Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Revision Instructions

These instructions are a reminder/update of what’s going on for the next couple weeks.

First, just so everyone is clear - there is no regular essay due next week. You should be working on your revisions instead. These revisions will be due by next Wednesday at 9:30 p.m.

We will continue to discuss revisions for the next two classes. There are also many details on the syllabus. But as a reminder, here are the basics.

  1. You are expanding, rewriting, or reimagining one of your earlier essays. While you should pay attention to my advice and the advice of others, your goal should be neither to minimize your work nor to slavishly follow comments, but to present your best work, where your focus will be your argument. You should do much more work than you would for a weekly essay, but I am not expecting lengthy papers - 5 good pages is the minimum, with at least 2 of those being wholly new writing.

  2. Using at least one outside academic source is required. You need to cite your source(s) accurately, although I will not penalize you for, e.g., incorrect formatting in your bibliography. You should use Pitt’s library (physical or digital) for your research. We will briefly discuss citation in our next class.

  3. Using literary criticism is an obvious strategy, but it would be easy enough to fit in sources from other disciplines - Biology, Psychology, Philosophy, etc. If the source(s) is/are academic, and you are citing them, that’s the minimum requirement. Note the links at the bottom of the post!

  4. I will discuss at least 1 or 2 of your essays in class next week, so I’m looking for volunteers. If you want us to discuss your work (and you should - it’s a very helpful process), send me a link to the one you want to discuss, or email me the version you have started to revise, before our next class.

  5. The following links summarize my position on plagiarism, the English departments position, and give you an introduction to the MLA citation method. Other methods of citation are fine also! The MLA is just the default for this class - not a requirement.

I am also giving you a link to the MLA Bibliography, on Pitt’s digital library (you may need to be on campus, or to log in remotely to the digital library, to access it). For research in literary criticism, this is the usual starting point. For instance, you might load the bibliography, then conduct a search on Silko to see the wealth of research which is open to you.

Plagiarism and Citation: my summary

Plagiarism: Pitt’s English Department

MLA Citation: Purdue’s Page

MLA Bibliography: via Ebsco

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Weekly Responses to Bechdel and Kandisky

I noticed that no one has posted this thread for everyone to respond yet, so I'm putting it up.

One person has appeared to have responded in their own post, but I figured there needed to be a big thread where everyone can respond to either one of the readings for this week. I hope everyone sees it in time for the deadline.

Response to Bechdel

On pages 138 and 139 of Fun Home, Bechdel talks about trying to diagnose her OCD on her own. I think the pictures are especially interesting because they seem to contradict her statements. For example, she says, "the explanation of repressed hostility made no sense to me. I continued reading, searching for something more concrete". In the picture, we see Bechdel calmly reading about the possible reason for her OCD, claiming that the explanation given in her book does not make sense, yet in the background her parents' silhouetted figures are seen arguing. So, she is claiming that repressed hostility does not apply in her situation, yet her parents are prime examples of such feelings. Her parents never fought directly in front of Alison, yet their arguments still affected her without her even noticing it. Is it possible that Bechdel's father's actions had more of an affect on Bechdel than she realizes? If yes, how so?

Monday, September 22, 2014

Blake, metaphor and analogy.

Blake showed us a depressing, suffering, and cold world in Songs of Experience. Teenagers were stuck in the school; “hapless soldier’s sigh”; “youthful harlot’s curse”; people’s mind and desire were imprisoned by the traditional concept and religion. He gave us a dark, ugly and evil “experience” world. It just so different compared to Songs of Innocence. I was shocked by the feelings that Songs of Experience express to me. In “The Sick Rose” and “the Tiger”, Blake showed his remarkable skills to describe things by metaphors and analogies. He did not directly tell us how this world looks like, but used those metaphors and analogies to provide a vivid picture to make us feel this world.

In “The Sick Rose”, Blake described an invisible worm tired to find a sick rose in a howling storm night in the first section. It made me think about what will happen. In the second section, the worm find the rose actually, and “his dark secret love destroyed rose’s life.” The first thought I come up with is a young man take away the girl’s chastity. The illustration about this poem also proved my thought since girls become the rose’s leaves, and the worm eat the leaves up left in the picture. It looks like the rose already dying; represent those girls are lost them themselves in the dark secret love. The selfish and evil “worm” destroyed the pure “rose”. It is interesting I come up with a second thought after I read the poem on the illustration. Why does the “worm” look like full of energy? He tried so hard to go up. In the opposite, the rose droop her head on the ground, looks like decadent and lost. The girl in the middle of the rose tried to hug something. Even if the “worm” represents some bad evil things, does the rose one hundred percent pure? I doubt that. It made me think about an old principle in China, there is no simply black or white in the real world, most of things are gray. It reminds me that evil and foul exists in everyone’s soul, the appearance of beautiful do not decide the inside good and evil. I have to say combine the poem and illustration actually give me much more thoughts compare to read poem only. The way Blake used to express his mind provided us more choices to understand his poem.

In “The Tiger”, Blake used his words to describe a powerful king of the beasts. The whole poem repeated using fire to describe the tiger. When I read this poem, the hot feeling occupied my mind. What is a tiger? Just an animal? I have to say most of time tiger symbolizes power. After I read the poem I keep thinking why Blake gave us a vivid picture of a tiger. The whole Songs of Experience tried to describe a cold, cruel and depressing world; a tiger seems like do not belong to this world. I keep thinking about the tiger and I come up with a roughly idea --- this tiger means revolution. The fire and the tiger made me felt the violence and the heat only revolution can bring to this world. If we suppose the illustration is a small world, we can see the tiger burned the whole world (the whole poem is on fire in the illustration). After the revolution the sky is still blue, but the cost of revolution damaged the whole society. The second guess is that the tiger is a monarch or a hierarchy. In the illustration, there is only a tiger in the picture without any other creatures. It represents some kind of king’s situation --- there is only sky above his head, and ground under his feet, except these two things, everyone is his subject. Those two thoughts also come up with the understanding of the combination of poem and illustration.

