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1-Page Summary of Fun Home
Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic is a graphic novel by Alison Bechdel who traces her journey from childhood to adulthood as she comes to grips with her own sexuality, the suicide of her father Bruce, and his secret homosexuality.
The book starts with Alison as a young girl, playing with her father. He’s compared to both Daedalus and Icarus because of his genius and his tragic downfall. Bruce was obsessed with restoring the family’s old Gothic Revival house, which Alison believes was largely motivated by his desire to keep up appearances of being a good Christian man even though he was having affairs with some of his male students. Bruce killed himself while Alison was in college, although she only knew him for most of her life; the rest of the family felt like he had died long before that.
Alison then goes on to describe the circumstances of her father’s death. She notes that he died under mysterious circumstances, but she believes it was a suicide because of what happened in his life around this time. Her father was born and raised in Beech Creek, Pennsylvania, and lived there until his death. He served in WWII as an army man stationed overseas with Helen (Alison’s mother). They got engaged through letters while they were apart. After Bruce returned from Europe after his father’s passing, he became the owner of Bechdel Funeral Home and later had Alison and Christian with Helen. The family moved into a Gothic Revival house purchased by them at this time as well.
Alison and her brothers grew up in a funeral home, which they called the “Fun Home.” Because of this, they had desensitized attitudes about death. Alison’s grandmother lived in the same building as the funeral home, and she often told stories about Bruce being stuck in mud at that time. Later on, when Alison stood by Bruce’s grave, she couldn’t believe he was actually down there because it didn’t seem real to her.
Alison wonders if her coming out of the closet had anything to do with Bruce’s suicide. She remembers when she wrote a letter to her parents about being gay, four months before Bruce killed himself. Alison notes that books were just as important in his life, and she thinks about how he was obsessed with F. Scott Fitzgerald growing up, and compares him to Marcel Proust because they both used their writing as a way to hide who they really were—gay men—and also for the beauty of flowers (in Proust’s case).
Alison was a kid who had a father she thought of as “sissy” and tried to be masculine to make up for it. She constantly argued with her dad about things, but when they went on vacation together, he took the kids and his lover Roy (or so Alison assumed) to the family cabin. While there, Alison noticed that there were pictures of nude women on the walls at construction sites. She asked her brothers if she could call herself Albert instead of Alison because she didn’t like being called by her given name anymore. Later, while looking through an album from this trip, she found a picture Bruce had taken of Roy lying in bed shirtless; Alison looked carefully at this photo trying to figure out what it meant for them all.
Shortly before Bruce’s death, Alison had a dream about him. In the dream, he was too far behind her to see the sunset. At his funeral, she wanted to tell everyone what happened but couldn’t. She wonders if things would have been different for them if they hadn’t stayed in Beech Creek and lived somewhere else instead. The landscape around Beech Creek is both naturally beautiful and polluted by industry. As children, Alison wrote a poem about nature which Bruce added to it later on; similarly, she drew something in a coloring book that Bruce colored in for her because of an argument over colors used in it.
Alison’s mother was also an artist. She acted in community theatre plays. The house felt like a colony of artists, where each member of the family was absorbed in his or her own pursuits. Alison discusses how she developed obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). At first, it started with self-doubt and uncertainty about her writing, so she would write “I think” between each statement. It then got worse to the point that she had to scribble “I think” over every entry until her mother took away her diary.
Alison is an adult when she learns that her father, Bruce, was gay and almost got caught in high school. When Alison was thirteen years old, she found out that her father had a secret lover. This happened while he was looking for another boy he knew who was most likely his lover as well. The summer of 1974 proved to be chaotic for the Bechdel family: Helen graduated from college with a Master’s degree and played Lady Bracknell in a production of “The Importance of Being Earnest”, Alison got her first period and decided not to tell anyone about it because she thought it would embarrass her mother; there were cicadas everywhere; and the Nixon/Watergate scandal broke nationally. Eventually everything worked out: Bruce didn’t go to jail or have to see a therapist (although he may have later slept with him), Helen’s thesis on Virginia Woolf’s Orlando accepted by Harvard University Press, Nixon resigned from office, and Alison finally told Helen about getting her period.
