Ben Philabaum ENG 112 GA February 28, 2008 Fun Home Analysis Some people believe that people are gay because the mother experiences a traumatic event while pregnant, thus causing some kind of chemical imbalance in the child. Others believe it is a genetic trait, passed through our DNA. While others think that it is a choice by the individual after they are born. In the case of Alison Bechdel, the author of Fun Home, it is reasonable to state that her family life, particularly her relationship with her parents, caused or at least had some effect on her sexuality.
Alison seems to be consistently rebelling from her father throughout the book. This is shown in multiple occasions including: when her dad is picking out new, flowery wallpaper for her room and she says she wants to decorate her house like a submarine, when she wants to wear boy clothes after being constantly pestered by her father to wear girly garments, and when she decides to stop taking English classes in college because of Bruce’s annoying tendency to analyze the books for her. It seems that Bruce’s obsession with interior decorating and dressing Alison the way he wishes he could dress, annoys his daughter and leads her to rebel. The scene where Alison goes to kiss her father goodnight, but uncertain how to perform such an act, she kisses him on the hand, shows that she had an odd, distant relationship with her father. Alison feelings toward her father are clearly expressed when she says, “I grew to resent the way my father treated his furniture like children, and his children like furniture.” It appears that she did not feel like Bruce’s daughter, but an inanimate object in his carefully manicured house.
This rebellion brings them closer, however, because it gives these two introverted people a common bond. Alison never appears to have considered her dad much of a father figure. In several instances, she expresses her unfulfilling home life, when she mentions that she felt like part of her father’s still life and that she was only free manual labor to her father and she even tells her mom that she should leave her father. As the story progresses however, and Alison discovers her father’s homosexuality as well as her own, she begins to feel a connection to her dad that she never felt before. Eventually, Alison realizes that although she did not have a conventional dad or a close relationship with him, she was fortunate to have Bruce as her father, because he helped her through her process of self-identity. Alison’s animosity towards her father at the beginning and her slow realization of what he subtlety did for her, leading to her proclamation that he was there to catch her at the end of the story, shows the author’s struggle to accept her father the way he accepted her.
Throughout the book, Alison is very blunt and honest about everything. This can be attributed to her father’s deep secrecy. Some may be shocked by the way Alison first reveals her dad’s homosexuality when she says “…would an ideal father and husband have sex with teenage boys,” and how she talks about masturbation and sex and shows illustrations of her and her partner, but this is all because Alison wants things to be presented as honestly as possible since so much of her early life was shrouded in secrecy. Alison wants everyone to be blunt with her as well. She mentions that her cousin cancelled his annual fireworks show, which was to be the night before the funeral, out of respect for Alison’s father. She says, “I was hoping for a more blunt response, like,
‘because your father just died, you idiot.’” This is also displayed in the next frame when at the funeral someone attempts to console her by saying, “The Lord moves in mysterious ways,” and Alison goes on a mocking tyrant in her head about the real reasons for his death. Alison feels so strongly about honesty because she only truly knew her father for a short time. She wishes that her father had been more open with her, so that they would have had more than those few weeks to relate to one another.
She does not seem to like her father, but he has undoubtedly helped form who she is. Alison’s depiction of her father shows that she did not want to be like him. She forms analogies to their differences when she says, “I was Spartan to my father’s Athenian.
Modern to his Victorian. Butch to his Nelly. Utilitarian to his aesthete.” It’s possible that her wanting to be manly is a result of her wanting to be the opposite of her father. However, her ultimate moment of declaring her uniqueness from her parents was overshadowed by her father. When she says “I’d been upstaged, demoted from protagonist in my own drama to comic relief in my parents’ tragedy. I had imagined my confession as an emancipation from my parents, but instead I was pulled back into their orbit,” she is expressing her shock at the backfiring of her attempt at liberation. She must have felt disappointment too, that her opportunity of having her parent’s complete attention was robbed.
Alison was a somewhat neglected child because her parents were always following their own artistic pursuits. She followed her parents’ example and started doing the same by reading, writing in her journal, or drawing, which undoubtedly led to her becoming a successful comic artist. Alison’s forced independence is shown when reminiscing about reading the Dr. Spock books, she says she enjoyed it because she felt like her own parent and child and comments that “Our selves were all we had.” This lack of guidance, may have contributed to Alison’s homosexuality.
Alison’s lacking of a mother-daughter relationship, amplified her father’s influence on her. Alison’s mother was always busy rehearsing for a play, constructing her thesis, playing piano, or working around the house. One could say that Alison had even less of a relationship with her mother than with her father. Their lacking relationship is told when Alison talks about her period and how she wanted to keep from talking about it with her mother, forever. Since Alison’s mother was mostly preoccupied, her dad was always the one telling her what chores to do or how to dress. Her annoyance with her father, led to her homosexuality because her father’s femininity made it feel unappealing and foreign. If Alison’s mother had provided a more conventional picture of femininity to counterbalance Bruce’s, then Alison might have recognized more with it.
Aside from her individual relationships with her mother and father affecting her, so to did the relationship between her mother and father. In one scene, the children are shown hiding at the top of a staircase as they listen to their parents screaming at each other below. A principle example to support the theory that Alison’s parents’ fledgling marriage contributed to her homosexuality is displayed when, Alison says “my parents seemed almost embarrassed by the fact of their marriage.” Alison’s mother and father almost never showed affection towards each other, had screaming matches, and disagreed frequently. Having such a depressing example of marriage before her it’s no wonder that Alison says “I cemented the unspoken compact with them that I would never get married, that I would carry on to live the artist’s life they had each abdicated.” Marriage was a bleak picture when painted by her parents. She learned from their mistake, however, and realized she did not want to be like them. It is interesting how she has animosity towards her parents for abandoning their artist’s lives, because if they had, Alison would not exist. This quote is the best example of Alison’s vocalizing the effects her parents had on her. Which brings up her other motivation of not abandoning her true self as both of her parents had done. Alison brings this up later in the book when she says, “Would I have had the guts to be one of those Eisenhower-era butches? Or would I have married and sought succor from my high school students?” She is directly comparing herself to her father here and also the two polar extremes of the paths she could have taken. She is struggling to decide if she is going to embrace her sexuality and how far she is going to take it or if she is going to hide it away like her father did.
Alison may not have had the most loving relationship with her parents but it is unmistakable that they both played part in shaping who she is. In the end, Alison’s being pushed away by her father led to the one similarity that allowed them to have a shred of a normal and beneficial relationship. Alison is grateful to have the parents she did, despite their faults because her homosexual father, and her mother knowingly being married to a gay person, knew what she was going through and were accepting of who she is. Maybe the more important point is not why or what made Alison gay, but that her dad was there to father her when she needed him most.
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