In the graphic novel ‘Fun Home’ by Alison Bechdel, she talks about her family but more about her relationship with her father. She portrays her father as an emotionally disconnected man while still trying to understand his ways. Bechdel tells about how the two of them are completely opposite and uses her images to replace some of the text.
Bechdel’s father, Bruce, was an English teacher and a World War Two veteran. He loved literature and surface aesthetics. She portrayed him as a very feminine man and tells about his obsession with flowers and artificial surface-level beauty of all kinds. This is shown through his constant obsession with fixing up his home (Bechdel, 2006, p. 5). Bechdel explains that she feels he “treated his furniture as children and his children as furniture”(Bechdel, 2006, p. 14). She calls him “the Daedalus of Decor” (Bechdel, 2005, p. 6), referring back to Greek mythology when Daedalus created the labyrinth to trap the Minotaur. Bechdel refers back to this, to say that her father’s obsession was entrapping. People would often get lost in the house because there were so many mirrors, statues and corridors (Bechdel, 2005, p. 20). Bruce does this intentionally to conceal what he is really afraid of revealing, the shame of his homosexuality. Because of his obsession with his home, Bechdel develops a distaste for all of his ornaments and decorations, she sees them as a lie (Bechdel, 2005, p. 16). She portrays her father as a skillful artifice, as he not only hides the truth but uses this skill to make himself appear as something he’s not. Just like he uses bronzer and makeup to look younger or to make him look more ‘perfect’, he uses his house and family to make himself appear to be the perfect father (p.16, 17). However, in reality, he neglects his children and has multiple affairs with teenage boys. He is a very strict man who lacks any trust, love or margin for error, making their home a very unpleasant place to be. However, Bruce gives Bechdel the basic needs of what a father needs to provide but with no depth or emotion with it.
Bechdel explains how her father and she are complete opposites in many situations. “I was spartan to my fathers Athenian. Modern to his Victorian. Butch to his Nelly. Utilitarian to his Aesthete” (Bechdel, 2006, p. 15). One difference was that he used artifice to deceive others, while she used her art to tell the truth. In the novel, she often interrupts herself to ensure that the story she is telling is from her experience and her own subjective understanding of the situations, the opposite of what her father did. He is portrayed as a deceitful man who would do nearly anything to make himself look better, regardless of how it made anyone else feel. Bruce was seen as a very selfish man.
Bruce’s ‘story’ can also be seen in opposition to Bechdel’s. While she was able to express her sexuality and identity openly, Bruce never did. Bruce built walls and entrapped himself in order to hide the truth. He had multiple affairs on his wife and mistreated his children. His actions were the outcomes of his hidden shame. He never seemed to be okay or happy with who he was but was proud of his daughter for ‘coming out’ and expressing herself in such a judgemental time, something he never did.
Bruce saw his daughter as more of an intellectual companion than his daughter as she got older (Bechdel, 2006, p. 201). They both had a love for literature and that is how they often communicated. When Bruce decided to hint about his sexuality to Bechdel he did it through a book. He gave her ‘Earthly Paradise’ to read. It is an autobiography of a lesbian author. Not long afterward, Bechdel left a copy of Kate Millett’s memoir ‘Flying’ for him. Although he never specifically said he was gay to her, it was enough for her to assume.
When coming up to his death a lot was going on. He had left many hints as to say his death was intentional but no one was to ever know the truth. Bechdel makes reference to Camus, a French philosopher. Camus wrote that “ all human beings live as if they don’t know they are approaching death”(Camus, 1942). However, Bechdel’s father worked at a funeral home and the concept of death was nothing new to him.
Many of the images in ‘Fun Home’ contain written words in all forms such as a book or a letter etc. She uses the headline in the newspaper to show how her father dies suddenly. She uses these images to further show the connection between her father and Camus. Bruce used Camus’s writing to deal with his struggles while Bechdel used her memoir to express her feelings of her father’s death as she could not mourn in the normal or expected way. Bruce’s death was unexpected but because he was a very unhappy man it led Bechdel to believe it was suicide.