Alison recounts a time when Bruce took Alison and her brothers to New York for the bicentennial of the United States. The weekend turned out to be “gay” all around: they went to see a ballet, Greenwich Village, and saw a musical. The next morning, Alison’s brother John wandered off into the city by himself while she slept.
Alison wonders what would have happened if Bruce hadn’t died in 1980. However, because he was gay and dying of AIDS, she thinks his life probably wouldn’t have been very long. As a young girl, Alison hated it when her father came back from New York City to visit her mother (Helen). But later on in life, they bonded over literature while Alison was taking English classes at high school with him as teacher. When she went off to college though, Alison swore off English forever because Bruce had been so pushy about the classes that she took. But eventually she enrolled in a class on Ulysses by James Joyce and used Homer’s Odyssey as reference material for her own sexual quest towards fulfillment and understanding.
Alison is a young woman in the 1990s. She falls behind on reading James Joyce’s Ulysses because she spends so much time reading lesbian literature and trying to figure out her sexuality, which includes having sex with Joan, her first girlfriend. This is when Alison decides to come out of the closet to her parents, which leads Helen (her mother) to tell Alison about Bruce’s affairs and his homosexuality. When Alison returns home from college one time before Bruce dies, she tries again to connect with him about being gay. On the way to a movie together, they talk about their childhoods—Bruce admits that he used to dress like girls as a child and wanted people not to know he was gay while growing up; however, it turns out that Bruce ends up telling more than Alison does during this conversation. After the movie ends, Bruce takes Alison into a gay bar but isn’t allowed inside because she’s underage at 18 years old. He also reveals that he had an affair with another man named Tom who died of AIDS-related illness shortly after they broke up; however, neither of them discuss these topics again before Bruce dies several months later in 1994 at age 56 due complications from AIDS related illnesses caused by HIV/AIDS infection. At this point in the story, we learn how Ulysses was published: three women who were lesbians supported Joyce financially while he wrote it without receiving any part of its profits. The story then jumps ahead two decades later where we find ourselves back at home watching TV with our family when suddenly our father comes downstairs dressed like us as children wearing jeans and t-shirts instead of his usual suit or tie. We realize that for once dad doesn’t have something else more important going on besides spending time with us, so we try asking him questions about why he dresses like us sometimes or what makes him feel okay dressing like other men do instead of dressing differently since no one knows yet that dad has been secretly crossdressing for years now. But our father says nothing except “I just am” before rushing upstairs quickly ; I follow him but stop outside my bedroom door thinking maybe if I let someone else ask dad those questions next time, maybe then I’ll finally get all my answers too someday soon even though right now I’m still stuck feeling pretty confused over everything too…
Full Summary of Fun Home
Fun Home is a graphic novel by Alison Bechdel. It focuses on her parents, Helen and Bruce, and how they influenced her life. The story begins with the death of Alison’s father when she was young.
Alison Bechdel lives in Pennsylvania with her family. Her father is a funeral home owner and his business inspired the memoir’s title. He also takes care of the house, which was an old Gothic revival mansion. The relationship between Alison’s parents is volatile at times, but they are still together for their children.
Alison was born with a deep desire to dress like a boy, and at the age of 19 she discovered that she’s gay. She came out while in college and soon after learned from her mother that Bruce had been having affairs for years. Her mother also told her about how Bruce had an affair with his gardener and their babysitter, which shocked Alison. Not long after Alison found out about all this, Helen asked Bruce for a divorce.
Two weeks later, Bruce Bechdel was killed by a Sunbeam Bread truck while crossing the street. He may have intentionally committed suicide because he felt like his sexuality had made him a shame to his family and himself. His daughter, Alison Bechdel, regrets that she didn’t get to talk about this with her father before he died. She wanted to know why he never came out of the closet when it would have been easier for him and less harmful for everyone else in his life. As a result of these thoughts, Fun Home follows Alison as she tries to unravel the mysteries surrounding her father’s death and how it relates to herself.
