Blog Post 8: Our House

Hi everyone,

Hope you all had a good weekend.  Since people have been doing a nice job pursuing their own interests and lines of thinking in the blog recently, I’m going to make this first post on Fun Home open-ended and up to you again. There’s lots to think about in this first section of the novel — some of our ongoing questions such as narrative time, memory, form, and text and image, certainly come up here again, and we’ll spend some time Wednesday thinking about what Bechdel is doing along those lines, so you might write on some of those issues if that interests you.But feel free to focus on whatever seems significant as something that would allow you a way into thinking about the larger issues of the text. The only fundamental requirement here is that you ground your thinking in close analysis of specific material from the novel — think about the larger questions and issues that Bechdel’s writing opens up and what seems significant in it to you.

Reminder: your response should go in the comments section for this post — click the “Leave a Comment” link at the top of the post. It should be at least 250 words, and is due by midnight on Tuesday, October 25th. After class on Monday, you should return to this  thread and post a response to one classmate’s post by class time Friday the 28th. If you have any questions, let me know via email.

 

29 thoughts on “Blog Post 8: Our House

  1. I would like to focus my discussion on a quote from Alison in the scene on pages 58-59, and how it relates to the themes and genre of the narrative as a whole. In this scene, Alison sends a letter to her parents, “coming out” as a lesbian to them; she then receives a phone call from her mother informing Alison that her father has “had affairs… with other men” (58). Alison narrates, “I’d been upstaged, demoted from protagonist in my own drama to comic relief in my parents’ tragedy” (58). This reminded me right away of the subtitle of this graphic narrative, “A Family Tragicomic.” I had to look up the definition of Tragicomic, not sure if Alison had invented it or not, and found that it was related to the word tragicomedy (another word I had never heard before), which means “a play, movie, situation, etc., that is both sad and funny.” The pun here, as it is used on the cover of Fun Home, is evident: it is both a tragicomic and a tragic comic (which is what I thought it meant originally), comic being synonymous with graphic narrative.

    Alison’s narration about being upstaged and demoted, from protagonist in her drama to comic relief in her parents’ tragedy, relates to this genre of tragicomedy, which refers most often to theater; Alison is upstaged, a word that traditionally is used in theater. The rest of this quote also brings up questions of genre. Is this Alison’s drama, is this her parents’ tragedy, or is it something different? Unlike Maus, there is no genre listed on the publication page other than “graphic novels” and “comic books, strips, etc.” A quick Google search told me that the genres were “graphic novel” and “memoir.” Is this a tragicomedy? From what we’ve read so far, there doesn’t seem to be many things that fit the usual definition of “comedy.” Alison’s dry and dark sense of humor, though, shines through in her narrative; we get a healthy dosage of dark irony from many of her comments on her father and his death. Fun Home also doesn’t fit into the typical tragedy genre; even though her father commits suicide, so far this is not a book about recovering from his death, of mourning his memories; this is a book about a complicated relationship (which is, perhaps, tragic, but is it tragic enough to make this a tragedy?). Fun Home doesn’t neatly fit into the comedy genre or the tragedy genre, so is tragicomic an appropriate label for this work? Perhaps it’s appropriate BECAUSE it doesn’t fit neatly into either category, and this odd crossover of genres (the comedy is tragic and the tragedy is comic) is what makes the genre appropriate. At any rate, I found Alison’s quote on page 58 interesting in terms of trying to figure out the genre, and general tone, of this work.

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    • Ella, your blog posts are always interesting, but I found this one particularly thought provoking considering what we learned in class today about Bechdel’s method of photographing herself in different poses to create the illustrations. I’m not about to argue that this is definitely the case, but could it be said that, in drawing her entire family using references of herself, she is in a sense “re-upstaging” them? That is to say, whereas she felt like a character in a story about them, by drawing them in this fashion they really do become characters in her story (despite the fact that her Father’s private life receives a lot of focus). In a way, a sort of parallel can be drawn between the “character swap” and the idea that she described feeling like an extension of her father, where now he is pictorially represented as an extension of her.
      In response to your question about whether or not Fun Home was a “tragic comic”, “tragicomedy”, or both, I’d say that it isn’t a mix of the two at all times but that it there are different threads which adhere more strongly to either genre. It is my opinion that the story of her father specifically is where the “tragic comic” comes into play, but that much of the autobiographical portions of the book are meant to be tragically comedic. I understand that this is probably a bit of a generalization, but I think as a whole that “coming of age” stories or stories that otherwise touch on growing up are more often than not comedic. I don’t think there’s any way to spin Bechdel’s father’s story into comedy, though, unless you have a pretty dark sense of humor.

