Monday, September 22, 2014

The Bechdel Family Home

The Bechdel family home was seen as a grand mansion in the eyes of everyone, except the Bechdel family. To them, it was viewed as a place of entrapment. Particularly for Allison’s father, I believe he used it as an outlet and cover for his homosexual frustrations. On page 4, it’s quoted that “his greatest achievement, arguably, was his monomaniacal restoration of our old house.” Page 7 goes on to say that it was his passion in every sense of the word. When they first bought the house, he transformed it from a bare shell into a piece of art. Throughout the years, he continued to maintain its visual appearance with great peculiarity. This gives readers a glimpse of his feminine side. He spent his days tidying up the house, whether it was polishing, decorating or arranging flowers. He even enlisted Allison and her brothers to do some of the housework. They essentially became his “slaves.” He was also particular with the way everyone looked. If one comment was made about his wardrobe, he would immediately have to change. As expected, this was also enforced to the rest of his family. If a neckline didn’t match, he would force Allison to change. He would force her to wear barrettes and dresses, threatening to punish her if she would not comply. What I noticed is that he doesn’t ask of these things in a polite manner, he uses aggression, leaving no room for rebuttal. This created negative effects in the home. Allison stated, “I grew to resent the way my father treated his furniture like children, and his children like furniture” (14).

There were two distinct moods for Allison’s father and as a result, the Bechdels walked on eggshells in their own home. Like the Daedalus and Icarus reference, her father structured the house as one giant maze. They never knew what was around the next corner. Would it be the angry Minotaur or a composed father? There was constant tension between them, with the fear that they would do
something wrong and be reprimanded for it. Moments of peace did exist, however. Although unusual, it showed a glimmer of humanity and spurts of his latent homosexuality. This is best seen in the moments where Allison and her father seem to have a mutual understanding of their sexuality, mainly bonding over books.

Her father’s need for control in the house and in the family stems from his constant need to control his homosexual gestures. His tyrannical power within the home was an outlet for his frustrations. Tensions were high. It could clearly be seen that Allison, her father and her mother had ideas of his feminine qualities and Allison’s manly qualities, but neither expressed it out loud. “While I was trying to compensate for something unmanly in him…he was attempting to express something feminine through me” (98). I think the home was a safe zone to express his real self.

He appeared to be an ideal husband and father, but this fa├žade was only seen outside of the home. In reality, he was a mysterious source of chaos, which was seen inside of the home. This can first be seen in the beginning of the story when Allison says, “But would an ideal husband and father have sex with teenage boys?” (17). Her father couldn’t repress his homosexuality any longer in a shallow minded town. He wasn’t able to express his real self in face of the public for the fear of being judged. However, when he was in the confinement of his home, he was in control. He took on meticulous tasks as if to create the illusion that his life was in order. Allison described that, “His shame inhabited our house as pervasively and invisibly as the aromatic musk of aging mahogany” (20).

Allison coming out as gay led to relief and an eventual understanding of herself. What is interesting to point out is that this happened once she was out of the house and in college. Being away from the home allowed for self-discovery. This further proves how the home is her father’s domain. He never announces is homosexuality and therefore, can’t escape the house and all that he is in it. Although the house was a method of control, he still seemed to lose it. This is what I believe led to his ultimate death.


  1. The essay was well constructed. It had a good flow and smooth transitions. There are some grammar issues here and there, but it's not serious enough to take away from the writing. Your argument is clear, and at least I hope it was meant to be that the house was like a prison where the father was the ruthless warden pushing his repressed feelings onto his children and into every detail of the space. The best part in my opinion was pointing out, which is obvious when looking back, that the father lived out some of his femininity in his daughter, forcing her to dress like a girl, design her room like a girl. All of that against her wishes. This essay while good, still seems like it should be expanded. The last paragraph felt incomplete. There could be more examples on what made Alison realize her sexuality. How that changed her life.

  2. There's too much summary in your long introduction - it's hard for me to know what you're really focusing on. In fact, the problem of summarizing a lot but only saying a little dogs you through the essay. I don't think any reader of the book would disagree with most of your material, because it's too close to just restating what Bechdel states, rather than analyzing it.

    Look at this line: "Although the house was a method of control, he still seemed to lose it." That's a real step in the right direction. It's not all you should aspire to, though. Why does it fail? Why is his method of control inadequate? What makes it fall apart? If the meaning of the house has something to do with discipline (self or otherwise), and that discipline fails, focusing on its insufficiency would be a good way to proceed.