“Old Father, Old Artificer”
Alison Bechdel begins her memoir by describing a game she played with her dad when she was young. She uses this scene to show how much of an influence he had on her life and compares it to the myth of Icarus and Daedalus.
Bruce Bechdel is a man who loves restoring his family’s old house. He finds and restores furniture, often enlisting the help of his children to clean and restore it. However, he also has a job as an English teacher. Using It’s A Wonderful Life as an analogy, Bruce compares Jimmy Stewart’s frustration with his family to that of Bruce when he gets angry at them for not helping him fix up the house enough. Alison often takes walks outside in order to avoid her father during these times of anger because she knows that if she stays around him then they will argue about how much work needs to be done on the house before it can be considered finished.
Alison’s father had a very different approach to life from hers. He was interested in aesthetics and “embellishments” (16). She points out that this was just another way of trying to make the Bechdels’ lives look beautiful on the outside, even though they were deeply dysfunctional.
Bruce is insecure about himself and has trouble accepting criticism. Therefore, he gets angry when people comment on his appearance or behavior. His anger creates tension in the house that makes it uncomfortable to live there. Alison feels hurt by her father’s aloofness because she knows what it’s like for him to be nice and warm toward her. To describe this contrast, Bechdel uses a metaphor of giving herself a bath: the warmth of love (the hot water) contrasts with the coldness of his usual demeanor (when she stands naked).
In this passage, Bechdel describes her father’s suicide. She tells us that it was difficult to imagine her childhood without looking back through the lens of his death and how it affected her.
In the myth of Icarus and Daedalus, the son is a risk-taker who wants to do something new. His father, however, has seen many failures in his life and doesn’t want his son to be reckless. The father warns him about what can happen if he flies too close to the sun or too low. However, the son ignores his father’s advice and dies because of it. Bechdel uses this story as an analogy for her relationship with her own father; she compares herself to both characters in various parts of Fun Home.
Bechdel explains her father’s side of the story by drawing a picture, which is an artistic way to explain people. In this first chapter, Bechdel draws herself and her brothers at Christmas with their father in front of them. She says that she thinks he actually liked his family when things were going well for him because they made his life look good on the outside even though it wasn’t really like that inside.
Alison Bechdel believes that her father’s attitude towards the furniture in their house was similar to his treatment of his children. She thinks he cared for them as though they were objects, and not people. He made them into something artificial, like art or a beautiful home. Alison also thinks that her father is detached from reality and doesn’t care about other people because of how he treats things such as furniture and family members.
Alison Bechdel is suspicious of her father’s decor because it doesn’t serve a purpose for him. He puts things on display that aren’t functional. She suggests that he uses the mirrors to distract people and hide his shame.
In this chapter, Bechdel personifies her father’s shame. She writes that his shame was so strong that it seemed to permeate their entire house like a thick, invisible mist. The reader learns what Bruce is ashamed of when he has sex with teenage boys despite appearing as a model husband and father at church. Despite knowing this information, Bechdel doesn’t want to call her family life a sham outright.
“A Happy Death”
This chapter starts with a newspaper headline. It reveals that Bechdel’s father died after being hit by a truck. She believes he committed suicide, but she admits there is no definitive proof of this fact. There are several pieces of evidence that support her conclusion, however, including the fact that her parents were getting divorced when he died.
Alison Bechdel was surprised that her parents had lived in a small Pennsylvania town for their entire lives. Her mother and father encouraged Alison and her brothers to move on, but they never did.
The story moves to when the narrator was young, and it flashes back to her life in Europe. She lived there with her parents until they moved back to Pennsylvania because of a family emergency. The narrator’s mother gave birth to her and then a younger brother one year later. Her father became an English teacher at their local high school after that, and soon another sibling was born.