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  2. Reading the first couple chapters of Fun Home was very intriguing and saddening. Almost immediately the reader is given the vibe of a very unhappy and unloving family, always something disheartening to read about. What I’d like to focus on is the relationship between Alison and her father. A very distant relationship yet you can tell by reading from Alison’s perspective that she is longing for a relationship with her off-beat father. After reading the first 86 pages, I believe that because of the lack in relationship and love she received from her father, it seems to be that Alison almost is becoming her father in a way. I get the feeling that she is almost following in his footsteps, trying to be similar to him to maybe form some kind of a relationship. Some aspects I noticed that supported this theory, is their appearance, both sharing similarities while the fathers style is a tad feminine and Alison’s is tomboyish, both resulting in the same place. Alison probably felt more comfortable dressing more like a boy, and sporting a shorter haircut because she was surrounded by her brothers and her family but also maybe because she wanted to be like her dad? Another comparison can be their love for reading and books, something Alison seemed like she adopted in order to have something to have in common with her father (her mother as well). Another comparison can be their sexual orientation, I am not saying that Alison took after her father in this way but maybe subconsciously it appeared to be more fitting for her while she also subconsciously may have known that her father was homosexual as well. There are many instances when she was a child and it was obvious her father was interesting in the opposite sex, like in the beginning of the reading when she is in the same room as her father while he is reading a male pornographic magazine (not sure what page it was, but its in the first chapter)

    I just feel constantly reminded of these strange comparisons between Alison and her father while she consistently talks about the absent and abnormal relationship her and her father had. I believe Alison may have unknowingly tried to be more like her father in hopes of receiving any kind of affection from him.

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    • I thought it was interesting that you analyzed Alison’s actions as a reaction to her father. The more I think about it, the more I also agree with you. Alison’s “masculinity” seems to be something she wants to project, possibly because she was always told be the opposite. Her father also did the opposite, he could be seen as “feminine” and goes against the grain of typical gender stereotypes. I can not tell if her masculinity is a compensation for her father, that she is ashamed of his wild concern for appearances. It is hard to tell if she feels that she needs to “make up for” his ways, or if she feels she wants to rebel against her father at first. Her “masculinity” could be a way to express a resentment towards her father, and maybe it was her way of de-valuing his superfluous tendencies. More realistically though, I think her father made her realize a sense of self. She realized that appearances were not as important to her, and that may happen to be interpreted as masculine.
      I also think that she feels guilty that she finally had something in common with her father yet they never got to share that with each other. I think when she secretly believes her coming out and her father’s death had a correlation, part of that may come from regret. She also may want to feel and attachment or a sense of sentiment with her father even though he made that task so difficult for her growing up.
      What I really enjoy about fun home is that it allows the reader to have a psychological analysis of the work. We witness the actions of characters, and we are also provided with a little history of the characters. We are forced to analyze the intentions of the characters, even though this is an autobiography, we are not required to do so like we would not really analyze our friend’s lives.

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  3. Alison Bechdel tells the reader a story of her very complicated relationship with her father in a rather unorthodox manner. What was most profound to me was how she initially set the tone of her story and how she introduced their relationship – with an intimate scene. I think it’s very strategic and flat out smart that she starts with a positive aspect of their relationship because it allows for the reader to right away see the shades of grey in this story, and sets him up as a human being. Often when hearing stories of emotionally abusive fathers, especially ones that fall under the category of being a pedophile, they are looked at as monsters rather than a three dimensional human being with other characteristics. So by starting out with a normal father daughter bonding image and later saying “he had sex with teenage boys”, as repulsive as it is, it makes him more human in the eyes of the reader.

    On the other hand, it is quite shocking to see the transition from what appears to be a normal and flawed father, to a very disturbed man who caused very clear emotional trauma towards his family. Something I think that is important and worth noting is his lack of expressiveness in this graphic narrative – he is never seen smiling. And because he is clearly so troubled, I found myself wondering throughout the book what kind of love, if any, he had towards his children. It makes the last panel on page 86 even more powerful, when Bechdel is describing that despite all the horrible things her father has done, the child in her doesn’t want to let go of whatever bond / connection they had. It makes me think of the sculpture ‘Love’ by Ukrainian sculptor Alexander Milov where two adults are sitting back to back angry at each other, and a child sculpted within each of them have their hands reaching out towards each other, just wanting to be loved. This panel reminds me of the same thing because it’s set up as her and her father seeming so far apart in the same room, but the caption telling how badly she wants to connect, despite his disturbances.

    The way Bechdel narrates her story is painful and pulls on the reader’s heart strings because it truly highlights the complexities of what would normally be viewed as just another broken and messed up family. I found myself to be captivated and invested in her story because of the way she expresses the nuances of her situation and what came from the pain of their relationship.

