Wednesday, October 8, 2014

The Bechdel Family Prison (Revision)

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 Alison’s father, I believe it was used as a cover for his homosexual frustrations. The suffocating home was only wavered when Alison generated her self-discovery. This faltered Bruce Bechdel’s prison and ultimately caused his death.
On page 7 of Fun Home, it is quoted that the home was Bruce’s passion in every sense of the word. It represented a prison where Bruce Bechdel served as the warden to his jailed children. His repressed feelings filled the air and every detail of the home with fear.  They walked on eggshells in their own home. There were two distinct moods for Bruce and like the Daedalus and Icarus reference, he structured the house as a dictated 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.
When they first bought the house, Bruce transformed it from a bare shell into a piece of art. Throughout the years, he continued to maintain its visual appearance with great peculiarity. He spent his days tidying up the house, whether it was polishing, decorating or arranging flowers. He even enlisted Alison and her brothers to do some of the housework. They essentially became his personal “prisoners.” He was also particular with his appearance. If even 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 demand Alison to change. He would force her to wear barrettes and dresses, threatening to punish her if she would not comply. 
“You need some pearls.”
“No way!”
“What’re you afraid of? Being beautiful? Put it on, goddamn it!”
“Leave me alone!” (Bechdel 99)
Bruce didn’t ask of these things in a polite manner. He used aggression and left no room for rebuttal. This created negative effects in the home. Alison stated, “I grew to resent the way my father treated his furniture like children, and his children like furniture” (14).
Bruce’s need for control in the house and in the family stemmed from the constant need to control his homosexual gestures. In the confinement of his home, he took on meticulous tasks as if to create the illusion that his life was in order.  “His shame inhabited our house as pervasively and invisibly as the aromatic musk of aging mahogany” (20). His tyrannical power within the home was an outlet for his frustrations. Tensions were high. It could clearly be seen that Alison and her father had ideas of their homosexuality, 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).
            As Alison grew older, she became more aware of herself and although scared, she stepped outside of her father’s grip and into her own comfort zone. This is why I believe that Alison provided an outlet for her father’s homosexuality. Through her, Bruce was able to show glimmers of humanity. It brought down the wall between the world and his homosexuality. At the same time, I also believe that Bruce became an outlet for Alison as well. He gave her the push towards her true sexuality and even provided her books with homosexual references. Through Alison’s exploration, she became more open with her sexuality, got a girlfriend and even joined the Gay Union. Therefore, I believe that Alison and her father are catalysts of one another. This is evidenced in the moments where Alison and her father seem to have a mutual understanding of one another, acting more as father and daughter instead of warden and prisoner. “Between us lay a slender demilitarized zone – our shared reverence for masculine beauty” (99). Alison felt that despite her father’s ruthless behavior, they were able to find peace with one another when they connected through homosexual interests.  
In, “Perceptual Investigation of Psychoanalytic Theory Concerning Latent Homosexuality in Women,” a study was conducted on latent homosexuality. Although the study took place in 1965, it can be used in reference to the psychology of the time period Bechdel’s story took place.  A correlation was made between vulnerability and latent homosexuality. A study was conducted where the level of homosexual awareness and the processes of vigilance and defense were affected. It was predicted that stimuli that provided high levels of homosexual threat would produce “ego defensive operations and evoke perceptual vigilance” (645). In other words, when being confronted with items of homosexual suggestion, the individuals would bring up defense mechanisms to protect themselves. This can be seen in Bruce with his own latent homosexuality. His defense mechanism was the family prison he called home. In a prison, people, feelings and guilt all get repressed within the walls. This is exactly what happened to Bruce. His homosexual repressions caused his home to become the prison for his “flaws” and he controlled the repression of those “flaws.” Further into the study, visuals of male genitalia and nude males and females produced a threat for latent homosexuals (646). “The high group had longer latencies for each of the high-threat pictures and shorter latencies for each low-threat picture than the low group.” Therefore, the results supported the psychoanalytic theory of ego playing an important role in the confrontation of psychosexual stimuli.
This is similar to Bruce Bechdel and his methods of repression. Bruce appeared to be an ideal husband and father on the outside and expressed this visad outside of the home. In reality, he was a mysterious source of chaos and only made this known inside of his home. Alison knew this and even wondered, “…would an ideal husband and father have sex with teenage boys?” (17). Bruce of course did not want anyone to know about his relations with Roy and other young boys around town. Doing so would hurt his ego and image.
Similarly, when Alison presented him with homosexual threats, he had latency towards them. Once when Alison and Bruce were at a diner, Alison hinted that she wanted to look like the woman truck driver. She was a female, but she dressed like a male. Alison didn’t directly admit that she wanted to look like that because she didn't want to be judged, but her father suspected that she did. This underlying understanding happened once again when they bonded over suits. Alison liked a man’s suit in a magazine for the way it looked and Bruce liked it because he thought the male model wearing the suit was attractive. Although their objects of desire were different, there was a shared interest (99). The turning point was when Alison revealed herself to be a lesbian. This threat was not a temporary one, but a permanent one from one of his “prisoners.” Once Alison was able to accept the homosexual threats she kept encountering and learned that she was a lesbian, it was a tremendous relief. She was better able to understand herself because of it. It is important to note, however, that this realization happened outside of her family home. She discovered her true self through reading books and exploring in college. Parting with the home meant being released from the detrimental prison her father kept her hostage in.  Although, I do believe that Bruce did initialize Alison’s discovery. As mentioned before, he gave her reading material with references to her sexuality. On the other hand, Alison’s father does not directly come out as being gay.  Therefore, he is never able to escape the house and all that he is in it.
It is a peculiar relation that Bruce Bechdel died shortly after Alison announced herself as a lesbian.  “You could say that my father’s end was my beginning. Or more precisely, that the end of his lie coincided with the beginning of my truth” (117). Once some of Bruce’s true self was expressed, it became more difficult to repress. This eventuality led to the failure of his prison. He lost control of his inmates, particularly Alison, and lost control of himself as well. His discipline was hindered, although it could also be seen as his freedom as well as Alison’s freedom.
As a result, it could be said that Alison truly did cause her father’s death. She brought out in him the homosexuality that didn’t want to be seen. He repressed it from the world and maybe even from part of his own self for so long, that letting it rise to the surface was all too much to handle, even if it was what he truly wanted. In the end, Bruce Bechdel suffocated in his shallow minded town and wasn’t able to open his real self in face of the public for the fear of being judged. His death, then, was driven by his latent sexuality surfacing through his prisoner, Alison.