The author compares her family to the Addams Family, as she grew up in a funeral home. There was always an aura of gloom around her and she also compared herself to Wednesday Addams. However, spending time at the “Fun Home” helped the Bechdel children develop an insensitivity towards death. Although it could be creepy at night, they often slept over with their paternal grandmother who lived in front of the funeral home building. Their grandmother liked telling them bedtime stories about when Bruce was little and got stuck in mud on his farm. He was rescued by Mort Dehaas (the mailman) but once he came back home his mother put him into an old-fashioned stove to warm him up again
One day, Bruce called his teenage daughter Alison into the embalming room while he was preparing a naked male cadaver. He wanted to see if she could handle seeing it, but she didn’t react much at all. She thought that her father was testing her because he knew how afraid of death she had been in the past. Years later, after learning about his own death from college friends and finding out that he died as an undertaker (someone who prepares dead bodies), Bechdel found herself unable to understand why this happened or feel any real emotion other than annoyance towards him for dying on her when they were still so close.
There are numerous phallic symbols in this chapter. Bruce Bechdel’s tombstone is an obelisk, a shape he liked and collected before his death. He even called young Alison into the embalming room and drew her attention to the dead man’s penis. Although such a raw image of the male sexual organ might surprise some readers, Alison doesn’t flinch from it; she draws it with great detail later when she recalls that incident. Her indifference toward her father’s sexuality eventually parallels his own repression of it—a part of himself he kept hidden from others until after his death. Later, his daughter learns to suppress her emotional reaction to losing him by not crying at the funeral service or mentioning him for years afterward out of fear that people will think she was “crazy.”
Alison Bechdel draws a parallel between her family and the novel A Happy Death. She believes that her father committed suicide because of his marriage to Helen, which was similar to Camus’s story about a man who creates happiness for himself in order to die happy. In this passage, she quotes from A Happy Death: “He discovered the cruel paradox by which we always deceive ourselves twice about the people we love – first to their advantage, then to their disadvantage” (28). This shows how even though Alison’s parents’ relationship gave them both children and security at first, it eventually led to unhappiness for both of them.
Bechdel compares her father’s physical appearance to Camus and uses The Myth of Sisyphus to describe how she coped with his death. She writes that she grinned widely when she came home from college after learning that her father had died. However, this reaction was absurd because Camus believed suicide is itself absurd; but Bechdel’s job as a mortician meant he experienced death on a daily basis.
A significant theme in Fun Home is the connection between words and images. Alison Bechdel uses this theme to reveal her father’s suicide, as well as other events that happened throughout her childhood. In this chapter, she reveals how her father died by drawing a picture of a newspaper headline with the word “hit” next to it, implying that he was hit by a truck. She also draws pictures of Camus’ book A Happy Death and an entry about Towhee birds from encyclopedias that were owned by her father when he was alive.
Furthermore, Bechdel juxtaposes her father’s letters with Camus’ death and The Myth of Sisyphus. This visually connects the two men. She also shows that written words can help people deal with their problems, just as she turned to Camus for inspiration during her father’s death.
“That Old Catastrophe”
Bechdel begins this chapter by describing how her father’s death was “queer.” She reveals that she came out to her parents as a lesbian not too long before Bruce died. Her mother revealed some information about Bechdel Sr.’s sexuality: he had been having affairs with men for years.
Alison believes that her father’s life can be understood through the books he loved most. While in the army, he quoted literature from F. Scott Fitzgerald in letters to his daughter, Helen. Alison speculates that Bruce saw himself as a character from Fitzgerald’s work and enjoyed sharing insights about him with others.
Alison describes how her father would often lend his personal library books to high school boys. She also notes that he was likely having affairs with these boys, particularly Roy. This took a toll on their marriage because they rarely showed affection toward each other and fought often. Alison decided at a young age never to get married because she witnessed this dysfunction in her family growing up.
Then, the author talks about how she came out to her parents. She read a lot of feminist literature and joined the gay union on campus. Finally, she sat down to write them a letter. Her father seemed happy with her news but her mother sent back a typed letter voicing general disapproval.
Alison writes about her parents’ reaction to her coming out in a diary. She responds to her mother’s letter, and then speaks with her on the phone. It is then that Helen reveals Bruce’s gay affairs, including the one with their former babysitter Roy.
Alison becomes more confident in her sexuality and eventually moves in with Joan. She gets the news that she is moving back to her family home when she returns for the funeral of Bruce, who has died. Helen gives Joan a book from Bruce’s library as a gift: Stevens’ poetry collection.