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    • I’m glad you brought up this topic, because even after reading “Fun Home” for the second time I am struck by the way Alison discusses her father’s past affairs with high school boys, especially on the page spread which shows a drawing of a photograph that Alison’s father took of her babysitter Roy. What shocks me is that this photograph was taken while the family was on vacation (without their mother) and how previous pages such as page 95 show them all getting along with Roy. These instances seem very normal and happy compared with the page spread which shows the photograph of Roy. Furthermore, Alison admits that she had mixed reactions when she found this picture. While she finds the picture aesthetically beautiful, she also questions her lack of reaction to the photo and a double standard. Roy is 17 in this photo and her father’s actions were entirely wrong; however, Alison cannot reach the appropriate level of anger at her father and wonders if she would be able to if Roy had been a 17 year old girl?

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    • I agree with the points you bring up about how the story is initially introduced to the reader and how it sets a positive hook for the reader. You make many good points about Alison’s narration and how she slowly exposes her father over time. At first he seems like any normal father, but the reader learns piece by piece how not only was he an unloving and unsupportive father, but he was a very corrupted man as well. Starting the reader off with his more simpler problems does humanize his character well and makes the reader able to understand him more before we learn of his troubling past. You make a good point when talking about pedofile being viewed as monsters, and Alison was very strategic in not letting us see the monster inside of him before the reader got to know all of his weird quirks and the positive aspects of his life, unfortunately all aspects that he majorly neglected. Alison’s narration does a very good job at analyzing a family that might look perfect from the outside, but really has a worldwide of problems going on inside their house. Reinforcing the common saying “You never know what goes on behind closed doors”.

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  4. I would like to focus on the physical space of Allison’s childhood home that is presented throughout the first three chapters and how Alison’s father meticulously controls that space to meet his needs over the needs of his family. The first chapter introduces Alison’s father, Bruce, and immediately illustrates his proclivity for restoring and curating spaces, which he is quite talented at. Some would see the spaces Bruce creates as beautiful and Alison explains on page 5 how many children mistook her house for a mansion. However, when I look at Alison’s illustrations along with her narration, there is a discomfort present in Alison’s childhood home that prevents me from seeing the beauty.

    The house seems more like a museum, as Alison describes it on page 17. This is made even more apparent by the frequent images of the children cleaning the house which are present throughout the first three chapters of Fun Home. Alison and her brothers have a responsibility to maintain their father’s designs without fail. These images of cleaning are not always paired with text describing them, but that compliment and add to them. On page 16 the top right panel, which shows Alison cleaning a chandelier, is paired with the text “they were lies” which relates to the narration above describing Alison’s contempt for ornaments. The ornaments in Alison’s childhood home might seem beautiful, but Alison states that they “obscured function.” This can be taken literally as it is inconvenient for Alison to clean them and her bored face shows her displeasure. However, this can also relate closely with how Alison views her father and his fabricated image. In this panel her father’s silhouette is shown behind her as she cleans, which could show his constant supervision towards her, but also shows his relation to the chandelier Alison cleans. “They were lies” might not relate only to the ornaments filling Alison’s childhood home, but to Alison’s father and the life he doe not disclose to her or her brothers.

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    • I really enjoyed reading your comment, Caile! I find it intriguing that the house itself is somehow a manifestation of her father, and that her relationship to the house is similar to her relationship with her father. I definitely agree with you that there is a deeper meaning to Bechdel calling the ornaments lies. These lies are linked with her father’s lies and deceptions throughout her childhood. Like Bruce, the house is a facade. It is presenting itself as something it isn’t. In one way it is a museum because it is filled with antiques and artworks that seem to be still points in time, yet at the same time the house is real because the family really lives there. On page 17, Bechdel shows a panel of a photograph being taken of the family. In the gutter above it says, “It’s tempting to suggest, in retrospect, that our family was a sham.” Here, Bechdel shows the link between the families facade and the house’s facade. The house in this way can be seen as a metaphor for the family’s and ultimately Bruce’s facade.

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  5. Reading Fun Home involved going through different layers of the text, which I found fascinating. Comparing Alison’s father to Fitzgerald was interesting because it was as if she was idolizing him in a certain way. He was not a warm father figure, but a complex artist. The fact that he was in an unhappy marriage that appeared a certain way also created a comparison, as well as her father’s library and mansion. Her father’s homosexuality was also very literary and similar to speculation surrounding the themes of The Great Gatsby.
    Alison uses her family’s business to add another layer to her father and her childhood. Her father witnesses and is surrounded by death every day, yet he commits suicide. She describes her relationship with death atypical, as well as her reaction to her father’s death. Her family keeps repeating that it was only a matter of time until her father would kill himself, that it was a slow and ongoing process in his life. This might be an accurate depiction of depression, but it is odd to say. I do get the sense they had a feeling their father would snap. Even when Alison’s grandmother tells the story of their father getting stuck in mud and then sticking him in the oven, it made me feel sympathy for Alison’s father. The story did not involve any input into what their father was thinking, and he is a victim and helpless in the story.
    There are many narrative tools being used in this text. In class we usually discuss why the work we are focusing on is a graphic novel or comic book. Fun Home has childish appeal in the style it is made, but deals with many serious “adult” issues. Alison shows us her childhood in the work, which I do not think could have been done in any other format. The illustrations not only provide a tone to the work, but also allow us to see into Alison’s childhood.

