Fun Home, by Alison Bechdel takes an introspective look back on various life events which have effectively shaped her understanding of her father, her emotions, and the world. Bechdel realized the nonconformist nature of both her father and his relationship to the family home from a young age, and this perspective of her father only grew more complex with time. Their father Bruce uses the family home as his personal canvas in which to manifest his insecurities and vices in a composed and articulated manner. The first exposure to Bruce reveals highly atypical behavior, a finely tuned knack for interior design and the overwhelming urge to micromanage every usable square inch of space present in the house. Bechdel describes that from an early age her father’s behavior and attitude toward his projects within the house were passionate, as well as the work of a martyr. This iconic description is coupled with a striking black silhouette of their house juxtaposed against an almost religious image of her father hunched over wearing only shorts carrying a carved piece of lumber on his back (Bechdel 14).
Bechdel viewed space within the house not as belonging to the family, but as an extension of her father. Every turn in the house left you face to face which one of his carefully created bourgeois projects ranging from chandeliers reminiscent of French bordellos, to aging mahogany chippen-dales. Bruce Bechdel was obsessed with the illusion of luster. He invested himself fully in the pursuit of restoring the house back into the gleaming Victorian era house it was no longer. Manipulating the appearance of items within the house to portray some sense of false imagery became a central motif in deciphering Bruce’s own psyche. Troubled by the demons of his past, he strives to create a sense security in his home, and in public by playing the role of the “ideal husband and father”. When in reality, his private life exposes a stark contrast accompanied by the occasional sherry-sipping young male who finds their way into the charade of the Bechdel library.
Through scenes in the family house, it becomes apparent that Bechdel’s father felt if he did not actively manage every aspect of life inside the house, he had no control at all. This may be due to Bechdel’s father being motivated by the helpless feeling of not being able to control certain aspects of his very own life, such as desires and sexual orientation. This level of control does not stop at the superficial level of furniture and appearance however, as Bechdel recounts the micromanagement of her life down to the color coordination of her clothes (Bechdel 36).
Even the most intimate spaces for childhood expression and development were off limits to the Bechdel children’s creativity. Bruce viewed his children’s rooms as accessories to the greater good of his period masterpiece, contrarily to their typically role as a child’s safe haven to escape the pressures of the outside world. Alison was allowed no say in her father’s decision to plaster pink floral print wallpaper throughout her room (Bechdel 13). Bruce could often be seen making these stylistic decisions as well as meddling through the house touching up features of his children’s rooms. As the story progresses, more of Bruce’s items are added into Alison’s room, including an ornate mirror. These actions further shows Bruce’s determination to achieving normativity in the respective sense of the house as a whole. For if one single room was not created under the idealized image of Bruce’s imagination, the house, and Bruce by extension, would seemingly be unable to function as a whole.
The house plays a central role in the foundation and development for young children, especially considering the specific and unique atmosphere of the family dynamic. The atmosphere created within the Bechdel house is one of fleeting emotion and increasing despondence. Its condition was a mix between a museum and an operating room, flawlessly clean while containing a trove of rich articles, best mirroring the life Bruce wants to ultimately portray, while carefully disguising any weakness or flaws in his own structure.