Alison ends the chapter by suggesting that her father’s short life was like Gatsby’s because they both dreamed of greatness and died young. She compares her father to Fitzgerald, who also suffered from alcoholism and died at forty-four.
Bechdel explores the theme of multiple meanings when she describes her father’s death as queer. It was queer because Bruce Bechdel was gay and tried to hide his sexuality, but it was also queer because of the ambiguous circumstances surrounding his death.
In this chapter, Bechdel uses a drawing of the word “queer” as it appears in the dictionary to represent her point that ideas are represented by words on paper. She also includes drawings of herself as a teenager writing letters to her parents about her sexuality.
Throughout this chapter, Bechdel uses letters as another way to explore the impact of written words. In a drawing of a typed letter from Helen Bechdel to her daughter, the reader learns that Helen responded with mild disapproval when Alison came out. Bruce quoted F. Scott Fitzgerald’s biography in his letters while he was in the army, and these quotes also point to overall theme of explaining life through literature.
In earlier chapters, the author established that her father’s tendency to live through his artistic pursuits was best reflected in the family’s home. Now, Bechdel hones in on Bruce’s library as a physical representation of the artifice in his life. Although Helen does not necessarily have the same tendency to see her own life reflected in literature, we learn that she was an actress by profession. The author draws a connection between her mother and the lead role from The Heiress, which is based on Henry James ‘s novel Washington Square. In fact, Bruce and Helen met during a college production of The Taming of the Shrew, which is reflective of later years of their marriage.
Throughout the memoir, it becomes clear that Bruce and Alison are inclined to distance themselves from tragedy. For example, when Bechdel describes how she felt after coming out to her parents and finding out that her father was also gay, she writes, “I’d been upstaged, demoted from protagonist in my own drama to comic relief in my parents’ tragedy” (58). The fact that she refers to herself as a “protagonist” and “comic relief” is evidence of the fact that Bechdel is able to maintain a cool aesthetic distance (67) from her dysfunctional past by thinking about it as a performance. In fact, Bechdel is straightforward about why she uses so many literary allusions when describing her parents: She states outright that they are most real to me in fictional terms.” Later on however, in an attempt at self-protection or defense mechanism perhaps? Or simply because I like them better this way,” referring again to their characters being described through literature rather than first hand experience.
“In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower”
Bechdel begins this chapter with the story of her father’s death. He was walking to get rid of brush when he was hit by a truck and died instantly. Bechdel notes that her father loved gardening, especially lilacs, and often asked his babysitter for help in the garden.
Alison’s father is a bit old-fashioned and wants her to be feminine, so he forces pearls and barrettes on her. She wants to see herself as masculine, so she tries out different looks. Years later, after Alison’s father dies, she finds a picture of him with his brother Roy at the beach. They had gone there for a few days while Helen went to visit one of her friends in New York City’s Greenwich Village during the Stonewall Riots (a series of protests that occurred in response to police raids against gay establishments). After college, Alison moves into the Village but feels like an outsider because no one else is interested in talking about politics or art history like she is.
Bechdel then describes a second family vacation. She was ten years old and her father took his children camping at the Bullpen, their deer camp. Bechdel recalls seeing a pornographic calendar that Uncle Fred gave to her father to hide from his wife, Elsie.
The children at the Bullpen learn to shoot a gun with Bill. They see a snake in the woods but don’t know how to catch it. They run back and ask for help, but by then the snake is gone. Alison Bechdel draws a parallel between that snake and her father’s death because if he jumped away from something when he was hit by the truck, then his body would have been thrown backwards into its path.
Bechdel recalls how her father took her to a luncheonette when she was young. He saw a woman dressed like a man and asked his daughter if that’s what she wanted to look like. Bechdel realized at the time that it wasn’t what she wanted, but now has accepted who she really is.
Bechdel finds more photos in the same box she found a half-naked photo of her father. One is an image of him as a young man, posing in women’s clothing. Another shows him sunbathing on the roof of his fraternity house, which looks similar to another picture taken by Joan.