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    • You bring up good points about the comparison between her father and Gatsby. It’s also a bit ironic as you point out, that Bruce is around death all the time as a part of his profession, yet he committed suicide. Another thing that also seems ironic is that his suicide didn’t seem at all to be derived from working with dead bodies, and that it actually had a minimal affect on him. However, it is difficult to sympathize with him as an adult. You point out that at times he seemed helpless (like when he got stuck in the mud), and it is easier to feel bad for the little boy who got trapped rather than the disturbed man who has sex with teenage boys. Bechdel does do a good job at painting him to be a complex character though, and being able to highlight other parts of him that are not just monstrous.

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  6. Throughout Fun Home, Alison Bechdel struggles with her relationship with her father, and in particular with the space between them. Initially, Bechdel does not seem to identify with her father or feel very close to him. Later, when Alison’s mother brings up his sexuality on page 58, it seems that this may lead Alison and her father to understand each other better, but he dies they never seem to confront each other before his death. The nature of her father’s sexuality also has a distancing effect, in that he had kept that part of his life secret from her, and in that he showed an taboo sexual interest in teenage boys.
    Over the course of the graphic narrative, Bechdel also ruminates on her relationship to death. Growing up in the family of a funeral director, Bechdel notes that they came to take a “cavalier attitude” towards death (page 35). Upon her father’s death, Alison struggles to mourn–on page 46 Bechdel writes, “As I told my girlfriend what had happened, I cried quite genuinely for about two minutes. That was all.” The second sentence qualifies the first, indicating that Bechdel sees this as an atypical or unlikely response to the death of a father. Though she acknowledges his death and is able to list the details of his funeral and burial, Bechdel implies a distance between herself and her father’s death.
    This distance between Bechdel and her father is also represented visually in the last panel on page 86. Here they are framed by separate windows; though they are situated in the same room, the spaces they inhabit are made quite distinct. Above the panel there is a line reading, “And I’m reluctant to let go of that last, tenuous bond.” This line acknowledges the distance between Alison and her father, while expressing a desire to find something that ties them together–despite all of his flaws, it is clear that Alison still desired her father’s love and respect.

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    • I agree with what you said and I think that Alison is so deliberate in what she chooses to put in the book in terms of what she wants to convey. Despite the fact that her father is cold, indifferent, emotionally and physically abusive to his family, we see that Alison still desperately wants his love and respect as you mentioned. If Alison’s father as a character is presented without her narrative, we as readers will probably despise him for who he is, but since the narrative is from her point of view, we see things differently because we are putting ourselves in her shoes and trying to understand the desire of closeness with her father despite his flaws. Another point that you brought up was the fact that she barely felt any sadness is significant, and I agree with you that it implies how distant they were. To me, it almost seems like she feels guilty that she feels “okay” about her father’s death and so after he passed away, she tries to find any connection that somehow ties them together to make up for how she felt about his death.

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  7. During our discussions on Maus and Nat Turner, we talked extensively about what it means to record a history that isn’t yours in graphic novel form, and how it brings up questions of fiction versus fact. I didn’t expect a whole new set of questions to be brought up for me when considering what it means to draw an autobiographical narrative. At first I thought that the illustrations would much more closely match reality because they were being drawn from the artist’s own memory. But upon my reread of Fun Home, I find myself once again questioning narrative reliability. First and foremost, these are Alison Bechdel’s memories, and yet she draws herself from a perspective that is clearly not her own (she of course wouldn’t appear in an accurate recollection of her own memories). Unlike in other texts, where we can speculate that the illustrations do not completely match what “actually happened”, here this is an undeniable fact. Additionally, there are points at which Bechdel will insert a box with an arrow pointing to something and containing some sort of “this is really what it looked like” message (ex. Page 83 with the painting of the cockatoo). It brings into question exactly how “accurate” her portrayal of her own memory is, because if she points out when things are drawn exactly how they were, the implication is that there are times when this is not the case. Lastly (and this is a non-sequitur), I noted that the chapter breaks in fun home looked similar to the ones in Maus. If anyone else noticed that and is interested in discussing it, that would be cool.

