve with me. Since purchasing it I have read it through roughly 5 times. It has quickly become an absent minded reader. Bechdel’s story has cast a dark spell over me. This is a real American family. The comedy, tragedy, and absurdity of this work capture the intricacies of modern, and arguably postmodern, American life. I found myself approaching Fun Home with a splintered mind. As such, I will present this journal in a similar manner, both the academic and the personal will weigh in. This is the only way I can accurately represent my reaction to this wonderful narrative.
I will begin with the academic. In Fun Home Bechdel’s tells the story of two individuals, Bechdel and her father, and their experiences with their sexuality. It is simultaneously her autobiography and a biography of her father, Bruce. Bechdel explores gender roles, sexuality, suicide, depression, and family structure. Bechdel also examines how literature can be used a mirror to the soul. Each individuals preferred genre and writers is tied into critical events in their lives. This laundry list of writers and literature is often a stumbling block for those less than well versed in the Lost Generation or absurdism.
When placed into context with the rest of the readings from this class Fun Home stands out. Not only is it the only graphic novel, it is also not academic. Despite this, Fun Home is a fitting end piece to the reading list. Throughout this class we have explored American culture. Academics have delved into the lives of various groups. The struggle of financial, sexual, and physical independence was common subject matter. All of this material was discussed academically. Fun Home brings many of the issues discussed in this class down to a personal level. This book is a look at a family that from the outside appears to have found the American Dream. The Bechdel’s are not rich but they have a large family, two hard working parents, and a lovely home. Looking further into the lives of the Bechdels an observed can easily see the cracks on the facade. Family life revolves around the habits and secrets of Bruce Bechdel. His closeted homosexuality and his obsessive compulsive need to exude perfection take their toll on his family. Allison places her life as a comparison of opposites with her father. Her out, to his closeted. Her modern, to his traditional. Her quest for masculinity, to his inner feminine. Throughout the Fun Home Bechdel spirals around her father. Even when she breaks free from them physically his death returns her to their orbit.
While Bechdel does not have an actual thesis, she does present an argument. Bechdel is arguing that the typical American family is often an illusion. What appears perfect on the outside may be rife with flaws internally. She is also challenging the aspect of shame. Her father’s closeted sexuality was shown as a shame management. Bechdel’s coming out and her involvement with the Gay community on campus presents is a stark contrast to her father’s secretive sexuality. While this does present the argument that America is becoming more accepting of homosexuals, there is no discussion of Bruce being bisexual.
I found this work captivating. While Bechdel’s life experiences differ greatly from my own, it is her connection with her family that drew me in. Despite the secrets, the seething frustration, and the unattainable facade of normalcy, there existed a bond. Bechdel spoke of her home as more of an artists colony that the typical family, each member engaged in their own pass times. Aside from the occasional moment of togetherness, Bechdel present her family as bonding through shared experiences and most commonly work. This was not Norman Rockwell, but it was a family.
While Bechdel’s relationship with her father is central to the book, there are telling interactions with other family members. The relationship with her mother was what gripped me. Allison and Helen’s relationship goes beyond the standard mother daughter relationship. These two women shared the burden of Bruce’s secrecy.. Their camaraderie really develops after Bruce’s death. As Allison attempts to understand her Father, she becomes closer to her mother. Seeing her not as a victim or an authority figure, but as a fellow survivor. . What drew me in about Helen was her strength and bluntness. While locked into an unhappy situation, Helen does not lose herself. She stands as a human being in the face of the mythical Bruce.
One personal issue that arose in Fun Home was Bechdel’s presentation of her father’s death. Bechdel is determined to consider her father’s death a suicide. Bechdel does point out that she is not positive that Bruce’s death was intentional, however these statements seem half hearted. Throughout Fun Home Bruce Bechdel is characterized as a mythical being. His rages are likened to the Minotaur, his creativity to Daedalus. He is equal parts monster, country squire, craftsman, and artist, it is only fitting that such a mythical man would chose when to die. Admitting that his death was accidental robs Bruce Bechdel of some mythical status. His suicide is also a fitting literary device, an ending that is in keeping with his reading choices and character.
The graphic novel format is one that I have championed for the better part of two decades. Maus, Grave of the Fireflies, and others are works that depend on the visual medium to evoke their magic. Bechdel’s style is reminiscent of Crumb’s simple art. It is a pleasure to see that artists are turning to the graphic novel format as a way to present their art. Graphic Novels have been around for the better part of three decades. Only now are they really gaining the recognition as a form of literature. Hopefully more works such as Fun Home will come along in the future and further legitimize this genre.
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