Sunday, September 21, 2014

A House is Not a Home

            The narrator and author of Fun Home, Alison Bechdel, believes that she is at fault for her father’s suicide.  Thoughts that disprove her claim are often addressed then dismissed because Bechdel refuses to believe any other possibility for the event. Bechdel explains that her father was not the typical man and how she often stepped in for the manly qualities that he lacked.  Her father would do the same for her.  The Bechdel family home is the father’s masterpiece.  He spends countless hours and efforts into creating a house where he can have a foundation to support and express himself.  Because Alison’s childhood house is a manifestation of her father himself, she lacks a home throughout her childhood, which ultimately leads to Alison’s self-blame for her father’s suicide.
            Alison’s discontent with her family home begins with her room.  On page seven, Alison’s father shows her the wallpaper for her room and does not care that she hates both the pattern and the color of the wallpaper.  A sense of privacy comes with having a room to call one’s own and that privacy usually includes freedom for expression as well. Alison states, “I hate this room” when she is hanging a mirror in her room while her father gazes to make sure that it is up properly (Bechdel, 14).  Alison’s father is the designer of every aspect of the Bechdel family home and does not consider the opinions of the other members, therefore limiting the creative expressions of the whole family.  After page 14, Bechdel does not draw herself in her room or mention her room again.  This shows how Alison did not really consider her room a space of her own, but a space of her father’s, and did not spend very much time there.  Alison lacked the normal privacy and expression that children receive from their own rooms due to due to limitations in creativity and opinion.  This takes away the mental feeling of belonging and removes the home feeling away from a location.
            A major contender of Alison’s lack of childhood home is the relationship between her parents.  Alison comments the following about her parents, “I witnessed only two gestures of affection between them” (Bechdel, 68).  A positive, loving parental relationship gives children security and a sense of comfort in their home environment.  When violent arguments break out between parents like Alison’s, children are often torn because they feel the need to choose either mom or dad’s side of the argument.  Broken relationships among family members destroy and kind of foundation in a home and leave the occupants feeling uneasy and out of place.  Bechdel shows that arguments between her parents were common through the long and tired face of her mother.  She even uses passport comparisons to show the difference realistically.  The proposed divorce two weeks before the father’s suicide is not a surprise to the reader, as Alison’s mother continues to appear exhausted and broken down throughout the graphic novel, worsening as time goes on.  This shows the reader the physical and consequences that the mother faces after so many arguments with her husband.  When a house that is so finely decorated contains such violence, it is difficult to consider it a home instead of a house filled with aritfacts.
            The lack of home that Alison experiences as a child leads to her self-blame for her father’s suicide because of time spent with her father that she viewed as tasks.  For example, her father had an obsession with flowers and was frequently tending to the garden outside of the house.  When Alison was outside with him during these times, she felt like she was just simply doing another chore instead of helping her father and learning something that he liked to do.   The same can be said when Alison is shown dusting around the house.  She sees the cleaning as a chore that she has to do when her father sees it as preserving something that is beautiful.  The differences in opinion between Alison and her father throughout Alison’s childhood make it difficult for her to envision an enjoyable past with her father.  Because of this, Alison seems to be stuck in the past with regret over what positive relationship could have existed between her and her father, if she would have viewed things differently.  The amount of time spent between the two seems so miniscule to Alison because of her father’s quirks.  For example, when playing baseball with her father and her brothers, the game often had to be stopped when a ball rolled near some flowers due to her father’s sudden desire to weed over finishing the game.  This difference of opinion on what tasks to pursue leads to disappointment within family members and an unstable family relationship.  The house that the father believes must be tended to and perfected shows the father’s preference for fixing something that can be physically fixed, the appearance of the house, instead of something that needs to be mentally fixed, the family relationship.
            Alison ultimately believes that her father’s suicide is a result of her choice to tell her parents that she is a lesbian.  She decides to tell them through a letter versus over the phone or in person because she does not want it to be personal due to the unsteady childhood family and home memories experienced in her youth.  After receiving the letter, her father calls her and says, “Everyone should experiment.  It’s healthy” (Bechdel, 77).  From this, Alison can tell that her father is hoping that it is just a phase because if it is not, all the work that he has put into making his daughter more feminine (placing barrettes in her hair, dressing her in certain ways, crafting a feminine room, etc.) has ultimately failed, a failure that Alison believes her father has placed on himself, causing his suicide.