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    • Magden, you bring up some really helpful insights with which I can certainly identify. While reading Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home, I truthfully hadn’t though as much about narrative reliability or accuracy; it was much easier for me to take these things for granted here than in a work like Nat Turner. Because Bechdel has diligently kept a journal since the age of 10, is a self-proclaimed archivist of her own life, and is so brilliantly self-aware, I felt as though I was in good hands, so to speak, while reading. Her experience with careful autobiographical archive is evident throughout the work, and constantly implies a margin of error. Her deliberate pairing of words that echo personal diary entries and her wistful drawings in subdued tones all constantly recall the looming presence of memory that pervades the pages. I see Fun Home as a careful reflection upon Bechdel’s past and personal identity as shaped by her home life and her father, with the work itself functioning as a way that she could bring her own autobiographical analysis, drawings, and memory to life.
      It seems that Bechdel is very conscious of the inadequacy of memory. I think you’re right– this becomes explicit when Bechdel features boxes with arrows that point out specific features of the imagery, such as the cockatoo painting or the mailman’s garb. I firmly believe, though, that the inadequacy of memory is not a downside of the work, just as it is not a downside of any story that is connected to real-life events. For me, the very act of remembrance and reflection is the most significant and intriguing aspect of Bechdel’s memoir, because she must synthesize evidence from writings, photographs, drawings, and memories (a kind of “collage”, as we said in class) to create something she feels can be the most authentic or effective that it possibly can.
      And, as a comment upon your last point, I think it’s true that there is a connection between the format of Fun Home and the format of Maus. I do not believe that Fun Home would exist had it not been for Spiegelman’s work, and I am sure that Bechdel used Maus as a reference point with regards to many aspects of her graphic memoir. The similarities are not only present in terms of subject, as both explore a relationship between father and child, but also in terms of tone, as both explore weighty and emotionally sensitive topics that are not traditionally associated with the comics medium. There are also parallels, as you’ve mentioned, between the way chapter breaks are marked, particularly with the use of photographs, as well as similarities of theme such as memory, death, and personal identity through upbringing. Bechdel and Spiegelman shared many artistic influences, I’m sure, as they were both affiliated with alternative comics movements and read Harvey Kurtzman’s Mad magazine.

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    • Magden, you bring up some very fascinating points in your post. I had the same reaction upon reading the part about the cockatoo. I agree that this small detail brings the reliability of Bechdel’s memory into question. However, for me the reliability of her memory is also called into question based on how seemingly well everything in her past seems to fit together/be so symbolic that make her story seem unbelievable. She has made her own life story into one of the pieces of literature that she uses to understand her family. One feels as though they need to unpack this work as much as they would a classic piece of literature. However, literature is fiction and authors add details and character experiences to add meaning to the story. The same “convenience” of detail seems to be present in Fun Home, when trying to understand the deeper layers of the characters. Is the literary undertone of the work due to a selective memory or to the fact that Bechdel has deeply analyzed her life as if it were a rich piece of literature and has therefore reflected this same style/complexity in her own work?
      I apologize for not commenting on the similarity of chapter breaks with Maus. But perhaps Bechdel draws a lot of inspiration from Art Spiegelman. (?)

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  8. I was intrigued by the way words and pictures integrate in this reading. Pages 40 to 41 are especially interesting where the grandmother recounts the time Alison’s father got stuck in mud and the mailman had to save him. The last panel on page 39 and the first panel on page 40 are both solely text based and just recount in words how the grandmother killed a bug with a broom and how she began to tell a story better than most family stories she told. Why does Bechdel choose words to depict the bug getting killed in a comic panel designed to hold a pictorial representation? Why devote a panel to words hyping up the story about her father? I would suggest that maybe only the abstract form of words could accurately represent “This” (p 40) story. Maybe only words are either necessary or the only means entirely to show this story is important than the “stillborn twins” or aunt who “had worms” story. Or perhaps maybe just because it is strange to depict words in a comic panel is meant to signal a change in the reader and help them notice an important shift.
    I also question how Bechdel chooses what narration goes in the gutters and which goes in the in-panel text boxes. For instance, the first panel on page 41 has a text box with the grandmother’s quote about how Alison’s father was a speck out in the cold farm. Then the third panel has text in its gutter above it with more narration by the grandmother. Both are quotes from the grandmother about the story of her father; so why does one get a text box and why does one take over a transitory space? I feel as though the gutter narration, “He gave him a yank…” (p 41) could have been a text box inside the panel where the mailman takes said action. It seems as though that the gutter narration is meant to guide the reader along from panel to panel, because sometimes the panels take too large a jump. It seems Alison uses words to limit some of our imagination between juxtaposed images, like Alison and her siblings listening to grandma to the milkman, so that her message can be accurately communicated. I just don’t understand how she categorizes gutter narration and in-panel box notation.