Throughout her book, Bechdel uses drawings to illustrate themes and images that help convey the messages. Here she illustrates how her father loved lilacs (a big theme in Proust’s novels), which paralleled his interest in some of Proust’s other characters. Specifically, Bechdel shows a connection between Marcel falling in love with Swann’s flowers and her father’s romantic relationships with men/boys.
Gender identity is explored in this chapter, where young Alison begins to develop her own sense of style. She admires Roy’s appearance but doesn’t want to date him. Instead, she wants to be more masculine herself and refuses the dresses and barrettes that her father likes for girls. Her father has a feminine style himself that contrasts with Alison’s desire for masculinity. This sets up their relationship as an “inversion” of one another because Proust used the term “inverts” for his homosexual characters in ”In Search of Lost Time”.
Inverting also applies to Bruce Bechdel’s sexuality. It was always there, yet he didn’t realize it. For example, the half-naked Roy in a photograph is a physical manifestation of Bruce’s secret. This beautiful photo captures an intimate moment between father and son; however, Alison finds it easily in a box labeled “Family.” After her father’s death, she finally sees that her family life wasn’t what she thought it was – and comes to understand the weight of all those unspoken truths.
By now, it’s evident that Bechdel often looks to the dictionary for explanations when she tries to understand her life and its events. For example, after describing how she was “eighty-sixed” from Chumley’s bar in Greenwich Village, Bechdel uses a drawing of the dictionary definition in order to reveal the meaning of “eighty-sixed.” In this drawing, Bechdel visually combines her own emotional experience with the cut-and-dry dictionary definition; she adds a specific reference to the time she was eighty-sixed at Chumley’s in brackets as if that appears in the dictionary. This goes to show that Bechdel believes wholeheartedly in written words as purveyors of truth but then realizes later on that some things aren’t so easy to define. The author’s present day voice reveals how important writing has been throughout her life and helps explain why she came through all those tough times.
In this chapter, Bechdel continues to link her sexual awakening with the death of her father. For example, she draws a picture of herself after seeing an image of a naked woman on Uncle Fred’s calendar. The drawing shows Alison in the front seat next to her dad who is holding a bag of Sunbeam Bread. Later, we learn that the truck that killed Bruce Bechdel was also carrying Sunbeam bread at the time it hit him. In addition, Alison feels “inextricably ashamed” after seeing the calendar and compares herself to one of its images–a snake. This symbolizes how she felt as if she had failed some sort of initiation rite when Bill didn’t see any snakes in their search for them later that day.
“The Canary-Colored Caravan of Death”
This chapter begins with a dream that Bechdel had about her father before he died. She recalls the dream as follows: she was running to show him the sunset, but when he arrived, it had already set. The author mentions how her father’s particular sun rose and set in a small town called Beech Creek, which is relatively close to an interstate highway.
Alison Bechdel was a poet when she was young. She remembers sharing one of her poems with her father, which he criticized for being blue instead of canary-colored. After that, Bechdel stopped writing poetry and painting.
Helen is also creative. She was an actress and plays the piano. After her husband’s death, she accidentally taped over him while recording for a play. This shows that Helen and Bruce were both independent artists who expressed their creativity in solitude.
Alison develops obsessive-compulsive disorder. She uses her diary as a way to cope with it, and eventually she starts inserting the qualifier “I think” when writing about people in her life. This helps prevent her from being too mean or judgmental of others.
Bechdel describes her father’s geographical limitations, including his Pennsylvania accent. She remembers that he didn’t sound like that when she knew him in person, but on a tape recording of his voice it was very strong.
She then discusses how the topography of her hometown resembles that depicted in The Wind In The Willows. Since she grew up with this book as a child, Bechdel uses it to explain some tragic events earlier in life. Her cousin’s death, for example, reminds her of Mr. Toad speeding down the road while drunk.
Alison has OCD. Her mother, Helen, tries to help her overcome it by taking down what Alison says and writing in a separate diary for her daughter. This way, she prevents Alison from drawing symbols over the words in the diary.
