Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Bechdel – A House for Distractions (Revision)

            The Bechdel family home was where the father, Bruce Bechdel, tried to deal with the life he felt like he was forced, by societal and family expectations, to live. The house was not a very happy home, mainly because of his presence in it. He treated the house better than he treated his own family and spent most of his time working on it rather than enjoying his family. He was very meticulous about how the home was kept, and took pride in the restoration of the house back to its original condition. Also, his time spent working on the home and not paying attention to the needs or wants of his family, showed how he experienced more satisfaction from the home than from his family. Clearly, Bruce Bechdel was not happy with the way his life turned out, so he used the house as his distraction from the miserable life he thought he had, and when it was not enough for him, his true-life desires began to manifest. 
            Coming from a small hometown with a family business, Bruce was expected to take over the business and raise a family in the same area where the rest of his relatives lived, which is what he did. In doing so he realized the harsh truth, that he had already began to accept while in the army, as stated in Homosexual : Oppression and Liberation, “It is impossible to be both a self-accepting homosexual and live a conventional life in Western society” (Altman, 58). Moving home forced him to hide his true desires even more than before, and eventually led to the excessive need to control his home and feel resentment towards his own family. Bechdel talks about how it was weird for her father to stay when he obviously did not fit into that type of community. She said, “But it’s puzzling why my urbane father, with his unwholesome interest in the decorative arts, remained in this provincial hamlet” (Bechdel 31). During that passage there is a picture that shows just how close his whole family lived to each other in the small, central Pennsylvania town, where the type of lifestyle he wanted to live, would not be accepted for many years to come.  He was an outcast with his own family, and could not do anything about it, except try to distract himself from the truth of his own life.  This need to be distracted, helped to keep him from thinking about his other desires most of the time, but it was an unhealthy way to live, and it ate at Bruce Bechdel from the inside. 
There is not an instance in the book where the reader gets the feeling that Bruce is happy to be with his family in the home, but we do see him gain some enjoyment from new decorations for the home, finding an old pattern from an original piece of the home, and the use of flowers throughout the house.  All those things distracted him from his family and in a way, let him secretly indulge in the other side of himself, that he was desperately trying to hide from everyone. His daughter was not fooled by the act her father was trying to put on, and she saw in him what he truly was.  She saw through his hatred for the family, and she said, “It was clear to me that my father was a big sissy”(Bechdel 97). From this line we can see that she was starting to understand the other side of her father, and understand why he was so displeased with the life he was living.  During the same section of the book, she is quoted saying, “ It’s imprecise and insufficient, defining the homosexual as a person whose gender expression is at odds with his or her sex” (Bechdel 97).  This line is powerful in defining her father because deep down this is truly what he was, and the family home was the ultimate distraction from the inner battle going on inside her father. While reading, Homosexual: Oppression and Liberation, I found a sentence that describes Bruce Bechdel’s personality, “It is precisely the discovery that oppression is multidimensional, that one may be simultaneously both oppressed and oppressor, that underlies the analysis of the sexual liberation movements”(Altman 50-51).  He felt like society and his family was oppressing him, so in return he oppressed them.  It was a viscous circle in the Bechdel family home because of the inner turmoil Bruce was facing everyday.
            While in the home, Bruce tended not to interact with the family too much unless it was to use them as free labor in his endless desire to restore the home.  The restoration of the home to its original condition showed how the father was not only trying to distract himself, but at the same time make a grand impression on whoever looked at it, so they would believe the facade of a life he was trying to display. He wanted to look like a good father by making his home look very impressive and orderly.  There are various illustrations of the children cleaning and using a cleaner referred to by Bechdel as, “Incipient Yellow Lung Disease”. I believe this showed the importance the father placed on keeping the home to a certain standard, with no regard to his children’s happiness or good health. As long as the house was being worked on, he was distracted, and his family was not as much of a nuisance as usual.
Alison Bechdel shows another example of the father placing importance for the home over the children’s safety in the series of illustrations on page 23, of Fun Home A Family Tragicomic.  These illustrations start with the father riding with the young child on the lawn mower and quickly move to him doing other work while the child is left to cut the grass alone, using a lawn mower that is twice the size of them.  Although, the child may have enjoyed riding on the lawnmower without her father, Bruce did not care either way. The father obviously did not want to spend quality time with his child; he was only interested in making his home look good. Even when he would go to throw baseball around with his kids, he could not resist the urge to clear weeds if the ball rolled near a patch that needed to be cleaned.  He felt the need to constantly upkeep the facade of a happy home so no one would find out the truth about him, and to keep his mind from wondering towards his inner desires. 
The total restoration of the home to original conditions was so important to the father because it meant a lot of his time could be spent working on the restoration instead of working on relationships with his family. Bechdel talks about how her father was passionate about the restoration and how he loved to, “spin garbage into gold” (Bechdel 6).  This was a way for the father to act like he was being a caring provider for his family but in actuality he was able to indulge in a passion of his secret side.  Throughout the book we see him working on the house many times, and he is the one making the design decisions.  He did not care about what the family wanted because his goal was to make the home into a museum or perfect facade to hide behind the outside world. No one else in the family seemed to gain much satisfaction from what the father was doing, because they all knew he was more concerned with the home than them. They also did not have much choice in the restorations the father was doing, because he allowed himself to become consumed in the work without any regards for his families input.  The amount of time to finish the restoration was eighteen years, and that I kind ironic to me that the restoration took the amount of time for a child to be considered an adult and more out of the house.   I believe he wanted to stay distraction while he had children in the home, because his mind may have began to wonder towards even more sinful ideas, that may have involved his children. This is a far reach from what he was doing at the time, but it was hard to tell what he may have been capable of if he did not have many distractions to keep his mind occupied.
            There were many instances in the book when the distraction of the house was no longer was enough for Bruce.  During these instances, his anger for the family would come out, or his desire to indulge in his vice would take over. On many occasions, encounters with the father are described as something the family avoided, but when they happened, the family could not be sure which father they would see. The description of these mood swings is summed up by saying, “His bursts of kindness were as incandescent as his tantrums were dark” (Bechdel 21). He could be somewhat pleasant at times, and other times he could be completely unbearable.  The interactions between his daughter and him clearly showed the two moods that he could be in while in the home. His pleasant side was basically him being indifferent towards her, without showing much emotion. The other side was an angry father, who liked to tell his daughter what to wear, and how to clean properly. His constant need to make her dress more feminine could have stemmed from a deep concern for her turning out like he did, and being forced to constantly deal with the same inner battle he was fighting.
            Various instances of Bruce indulging in his vice show up throughout the book. These times are when he no longer could be distracted by the home, and his need for something different came out.  He partially did this because of the need to please his inner desire, but he could have also done some things because of the excitement of it.  His life was fairly boring and dull while living in his museum, but when he met with Ron or other boys, he was doing something forbidden, which brought some excitement to his life.  This was similar to the feelings he had when he was completely engrossed in restoring the house.  Although one was used for a distraction from the other, his time with other men was much more pleasing to Bruce. 
One instance in particular exemplifies Bruce’s desire to quit distracting himself, and it is when he goes on a family vacation without his wife.   Any normal father, with a normal family, would love to go on vacation with their family, wife included, and spend time with them.  For Bruce, this was an opportunity to be with Roy and please his inner desires, while his kids where only a small distraction. It seemed very weird to me that his wife would let him go on a vacation with a boy that she knew he was more interested in sexually than herself. The all-telling photograph, that Allison Bechdel found, showed a half naked Roy on the bed during the family vacation.  This was a life changing revelation for her and it finally showed, what she had sensed deep down for years, that her father cared more about other men than his own family.  She knew then that his constant need to distract himself with work around the house was only because he was trying not to let the true Bruce Bechdel show to his family and the community around them. 
Other trips to the city without his wife showed ways in which he was trying to satisfy his needs without his family or his home interfering. He needed these little breaks from the constant battle being waged between his desires, and the distraction of the house used to fight them. The trips to New York exposed his children to the type of lifestyle he wished he were living, but he did not wish for his children to live that way. Also, I think he had so much conflict with his daughter at a young age because he saw himself in her, and did not want this life for her.  The time period was not one of acceptance for people like himself, and this was one of the big reasons he lived the way he did. Only when opinions started to change in society and when his daughter left the small town, to find her own path, did he start to recognize that his daughter was not going to be forced to hide her true desires from the world like he had to. He changed from trying to force her to be a girly girl at a young age, to giving her a book in college that faintly helped he come to the realization of what she was.
            In the end, the family home was not much of a family home in ever sense of the description.  The father only needed to be accepted by society, and he needed a distraction from his inner needs.  After many years of this battle with himself, Bruce Bechdel finally ended the fight, but the damage to his family had already been done.             