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  9. For me, the most striking aspect of Fun Home is the non-linear manner in which Bechdel narrates her life events. Rather than describe each significant memory from her life in chronological order, she has chosen to highlight specific themes, chains of thought, or subjects as they apply to each stage of her life. Namely, the first chapter focuses on a comparison with Daedalus and Greek mythology, while the second chapter features a more personal angle of Bechdel’s perspective and her relationship with the concept of death, both in general and specifically as it applies to her father. Finally, the third chapter emphasizes similarities between Bechdel’s father and F. Scott Fitzgerald while simultaneously describing the realization of her sexual identity.
    By focusing on a theme, and describing how it fits into the whole scope of her life, Bechdel is able to give her autobiography a sense of realism that I believe would be lacking in a story told in chronological order. Instead of feeling like a dry history, it feels like a chain of thought; it creates the impression that Bechdel is telling her story in order to process it herself. It makes the narrative seem more personal, more engaging. For example, the offhand revelation on page 17 that her father had affairs with young men would not have had the same shock value otherwise. The casual reveal leaves the readers taken by surprise, and keeps us in suspense until Bechdel describes her exposure to this knowledge on page 58. In this manner Bechdel plays with her own narrative by departing from chronological storytelling, enriching the readers’ experience in the process.

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    • Ben,
      I really liked your point about the non-linear nature of this story giving it a sense of realism that would be lacking if the story were told in chronological order. Often when we think of memoirs, we think of them being in chronological order, a “beginning” as the earlier parts of their life, the middle as the middle of their life, and the end as their later/current life. Your point about Bechdel telling it in this order to process it herself, feeling more like a chain of thought with revelations as she goes, feels much more natural. It’s as if the story aligns more with the order of her thoughts and observations than on the order of how events happened. Chronology of thoughts does not need to be the same as chronology of events, which is especially apparent in Fun Home.

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    • I couldn’t help but notice how similar this stream of consciousness and out of order narration was to Dr. Manhattan in some cases. Like you point out on page 17, Alison shocks us with knowledge of the future. She tells us about her father’s relationship with teenage boys juxtaposed against an image of her father giving a glance to an alter boy at church. It reminded me of the panels where Dr. Manhattan would console Janey, but then he would later say in his narration that he would break up with her at a later date or that she would contract cancer. I think this out of order stream of consciousness works well for a memoir too. Alison Bechdel is at a point where the memoir’s story is self-contained; the past and future of the story is one full image to her. Comics, as McCloud puts it, are a great “landscape of past and future” that we as readers can traverse to understand Bechdel in the way she wants.

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  10. I am greatly enjoying Alison Bechtel’s Fun Home. What really struck me about this novel was the sheer caliber of Bechdel’s writing style. This stands in contrast to the more simplified writing style in Maus and Watchmen. Stylistically, I find it fascinating how Bechdel takes the reader from past to present with such ease that the reader doesn’t even think twice about it. For instance on page 50 Bechdel takes us to a scene in the past that demonstrates her father’s cavalier attitude towards death. The next panel is of her and her brother giggling when they see each other for the first time after hearing about the passing of their father. This transition is so smooth I hardly took note of the fact that it jumped many years into the future from her previous panel. Although I noticed that Alison’s hair styles do tend to be an indicator of time period it is truly Bechdel’s mastery of storytelling in this medium that makes her transitions so effortless. It is difficult to believe that this is a true story, given the family’s unique circumstances and how eerily their external lives reflect their inner turmoil. An example of this is the family’s old perfectly curated home and its likeness to the Addams Family. Additionally, the fact that the family business is a funeral home that they called Fun Home adds to the irony of their lives. Yet another ironic twist is Alison’s acceptance of her sexuality, where she also addresses her father’s homosexual “tendencies.” I thought it quite odd how Bechdel tells the reader quite early on that her father had sex with teenage boys and doesn’t readdress this statement until two chapters later. I believe this choice shows Bechdel’s conflicted view of her father. She certainly does not portray him in a positive light but she also does not show him to be all bad. For instance she opens the story by praising her father’s craftsmanship and deft abilities for historical restoration. Although this praise is quickly marred when the reader finds out that he was abusive, it helps in painting Bechtel’s father as a complex character. It aids the reader in seeing her father from her own perspective. Bechtel characterizes her father as someone somewhat worthy of our sympathy, despite his obvious insanity.

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    • Sami,
      I’m intrigued by your comment about it being difficult to believe this a true story, because there have been many times during the reading that I felt the same. As Bechdel frequently points out, the lives of her family often eerily coincide with that of famous authors or literary characters. Whether or not this is embellishing on her part or completely true, it adds a sense of fictionality to the story that seems out of touch with a typical autobiography. I hope we get the chance to examine this topic in further detail in class.