In this chapter, Alison Bechdel uses her father’s death to show how he was tied to his hometown. She does that by showing the reader multiple instances where his town is mentioned and even highlighting it in one of her drawings. For example, she draws a picture of an obituary that mentions the town he lived in for all of his life. In addition, she also includes two letters from him as well as a recording from when he worked at a museum about the history of his home town. As you can see with each mention or drawing, there’s more evidence that shows just how much Bruce Bechdel was tied to this place called Beech Creek.
Alison is afraid of death, and her fear manifests itself in her obsessive-compulsive disorder. She draws symbols over the words she writes in her diary as a way of warding off evil from those subjects. Her cousin’s death at a young age makes Alison see him laid out in the family funeral home, which triggers an emotional reaction that comes out in other ways.
Bruce Bechdel’s death jolts Alison out of denial. She writes and speaks nakedly for the first time, revealing what she wanted to say about her father but could not. The funeral is an opportunity to mourn him in a way that does not reveal his secrets or how he was really like as a person. However, it also allows Alison to vent some of her frustration at having had to live with all these lies and secrets for so long. In this passage, Bruce Bechdel’s life is compared with the creek from which Beech Creek takes its name because both are polluted by strip mines nearby and appear crystal clear on the surface when they’re actually very dirty underneath.
Furthermore, the author states that artifice is a recurring them in her work. She brings it up because she was aware of how distorted people could make meanings to words as a child- “I had learned from my mother’s radio and television programs that the same word with different inflections or intonations effectively meant three entirely different things” (141). Nowadays, many words have double meaning; they can be used differently depending on context. She offers this as an example of why it’s harder to talk about certain things such as trauma – “the troubling gap between word and meaning” (130) since anyone can create their own interpretation when you leave something vague or ambiguous. The author acknowledges that old journals are written in first person narrative as well, indicating self-awareness while she writes this memoir/memoir.
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“The Ideal Husband”
Alison was thirteen when important events happened in her life. Her coming of age coincided with the Watergate scandal, as well as her first period and her father’s revelation about his infidelity. Meanwhile, Alison’s mother was practicing for a role in The Importance of Being Earnest, writing a master’s thesis at the same time that locusts descended upon Beech Creek.
Alison’s parents were shocked when her friends’ parents took Alison, Christian and John to their house for a few days. Alison learned that Bruce had been arrested for picking up an underage boy in the neighboring valley. He asked him where his brother Dave was and bought him beer. This led to Bruce seeing a psychiatrist because of this behavior, not his cheating on Helen.
Meanwhile, Helen is becoming completely absorbed by her thesis work and The Importance of Being Earnest. Nancy Gryglewicz and her husband bring flowers to the play’s opening night. It turns out that they once suggested to Helen’s parents that they engage in group sex together.
In the summer of her thirteenth year, Alison discovers how to masturbate and have orgasms by rocking back and forth in a chair. She writes about this in her diary using code words.
As the Bechdel family’s tension grows, so does the national crisis surrounding Nixon’s impeachment because of Watergate. The charges against Father will be dismissed if he completes six months of counseling for buying a beer for an underage boy.
One day before her mother’s thesis is due, Alison forgets to close the sewing room window and a rain storm destroys many pages of the thesis. Helen has to retype them that night because they’re missing.
On Labor Day, before Alison’s fourteenth birthday, she and her sister Beth Gryglewicz missed their ride to the dance. They then decided to play dress up in Bruce Bechdel’s clothes. Alison enjoyed dressing up as a man very much.
Bechdel stopped writing in her diary after November, and according to records she found later on, Bruce continued going to therapy. Helen suspected that he was having an affair with his psychiatrist, which Bechdel believes is when she told her mother about getting her period.
In this chapter, Alison’s diary from the summer she was thirteen is important. Bechdel acknowledges that she kept a diary and how convenient it is now that she’s writing her memoir. She says “there was a lot going on that summer” and “I’m glad I was taking notes.”
Throughout the graphic novel, there are many examples of how written words can be unreliable. For instance, Alison doesn’t even write about her first period in her diary because she’s afraid to admit that it happened. She also uses ellipses and omits important things like her true feelings toward relationships with men.