Works Cited
Bechdel, Alison. Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2006. Print.

Goldberg, Philip A., and Judith T. Milstein. “Perceptual Investigation of Psychoanalytic          
          Theory Concerning Latent Homosexuality in Women.” Perceptual and Motor Skills 21         
          (1965): 645-646. Web. 4 Oct. 2014.

1 comment:

  1. Your introduction has improved, although I’d like to see you boil down your point into a clear thesis. You have a good territory, but why not stake out a particular place within it?

    Avoid passive constructions, e.g., “it is quoted.”

    I think your next several paragraphs have been somewhat streamlined, which is good, but you spend too much time (still) simply reciting the plot of the book, rather than exploring your particular argument about it. For instance, you would have gained a great deal, and lost very little, by moving some of the material about catalysts to the first paragraph. It’s a good idea. When you have good, specific ideas, foreground them! Now more than in class, I think that might be the best version of this essay - the one that starts with and explores in detail the pretty wild idea of a repressive catalyst.

    I don’t really understand how you get from Bruce’s repression (which is definitely there) to the idea that his sexuality is “latent” and he defends himself from it. I mean, he actively pursues young men, right? So by definition, I don’t think he’s latent at all. That doesn’t make the idea completely irrelevant, but it does make it a lot messier.

    I do understand your (good!) idea that Allison’s sexuality challenges him (him? his repression? what, exactly?). It’s a great idea which is the other obvious candidate for being in the first paragraph of the essay. If your research led you to this idea, it was productive - but using the research is still questionable, because seeing a child’s sexual preference pretty clearly isn’t the sort of stimuli that the research was interested in, right?

    Your ending is too abrupt. The suggestion that she is the catalyst for his death is fine, but if it’s important, I’d like to see more focused evidence for it. If not, I’d like to see it cut.

    Overall: The catalyst idea is quite good, but underdeveloped - it would have taken a whole focused essay on its own to do justice. Arguing that he is specifically and highly threatened especially by her early demonstration of her sexual/gender identity is also a very good idea, but even less developed - again, this would have taken a whole focused essay on its own. I like both ideas, but I like them less together than I would separately. I also think that your evidence was scattered, serve at least two arguments (and some of it serving none). The ideas are still worthy, and this draft has improved quite a bit, but for this to really obtain its potential it would need to be rewritten around *one* clear argument.