Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Bechdel Revision: The Cost of Being "Normal"

Fun Home, by Alison Bechdel is a recount of the life and times of Alison Bechdel and her family. The story focuses a lot on her father, Bruce: a closeted homosexual English teacher, and how his behavior affects the family throughout their young lives in their regular home, a beautiful mansion, and in their family business, a funeral home dubbed by Alison as the “Fun Home.” Throughout the novel, Bruce was always working on something in the family mansion to make it more perfect; a way he could outlet his homosexuality and appear more “manly” to others.  His short temper and anger problems also helped him release his pent up frustration without letting his secret out. Bruce also used Alison as a way of expressing his homosexuality by trying to make her as feminine as possible in a number of different ways.
In Fun Home, Bruce was constantly trying to make Alison as “girly” as possible. I believe that he used her as an outlet for his homosexuality. Bruce believed that giving Alison chores that are traditionally “women’s work” would help him cope with his own sexuality and enable him to bury his true feelings and express himself through her. On page 50, for example, a young Alison is shown vacuuming the funeral home while her perfectly capable father is talking with Alison’s grandmother. Bruce, being the perfectionist that he is, probably wanted to do the vacuuming himself but instead had Alison to do it as some might have considered vacuuming as something that should be left to women. Bruce, however, had no problem doing all of the “manly” work around the house like hanging things up and painting walls, while he left things like washing dishes and doing laundry to his wife.
Bruce strived to have a perfect family by trying to get his kids to act exactly the way he wanted. He believed that if he could achieve the goal of having a perfect family, he would find happiness, because isn’t that everyone’s goal? Bruce just wanted things to be normal, and according to a Gallup Poll taken in 1990, only 4% of people surveyed reported that they did not want to have children (Newport). Wanting to have children and a happy family is just the normal thing to do. There are obviously people out there who can lead perfectly happy lives without children or a spouse, but Bruce just wanted to seem like your everyday, normal man.
Another curious thing about Bruce were his intense and sometimes violent outbursts. A great example of this is on page 11 when Bruce is commanding that his son stand up the family Christmas tree as straight as possible. While the son is trying to hold it straight, he is being poked by the sharp needles from the tree branches and is unable to satisfy his father’s desire for perfection when he drops the tree to avoid further pain. He then assumes a defensive position as Bruce gets really angry and looks like he is about to strike him. This begs another question about Bruce: where does his anger come from? Is his lashing out a product of the fact that every day he has to hide the fact that he is gay from the people he loves? Or is he just a naturally angry person with problems unrelated to the fact that he is gay? I believe it is a mixture of both. Keeping simple secretes secret is a very trying task. Bruce had to keep something secret for several decades. This would turn anyone into an angry person. Even if at some point he came to terms that he would keep his homosexuality secret for the rest of his life, it would still take some serious work to break the habit of lashing out at his kids when he was angry. On page 21, Bruce smashed a glass on the floor in front of the family during dinner. The children were young at the time and definitely should not have been subjected to that kind of behavior, especially by the father. A father is supposed to be a role model, but Bruce just could not control his anger because of his pent of feelings.
Bruce Bechdel led a troubled life. He worried more about what others might think about him and his family than the actual wellbeing of his wife and children. He treated his family members more like props than people. His goal to appear normal to everyone took priority over the actual well-being of his family. I n my opinion, Bruce was not just a terrible father, but a terrible person in general. His selfishness and concern for his public image lead me to believe that he didn’t even care about his family. He knew good and well that the way he acted and the example he set could seriously screw up his kids. I believe that screwing up his kids could have been an ulterior motive of his. If it looked like his kids were causing problems with the family it would have taken the attention off of him.
In conclusion, Bruce Bechdel took many steps in his life to try and outlet his homosexuality through his family and his house. He was always making sure that his daughter Alison was wearing matching clothes and doing “womanly” chores around the house so she would appear as feminine as possible. He was always doing the heavy-lifting around the house that men traditionally do. His anger resulted from his pent up frustration and over years of throwing tantrums and having violent outbursts, it became more of a habit than a reaction. I feel that Bruce never really cared about his wife or kids. He just wanted everyone to think he was a normal guy, no matter what the cost.

Works Cited
Bechdel, Alison. Fun Home. A Mariner Book: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2006. Print.
Newport, Frank and Wilke, Joy. “Desire for Children Still Norm in US.” September

1 comment:

  1. The danger in your introduction is that everything you say is arguably obvious. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t insights to be gained about how Bruce and Allison’s sexuality is connected - but I’m not sure what *you* are trying to do here, beyond pointing out some fairly obvious issues in the book which, moreover, we’ve talked about a lot.

    Using the vacuuming as an example of gender issues in the book is a little awkward. It’s not obviously wrong, but since he was, in fact, a perfectionist, I’d like to understand why you see this as *important* when thinking about gender roles in the book.

    Maybe he does want to be normal - but is there anything normal, for instance, about his house, the one thing he seems to find consistently important? He is angry, true - but what do you have to say about his anger’s origins or meaning that isn’t obvious to any reader of the book? Avoid the danger of summarizing things that everybody knows - focus on what you have to *say* in a way that is more personal, or less obvious.

    Overall: Your research is essentially pointless, “proving” a simple fact that nobody is going to challenge. Your assertions about his anger and how it relates to his sexuality are obvious. Your assertions about his desire for normalcy actually are worth exploring (where do we see him being normal? Where do we see him pushing in other directions? How do we figure out his true desires?) but you don’t really develop them - you just assert the claim over and over without challenging it, complicating it, or digging deeper in any way. There is far more summarization here than argument, and I don’t know what your reader (who you are supposed to think of as one of your classmates) is supposed to learn from or take away from this essay.