This chapter is about sexuality. Bruce is struggling with his secret identity as a gay man, and he almost gets caught by the police for buying beer for teenage boys. He goes to counseling but doesn’t really learn anything from it. Meanwhile, Alison isn’t writing about having orgasms or masturbating in her diary because she’s ashamed of doing those things. However, she does enjoy dressing up like a boy and dancing with Beth instead of going to the more normal dance with Randy.
In this chapter, Bechdel imagines what her family members would be like as characters in a story. She also relates how the Watergate scandal coincided with what she sees as her loss of childhood innocence.
Bechdel compares the life of Oscar Wilde and his play The Importance of Being Earnest to her family’s life. In 1895, Wilde was accused of sodomy by a friend’s father for being friends with his son. Similarly, Bruce is nearly accused of sodomy with Walsh brothers Mark and Dave during that summer in the book. Furthermore, this chapter takes its name from Oscar Wilde’s play about corruption politics and public vs private identity (“The Importance of Being Earnest”). “Sooner or later,” notes Wilde, “we will all have to pay for what we do.”
“The Antihero’s Journey”
In 1976, when Alison was fifteen years old, she visited her mother’s friend Elly in New York City. She noticed gay people for the first time and realized that her father and brothers were gay as well.
One morning, John went off to explore on his own after a family outing. His father panicked and went out looking for him with Elly, but he returned on his own later that day. The next day they watched the tall ships sail past in celebration of the bicentennial.
Bechdel’s relationship with her father is a complicated one. She loved him, but he also made her feel stifled in many ways. He was an English teacher and she enjoyed his guidance at first on assignments, but it became overwhelming and even stifling to her.
In college, Alison is taking a class on James Joyce’s Ulysses. Her father gives her some books to read that he thinks will help her understand the book better. One of those books was Earthly Paradise by Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette. She did not know this at the time, but Bruce was giving her these extra books because she had fallen behind in her Ulysses class and didn’t want to tell him about it.
Alison begins to join the gay union on campus and comes out to her friends. Later, Helen tells Alison about Bruce’s affairs with men. During a break in school, Helen reveals that she is considering leaving Father.
During the trip, Bruce tries to tell Alison that he’s gay. However, she doesn’t really listen and they never discuss it again. On the way home, Bruce wants to take her to a gay club but she can’t get in because of her age.
In conclusion, Bechdel compares her life to that of her father’s. She reflects on the last time she saw him and how he died. He was a complicated man who had many flaws like Bloom in Joyce’s Ulysses.
The author uses the theme of using art to interpret life again after Alison sees A Chorus Line at age fifteen. The play opens her eyes and makes her aware that she is a lesbian, even though she hasn’t accepted it yet.
Alison realizes that she is a lesbian while reading Homer’s Odyssey in college. She reads the book to better understand James Joyce’s Ulysses, which was also on her reading list. Her father recommended Colette’s autobiography to her at this time as well, and it turns out that he was right about both books.
Bechdel is self-aware, and she knows that her father’s death has a lot of meaning for her. She imagines what it would have been like if he had died during the AIDS crisis. She connects his story to gay culture and its history in America as well as the AIDS epidemic.
Bechdel’s drawings are useful in helping her tell the story of her father. She struggles with understanding what he meant to her and how to deal with his death, but she finds that writing about it helps. The dictionary definition isn’t very helpful, so she makes a drawing of it instead. The same goes for the archaic participle in the dictionary; she draws that too. When Bechdel compares a letter from her father to a passage from Ulysses by James Joyce, we see parallels between life and literature: both men say they aren’t heroes.
In this last chapter, we see the difference between Bruce and Alison’s experiences. Bruce died in 1980 when Alison came out as a lesbian. This was during an era of AIDS and social acceptance of gays. He had written her a letter saying that he never thought she would be gay like him because it was much harder for him to come out than it is for her today.
Throughout the memoir, Bechdel uses square boxes to add ironic comments on certain scenes. She points out her father’s “awesome cognitive dissonance” when he teaches The Catcher in the Rye by comparing it with a lecherous male English teacher.