On the surface the Bechdel’s seem like a rather traditional family. They have their quirks but to an outsider they seem very normal. However, from the very first page of Fun Home by Alison Bechdel, readers become aware that her family is far from standard. The Bechdel family home represents the front the family (especially Bechdel’s father) puts up while the funeral home, referred to as the fun home, serves as a more accurate portrayal. The family home in all of its grandeur is a symbol of the luxurious, rich, Gatsby inspired life Bechdel’s father believes he has. However, this home as well as the fun home exists as a constant reminder of the life he wants but never fully achieves, as well as a manifestation of the secrets he is hiding.
The Bechdel family home is filled with artifacts that seem to draw close parallels to the type of man Mr. Bechdel believes himself to be. In a way, the extravagance of the home is an illusion, much like the illusion Mr. Bechdel creates for himself. Bechdel says “he could spin garbage into gold” and two pictures show her father refurbishing an old headboard pulled from the trash into a fancy new looking one (Bechdel 6). Mr. Bechdel does not have the financial means to actually live like the characters in F. Scott Fitzgerald novels, so he fakes it; he fools himself into thinking he has everything he wants. He is essentially creating this roaring 1920’s Gatsby lifestyle from thin air. By turning old trash into something new, he believes he can make himself into the man he wants to be.
Later in the book Bechdel includes a picture of her father “…walking down Christopher Street in his borrowed Brooks Brothers finery” (Bechdel 105). This quote is significant in a few ways. First, Christopher Street is famous for being one of the main streets in New York City’s gay culture. Second, Mr. Bechdel may be wearing Brooks Brothers, a very high end designer for men’s dress clothes, but his suit is borrowed. The suit represents everything that is only slightly out of reach for Mr. Bechdel. As he is walking down Christopher Street he is recognizing the fact that he is gay and his secret surfaces. However, even when he is acknowledging his sexuality he is still pretending. He is on Christopher Street yet he can never fully be part of it because he has a wife and a family. He walks around in designer clothes as if they are his own but in reality they are borrowed and will need to be returned. He wants desperately to be the man who can afford luxury so he pretends to be by decorating himself and his house. He is essentially acting as someone else while avoiding full acceptance of who he really is.
In the beginning of the book Bechdel describes her father as “…an alchemist of appearance, a savant of surface, a Deadalus of design” (Bechdel 6). He spends years building and restoring the family home. Bechdel describes the house as his “passion”, going on to say “and I mean passion in every sense of the word” (Bechdel 7). The picture accompanying this statement is very intriguing. It shows her father walking slightly slumped over and carrying a very large banister over his shoulder. He is walking in front of the home that is colored in black. The image is strikingly similar to many images depicting the Passion of Christ. The story of the Passion of Christ represents Jesus’s suffering and the burden he has to bear (the literal burden of the cross he carries, and the figurative burden of saving mankind from sin). It is interesting that Bechdel refers to her father’s labor on their family home as his passion, yet the association makes sense. Mr. Bechdel has an insatiable fascination with architecture and design, but instead of becoming an architect he works as an English teacher. The home he has created is his “cross to bear”. While he loves it, it is a reminder of the ways in which he is not fulfilled as a person, just as both the Brooks Brothers suit and Christopher Street do. The house is a burden to him because in combination with the things he has actually done in his life, the home only represents the life he pretends to have. Now, instead of expressing who he is and what he loves through himself and his actions, he has built an entire mansion around the idea of the person he wants to be yet failed to become, and he lives with the reminder every day.
In contrast, the fun home is a slightly more accurate representation of the Bechdels. In reference to the fun home’s decoration, Bechdel states, “…the rooms were hung with dark velvet drapery. This ensured a somber mood on the sunniest of days” (Bechdel 36). The fun home is always dark even when the sun is shining, and this makes the home a more “real” representation of the Bechdels. They are a family with many dark secrets and many unhappy memories. The fun home reflects this with its dark, more modest décor. Yet the secrets and hidden pasts of the family eventually surface, as represented by the beam of light that can be seen shining in to the funeral room on the image on page 36. Also, it is ironic that the life Mr. Bechdel is actually living is depicted through a home designed for those who have died, and I think this says a great deal about the fact that Mr. Bechdel never actually lives.
Through the décor of the Bechdel family home, readers can see that Mr. Bechdel is often under the illusion of grandeur. Readers can tell it is and illusion because nothing he has is “real” and he has nothing that he really wants. His daughter is not the “girly girl” he wishes she was, his home is not the Gatsby mansion he dreams of, and his job is not something he really enjoys either. He hides behind the décor of the family home yet the true feelings he has and the true life he lives is depicted in the fun home.