            The Bechdel home is a building full of artifacts that are all reminiscent of Alison’s father.  Without anything to connect to in the house, no place to express herself, and no way to escape the arguments between her parents, Alison Bechdel did not have an enlightened childhood in a home.  Because of this, Alison feels disconnected as an adult and is stuck in the past with thoughts of how she could have improved her difficult relationship with her father and ultimately saved him from committing suicide.


  1. Overall, nice essay. Let's get the bad out first. I think I'd argue that your first point, the part about her blaming herself, is a bit of a misreading or, at the very least, a huge exaggeration. "Thoughts that disprove her claim are often addressed then dismissed because Bechdel refuses to believe any other possibility for the event." This part is true for her belief that her father's death was, in fact, a suicide, but it's simply not true when it comes to her involvement. She only briefly muses that it was her coming out that set off a chain reaction that lead to the death, but even then she waves that off as being too hard on herself. The rest of the book seems to be about the factors throughout the man's life that lead to his obvious depression- The powder keg that blew up when her mother asked for a divorce following Alison's coming out.
    Okay, now for the good. I really, really like your theses about the home not being hers. The idea that even though she technically lived in the house she never really had a home. Your evidence for it makes a really good argument. Then, you mention that the home really belonged to only her father. I think this is a good point that you could expand on. For example, how do all the other characters' relate to the house? Is there evidence that the house was also not her mother's in any way? The home being a symbol of the distancing of the family with the father has a lot of good evidence (such as when they all call the chandelier ugly). I think a great way to expand would definitely be to show how the father was isolated from everyone and not just the author.

  2. "Because Alison’s childhood house is a manifestation of her father himself, she lacks a home throughout her childhood, which ultimately leads to Alison’s self-blame for her father’s suicide." -- this is an interesting and complex line, and a potentially interesting thesis.

    "After page 14, Bechdel does not draw herself in her room or mention her room again. This shows how Alison did not really consider her room a space of her own, but a space of her father’s, and did not spend very much time there. " -- this is a very interesting point. It's not quite strictly true (see page 97, just counting yesterday's reading), but you're basically if not quite technically right. I'm not sure that I buy that she lacks privacy, exactly - but certainly she lacks a space of her own, which I think is what you mean anyway.

    I'm not crazy about your paragraph about her parents' relationship. Of course it's a very strained relationship at best, and I can see how this would fit into a larger argument that their house isn't a home - but in order to make *this* fit into *that*, I think you'd need to argue (which you definitely could do) that this house isn't really her mother's any more than it belongs to the kids - that she, too, is trapped inside her husband's house. Then it could work.

    The transition into the discussion of her father's suicide is awkward. On the one level, it's obvious that she makes connections between the suicide (if it was a suicide) and how she came out to her parents. That's not a particularly interesting thing to try to demonstrate, because it's pretty obvious. What would be interesting if you could bridge the gap between your earlier observations about the house and this feeling of guilt. What does her lesbianism mean in relationship to the physical house, and why is the physical house and his control over it no longer sufficient for him in the wake of her coming out? There are connections to be made for this argument to really work.

    Your conclusion is ok, and I think there are ways of clarifying your argument just by using the second half of the book - but I also think that you're not doing as much with your interesting, focused material on the house at the beginning, and you say too many obvious, uninteresting things later on. At the least, you want to be able to show how the seemingly "external" house relates to her parents' relationships, her own sexuality, etc.

    Rebecca makes some great points.