Sunday, September 21, 2014

Home: A Shield From Hardship

As Fun Home is an autobiographical work based on real people and events, it is impossible to know for sure how any characters in Fun Home think or feel except for the writer. One can, however, still muse based on the information given. Alison Bechdel places a lot of focus on the settings in the story. The homes that surround the characters are just as important as the characters themselves. What the settings mean to the characters can say a lot about the characters themselves. In Fun Home, Bechdel’s father spends the vast majority of his time working on the family house they all live in, restoring it to its historical glory and then some. For him, teaching and working in the funeral home are but jobs. Restoring the family home, however, is his passion. The family home represents a sort of safety blanket for him. He can work on it when he’s too scared to face the realities and responsibilities of life. He uses it to hide away.
In the very first chapter the reader learns just how important the historical family home is to her father. He puts so much time and energy into the house that he seems to neglect his own children. Bechdel says on page fourteen, “I grew to resent the way my father treated his furniture like children, and his children like furniture.” It’s revealed in subsequent chapters that his relationships with his children aren’t the only parts of his life that are strained.
He is a gay man in a very unhappy marriage to a woman. His attempts at expressing his sexuality are taboo and met with disdain, so he turns his life into a charade in attempt to hide it. Bechdel mentions that, on the outside, they appear to be a perfect family, a husband, wife, and three kids living in a beautiful home. While the text makes it clear that this is just a façade, the reader could also tell from the images. Throughout the first chapter there is not a single smile on any of their faces. It is also clear in the images that whenever he isn’t reading or lashing out in anger he is working on the house.
Bechdel’s father is always able to go back to that house, to add to it endlessly. Whenever he has a fight with his wife, he could go back to the house. Whenever an affair with another man fails, he could go back to the house. Whenever the weight of the world seems too much to bear, he could go back to the house. It seems as though the safety net of the house only fails when his façade of a perfect family life also does. He dies suspiciously shortly after his wife asks for a divorce, perhaps an event that could take that home away from him.
The building seems to be the only thing he has any real control over and so it becomes his main solace from those things he doesn’t. He pushes away all that has hurt him by putting so much of his focus on the house. An unfortunate side effect of this is he also ends up pushing away things that have never done him ill, namely his own children. It is clear that he neglects his kids, but it would be wrong to say he never tries to be there.
Looking again at the very first chapter, one can see that he actually interacts with his children quite a lot. It should be noted, though, that the vast majority of his interactions with his kids have to do with the house. He’s constantly asking them to help him put up drapes and wallpaper, get him tools to fix molding, or set up specific furniture in their rooms for him. He wants to interact with them, but he is blind to their wants and needs. The only way he attempts to reach out to them is by sharing his security blanket with them. On page thirteen, Bechdel writes, “Dad considered us extensions of his own body, like robot arms.”  His seeing them as extensions would explain why he wrongly assumes they would share his feelings about the house, forgetting that they are individuals.
Bechdel spends the first chapter of Fun Home making it as clear as she can just how much her father puts into their family home. She does so to show just how important it is to him. In later chapters the reader finds out about all of his problems in life, but before she does that she makes sure to show the one thing he has going for him, his solace from the world, his safety blanket.


  1. In my opinion, your essay is well written. Since the prompt was anything related to either house, your essay definitely fits the assigned prompt. Your essay might be able to be improved a little by including detailed analysis of the father’s feeling towards Fun Home. The basis for this suggestion is to contrast his feelings or attitude towards Fun Home with that of the family one. Another possibility would be to include some more analysis or examples of images that show the ideas. Perhaps you could use the dinner scene that was discussed in class as an example of not having as much of a desire for his family as his home. A final possible addition would be a detailed explanation or prediction of what could happen to him if he lost the house in a divorce. In one of the paragraphs you mentioned it briefly so it might be worth expanding on.

  2. The idea that is home is a safety blanket is interesting - the extremity of his passion (see page 7, as a start) for the home bothers me here, but we'll see where you take it.

    Good point on the absence of smiles. That is clearly important and interesting, although I'm not sure that it's really evidence for your argument about him *hiding*.

    "Whenever he has a fight with his wife, he could go back to the house. Whenever an affair with another man fails, he could go back to the house. " These both bother me. His affair with Roy seems to be centered on the house, rather than to be outside it, and he doesn't "go back" to the house away from his wife - the house is where the fights take place. The conflicts and seductions take place at the site of his endless labor, rather than outside of it.

    "He wants to interact with them, but he is blind to their wants and needs." -- that's another good point that may push back against your main argument rather than for it. He wants to interact with them (as you say) or use them (my rewording) - but whichever one it is is *inside* the house, at least principally.

    Overall: You are reading carefully and picking lots of interesting moments in the book - but while I see lots of great raw material, I see very little that helps us think of the house as a safety blanket or hiding place - there is so much pain and passion and martyrdom attached to the house, and so much happening within it - I I just see very little evidence here for your actual position.