Monday, September 22, 2014

Bechdel - Her Father's Real Home

Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home tells the story about a father’s personality and how it covered up his lie to his family, and how that ultimately affected their family dynamic.  The book has many symbols to accompany this point of view, two of which are the homes that the Bechdel family owned, one being the family home, and the other the funeral home they ran as a business.  In particular, the funeral home, dubbed the “Fun Home” by Bechdel, helps describe her father’s character.  To look at this it is somewhat helpful to first consider Bechdel’s own personality and its flaws.  Throughout the book Alison Bechdel writes with a cold cynicism and openly admits to feeling hollow inside.  She feels little emotion about anything and often considers doing things just to see if it will cause a response in her, so that she can have some proof that she isn’t completely devoid of sentiment.  This is a behavior that has stemmed from the upbringing she received.  The Bechdel family did not actively engage in physical contact like many other families might.  Bechdel describes one instance from her childhood, where she attempted to kiss her father goodnight and only achieved an awkward peck on his hand, an experience she herself was uncomfortable with.  Her father’s look of confused annoyance speaks to how set apart the family members are from real interaction with each other.  This is why the “Fun Home” is so important to Bruce Bechdel’s analysis.  Because he is clearly unable to have normal contact with his family one can assume he trouble with people in general.  He is more at ease taking care of the dead than of the living.  This points to his very introverted nature, and the profession does not require him to be open with anyone, and he possibly finds a sense of morbid peace in escaping to the sanctuary of the embalming room.  It is ironic that he teaches twelfth grade English, essentially a class where interaction is very necessary.  Dealing with lively young adults all day, he is driven to the funeral home to escape his personal burden of uncomfortableness around people.
            Another way that the funeral house is shown to be Bruce’s true home is that he may have a particular preference for viewing people from a detached angle.  Preparing bodies for burial and seeing them on his table gives Bruce the ability view them in his own way and to create an illusion in his mind that suits him.  The artwork of the photographs that Alison found in her dad’s belongings from their beach vacation helps explain this.  The photographs of Roy that Bruce had hidden away shows that he enjoys seeing images of his interests from a more removed perspective, and instead of seeing the person face to face he wants the still image so that he can conjure up the fantasy so it best suits him.  This mental characteristic can be tied back to his job of preparing bodies for interment.  He enjoys the detachment of seeing a person without their knowledge because his emotions are not suited to personal engagement, and to him seeing the bodies gives him control of his perception of the scenario.  The deceased person cannot interact with him so the uncomfortable interaction does not exist for Bruce, and he is free to follow his own course of thoughts.
            This fascination with the dead may also stem from more than just Bruce’s inherent tendency for voyeurism.  From working at the funeral home, Bruce may have become enamored with death because to him it would be the ultimate escape from his lack of emotion towards his family.  He may have become fixated on it enough to set it up on a pedestal as his ultimate goal, something as ideal but unattainable.  The “Fun Home” represents his desire to kill himself because the way he dedicated himself to the work without ever complaining about it shows that he saw a purpose in it for himself, working at it because he saw his own death his mind.  By leaving his copy of Camus’ A Happy Death laying around, Alison makes the comment that he could have been doing it on purpose.  This highlights his desire to meet his end in some planned fashion.  He may have not originally seen himself reaching the point of his own death when he wanted it because of his family, and Alison describes the story of his death as an accident.  The truck driver said Bruce jumped back into road as “as if he had seen a snake.”  This shows that Bruce probably just saw an opportunity and finally decided to act on it, to bring his desires to fruition. 

            The “Fun Home” symbolizes many things for Bruce, his sanctuary for his own personality, his obsessions and desires.  The way Alison Bechdel uses it to epitomize her father’s characteristics shows what it was for him, and how it represents what he really wants in his life, that being his own death and escape.

1 comment:

  1. Your introduction is full of assumptions. A. Bechdel is cynical; B. Bechdel is profoundly introverted. These are very defensible ideas, but they are also incomplete. We see abundant evidence that her father's behavior varies intensely in different times and in different settings - and do you really buy into the alleged coldness and cynicism on Alison's part? It's not that you're wrong - it's just that you're generalizing about complex topics.

    What makes you think that her father prefers the image of Roy to the reality? The idea is interesting, but this kind of argument requires evidence - it can't just be asserted. As another aside - is he really comfortable or happy in the funeral home? To me this isn't totally obvious. Why do you see it that way?

    I'm not sure I follow your third paragraph. Are you arguing that he plans his death because he works in a funeral home? That he is an undertaker because he wants to die? I don't follow the relationship here.

    Overall: I actually think all of your ideas are interesting here, and at least to you they seem to make sense together. The thing that bothers me is that most of them at least read like speculation - they are possibly reasonable readings, but you aren't walking us through them to show us why we, too, should read in the way that you do. What missing here is detailed analysis: can you go through the details (both of images and dialogue) of his behavior in the funeral home that makes you understand things this way? You have interesting arguments, but you badly need to work on evidence.