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  11. I’ve read Fun Home a number of times in a plethora of different contexts, yet Bechdel’s nonlinear narrative and bravery of subject is still just as intriguing to me every time. Bruce Allen Bechdel was a real enigma of a person; problematic, secretive, nitpicky, and harsh are all character traits that he was more often than he was not. Bechdel’s writing of Fun Home is likely a form of catharsis for her, as she poses and analyzes the question of “how does one mediate a father like hers?” without any sort of definitive answer.
    Bechdel’s own literary references are very obviously shaped by her parents’ involvement in the field of English Literature. Both teachers, Bechdel was raised in an erudite house, and this shows in Fun Home through a myriad of allusions to popular texts. In a way, this practice of inserting the mention/words of other authors and scholars helps to build a pedantic tone that mirrors her home life and interactions with her father in a sense. By pursuing literature she and her father shared, she is granted the opportunity to feel close to him, or at the very least wonder what he would’ve thought. Particularly, in the third panel on page 47, Bechdel laments a world in which she had accepted her father’s copy of The Myth of Sisyphus, wherein he could have, would have underlined “the subject of this essay is precisely is relationship between the absurd and suicide, the exact degree to which suicide is a solution to the absurd.” While she quickly contextualizes and actualizes why he wouldn’t do this, the longing for some form of explanation from her father and/or something to validate her self-described lack of adequate grief remains.

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    • I definitely agree that the reoccurring literary references mirror the tone of Alison’s childhood household, and that Bechdel strives to understand her father through what he read. I wonder if some of the objects in scenes, like the books, might be inserted into situations where they are plausible but perhaps didn’t exist in that particular memory. We talked about the significance of Bechdel drawing a copy of Anna Karenina next to her father on page 3–could this phenomena of inserting general memory/knowledge into time-specific memory apply to other things? Or, rather, do you think that Bechdel makes intentional choices as far as the miss-en-scène in images that are juxtaposed with the text? To me there are some places the objects seem too apt–comedically, metaphorically, often in a Freudian way–to really be a part of a specific memory. For example, on page 112 in the third panel we are given an explanation of what Alison is sitting on (“pole for hanging deer”), but is it too much to say that the angle it was drawn from suggests a phallus because it is juxtaposed with text discussing a pinup calendar? The reoccurring sunbeam bread image seems to also be very intentional–see pages 67, 96, and 112 for examples.

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    • This is an aspect of the novel that I find extremely interesting as well, and I think you really captured the complexity of it. On page 67, Bechdel claims that she can only understand her parents through literary allusions. However tendency seems not only necessary to her in understanding her parents, but in understanding her life as a whole. Alison Bechdel is clearly a very creative, right-brained individual who makes sense of her surroundings through the use of metaphors and connections. She is master at drawing relationships between events in her life and creative works that have particularly affected her. At various points throughout the text, Bechdel draws on various “coincidences”, sometimes remarking on how perfectly pieces of her life seem to fit together.

      However, sometimes I find myself wondering if there are really such an unnaturally high number of these literary coincidences in her life, or if she is just better at drawing them than the average person. Bechdel’s attempts to understand her life and her relationship with her father seem, at times, to verge on desperation, and she approaches and re-approaches them from different directions throughout the text, never quite completely able to pin them down. One gets the sense that these literary allusions are her way of attempting to find some sort of cohesive meaning that is often present in works of fiction but lacking in real life. Additionally, as you said in the blog post, it also serves to bring her closer to her father, who was also a very literary individual. It seems at times that Bruce employs the same method as his daughter to understanding himself and the world around him, and there is a question of intentionality in many of the apparent connections between himself and the literature he reads.

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  12. This is my second time reading Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home for an English class. I am finding that reading it in the context of this class is very different from reading it in the context of my English class from last year, Women in Literature. For one, last time I read it was the first time I had read a graphic narrative in an English class, and I was therefore hyper aware of the format. This time through I was able to look at it more from a content and layout perspective than from a form and genre perspective. This helped me re-analyze things I had found intriguing the last time I read it.

    For example, I find it interesting that there are multiple incarnations of Alison. There is Alison the author, Alison the narrator, and Alison the character in the panels themselves. This presents the complex layers of memory. It is interesting how Bechdel presents these different incarnations of herself through the layout of the pages. For example, on page 7, the top two panels show Alison as a child talking to her father. In the speech bubbles she is saying “This is the wallpaper for my room? But I hate pink! I hate flowers!” While above, in the gutter, Alison’s narration analyzes her father’s actions calling him a “mad scientist…who answered not to the laws of society, but to those of his craft.” We can see that through her own memory she is displaying her own opinions but showing them from the perspective of the character Alison as a young girl, thus helping the reader to understand Alison as a character in this memoir; however, she also connects herself as a character to herself as a narrator because the narration becomes a commentary or reflection upon what happened to her as a child. In this way there are multiple iterations of memory within this memoir. There is the memory of exactly what happened, things that were said and done, which are shown within the panels, but there is also the memory of the thoughts and feelings and the reflections upon those emotions, which is the narration in the gutter. This adds complexity to the role that memory and reflection play within the memoir.