Works Cited

Bechdel, Alison. Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2006. Print.
Altman, Dennis. Homosexual : Oppression and Liberation. University of Queensland Press, 2012. Web.

1 comment:

  1. Ideally, you would have pushed yourself into something less obvious or more argumentative in the first paragraph. None of this is wrong, but what are you trying to convince your readers of here? Is there anyone who would *need* convincing at this point?

    Your 2nd paragraph touches on an important point, but doesn’t pursue it. Why he stays does, after all, remain a bit of a mystery, and you’re noting that mystery rather than really figuring it out, at least so far.

    “There is not an instance in the book where the reader gets the feeling that Bruce is happy to be with his family in the home” -- really? What about when he and Allison begin connecting over books, or when she comes home from college.

    I like the material about the multidimensional nature of oppression. Very likely you could have used this to help form a clearer thesis, and moved some of this material (presumably in a different form) into your introduction.

    “The total restoration of the home to original conditions was so important to the father because it meant a lot of his time could be spent working on the restoration instead of working on relationships with his family. “ -- does that explain why he had this obsession rather than any other, though? In fact, this is an obsession which kept him *physically* close to his family, even if not emotionally, which mildly undercuts your argument. “The amount of time to finish the restoration was eighteen years, and that I kind ironic to me that the restoration took the amount of time for a child to be considered an adult and more out of the house.” -- this is a fine insight, and I wonder if this is another candidate for something which could have been foregrounded and developed. There are multiple real and metaphoric children here, and it’s an issue worth exploring at length.

    “The trips to New York exposed his children to the type of lifestyle he wished he were living, but he did not wish for his children to live that way.” -- another one of those good moments.

    Overall: This draft has many good insights. Your issue is that the parts don’t really add up. There isn’t a central argument, and to the extent that there is a central idea, it’s a little too obvious. When you get into interesting material, you do it in passing and don’t develop it. You also summarize too much of what’s happening in the book, and pay too much attention to the early parts and too little attention to the later parts - ignoring, for instance, how his relationship with his daughter develops. I do think you have some provocative ideas about how childhood works here, and how oppression works, and maybe (I’m speculating now) about how childhood and oppression are one, at least in this context - but you needed to focus on *one* argument, and be prepared to cut down a lot of what’s actually here in order to have the space to devote to that argument.