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  13. For this blog post, I would like to talk about death in Fun Home and the way in which various characters perceive and react to it. Death plays a prominent role in the story, not only because it deals with the death of her father, but also because much of it revolves around her childhood spent in a funeral home. As Bechdel herself states, she and her siblings became desensitized to death as children as a result of their somewhat unorthodox upbringing. Because the family’s funeral home is also their place of residence, the children are frequently exposed to dead bodies and various funerary paraphernalia, which they come to view as commonplace. In fact, they are desensitized to such an extent that these elements often get incorporated into their play, such as on page 35 when Alison and one of her brothers pretend to be dead in a graveyard while her other brother asks if he can get into an open grave.

    Strangely, Alison’s parents make no effort to shield the children from the realities of death. At one point, her father asks her to come into the embalming room to get him some scissors, seemingly unconcerned about the fact that he is exposing his young daughter to the sight of a naked male corpse with an open chest cavity (pg 44). Alison, however, suppresses any discomfort she is feeling about the situation in front of her father. Some of this desensitization to death is reflected in Bechdel’s artwork, specifically in the way she portrays the corpses and the embalming process. For instance, on the last panel of page 49, a corpse lies on the embalming table with a cloth placed over its head. It is implied that the body’s face is covered as a result of suicide, but this portrayal also removes any remaining humanity from the dead man, and he really does become “just a body”.

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  14. Alison Bechdel’s remarkably literary graphic memoir, Fun Home, weaves together a story about personal discovery together with the complex characterization of the Bechdel’s father, raising questions about death, homosexuality, mirrors, facades, and more all amidst the backdrop of a father-daughter relationship. Bechdel chooses to disclose her father’s sexuality and death towards the beginning of the memoir, an interesting and deliberate narrative choice. Rather than reading like a novel, where shocking twists and secrets are revealed as the story progresses, we piece together Bechdel’s life and relationship with her father just as she is piecing it together through the very act of creating this book. We follow the story right alongside its creator, as she uses both word and image to stay true to both the experience itself and her current memory of it. The book functions not as a narrative so much as a reflection on Alison Bechdel’s past as framed through the life of her father, and as shaping her current identity. In introducing the reader to intrigue about her father’s sexuality, morality, psychological makeup, and ultimate death at the beginning of the book, she leaves the book itself to be an exploration of her father in relation to her own identity. Despite the complexity of Bechdel’s father only highlights the realization that Bechdel and her father aren’t so different after all. The book seems to encompass two different worlds: the world of the text and the world of the image. Fun Home’s captions could function on their own, forming a cohesive story if read continuously. The same could essentially be said for the graphic memoir’s images. Such a quality is exemplified in how the captions are written in the gutter of the page rather than inside the panels. It seems to me that the continuous quality of the word and the image separate these elements into two different though simultaneously functioning realms which coincide with one another. Both function around the idea of memory. Alison, who is literate and a “careful archivist of her own life” via journals, uses the written word and drawn image to capture both memories of past events and her reflection upon them then and now. Bechdel, as a cartoonist who is remarkably well-read and scholarly, has produced a comic that once again pushes the boundaries that have been set in place for comics. Fun Home has received academic and critical acclaim as literature in its own right, not despite Bechdel’s cartoons but rather because of them.

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  15. I find it intriguing that Alison repeatedly displays the scene of her mother revealing Alison father’s sexuality (Page 59 and 79) in chapter three. In a way, that was the moment when everything makes sense to Alison and that she understands him and his actions on a deeper level. She portrays his father as an uncaring, cold father who emotionally and physically abuses his family, but somehow the fact that he is gay creates a “tenuous” bond with her that she always wanted (86). One thing that she has always known about her father is that he is good at concealing the truth, on page (20), she wrote “his shame inhabited our house as pervasively and invisibly as the aromatic musk of aging mahogany”, and his obsessive need to restore the house is his way of covering his emotions and sexuality. Similarly, the title of the book Fun Home and the grand house of theirs/museum are both a form of disguising the truth about the family dynamic. When her father passed, she said “if only they made smelling salts to induce grief-stricken swoons, rather than snap you out of it” demonstrates how problematic the family is that a child cannot feel grief for her father’s death (52). What stick out to me the most was the constant desire Alison wants from her father that she knows she can never have. For example, she had the urge to kiss her father good night but she could only hold his hand, and the enjoyment of her father showering her with burning hot water, and most importantly, the need to feel like she is the reason her father “committed suicide”. It is painful to see a young girl yearning for her father’s affection but cannot because it is too late.

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