In the Songs of Innocence and Experience, Blake used the metaphor and analogy to express infinite thoughts in finite poems. The illustrations also give us more choices to consider his poems. “The Sick Rose” and “The Tiger” are two good examples to show how he expressed his idea in the poem and illustration. When we come up with one thought and the illustration will remind us other possible ideas. It helped me to think deeply and widely. The metaphor and analogy both in poems and illustrations lead us into Blake’s “innocence and experience world”.

Blake's Weeping Women

Blake’s Weeping Women

            William Blake’s Songs of Experience shows the dark revelations born of experience. With this break from the more optimistic Songs of Innocence come a new, darker pallet, and more despairing imagery. Specifically, two poems contain imagery that, although not mentioned directly in the poem are of great importance. Both, “The Angel” and “My Pretty ROSE TREE” rely on the image of a despairing woman, sprawled on the ground. These women exemplify the despair, and fall from grace due to the experiences of life.
            Blake’s poem “The Angel” emphasizes the hardening of one’s demeanor towards life as experience builds. It states the difference between expectation and reality, and the emotional downturn from that gap when the narrator states, "I was a maiden Queen... and I wept," (Blake location 446). The image of the woman, lying on the ground, turned away from the angel signifies the turning away from God. The poem states the disappointment in life, but furthermore the women’s movement away from the angel signifies movement from God.
            The second poem, “My Pretty ROSE TREE” is similar to the first in its overt message. It expresses the narrator’s displeasure based on the difference between reality and their expectations. The narrator expected the rose tree to be bountiful, and beautiful, but instead that was not the case. He or she says, "But my rose turnd away," (Blake location 463). The deeper meaning, when viewed in conjunction with “The Angel” given the similar imagery, is displeasure with the natural way of life, the way of God.
            In both cases, life and experience holds only disappointment, but the imagery depicts a deeper meaning as it relates to the religious undertones present in the poem. The imagery signals a turn away from the religious; it shows the disenchantment with religion when faced with reality.  When viewed in contrast to poems in Songs of Innocence, this difference becomes even more compelling. The imagery serves to ask a question of the viewer. It questions who is truly responsible for life events. Are they due to pre-destination or in-life actions? Through his imagery, Blake seems to suggest the former. 

Blake, William, and Geoffrey Keynes. Songs of Innocence and Experience: Shewing the Two Contrary                            States of the Human Soul; 1789 - 1794. Kindle ed. London: Oxford U, 1977.

The Words Hidden in the Picture

                Blake has this technique of letting his images bring out the nuances that a reader might miss in his words. His work of poems may be more thoroughly interpreted when spoken out loud rather than read. This is why the colors and images were carefully selected. They are meant to represent the underlying meaning of the words when reading silently. When examining the image for “The Clod and the Pebble,” the illustration clearly demonstrates the overlying theme of the poem. In this case, the physical poem structure matches the layout of the image; as in the two almost mirror one another. There is a symmetry found in the layout of the poem and of the image accompanying it. The content of the image is where the differences reach passed the surface of the poem. Blake is manipulating love and purity in this poem, and the difference in animals also reflects the idea of naivety vs experience. The picture also has certain factors that tie it together as one cohesive unit, but also shows the difference in tone from beginning to end of the poem that a reader may not pick up on.
                The actual beginning and end of the poem are very similar. Blake edits the phrase “builds a Heaven in Hells despair” for the end of the first stanza and the end of the poem itself. Though the tone has changed, the words and the symmetry of the poem has not. The picture also follows this structure. The words are framed by two similar horizontal landscapes. Though the content is different, there is a sense of sameness that each half of the picture contains. The image is pleasing to the eye because it is organized in an almost equal way. There are clearly divided lines, creating the three separate sections. The separate sections in the image also coincide with the three stanzas that are in the poem. At a cursory glance it seems as if Blake wants his poem to match up with a false sense of knowledge.
                In the Songs of Innocence, the poems and the themes did not go much further than skin-deep. Blake is using the add-on of pictures to create this false sense of innocence when reading the Songs of Experience. If the picture and the words are so clearly arranged; if they are simple to organize in a pretty picture, than the meaning can be found at face value. Experience is deeper than the surface however.
                The importance of the different animals and organization of the panels comes into play. The top half of the image (pairing with the first half of the poem) can be once again given a face value meaning. The cattle represents the cattle mentioned in the poem. Blake lines up the cattle, though, in height order. There is a logical way in which the livestock is placed. The tone of the poem in the start is echoing that of the Songs of Innocence. “Love seeketh not Itself to please” (Blake 32). Love is portrayed as this pure and innocent object. Love is not meant to be complicated, or have any other purpose than to serve others and to be selfless. The cattle, though in a herd, are not crowded or snapping at one another. They know their purpose is to serve their masters and go as they are prodded.
                Ducks are not animals that are restricted to one way of life. They can swim, they can waddle, and they can fly. They are complicated creatures that do not need guidance on where to go. They are not in control of humans at all. Cattle are bred for human consumption, and though duck can be on the menu, it is only by chance. For now, the duck is sitting in the brook along with the pebble, but there is no say on how long he will stay. Experience manipulates people’s philosophies, mentalities, and ultimately their lives. Blake is trying to show how something even as innocent as love can be just as damaged by reality as anything else. Moving from the top to the bottom of the image is showing the overlying theme of “The Clod and the Pebble”.

                The words and the phrases create a textual symmetry that is echoed in the picture that is joined with the poem. The similarities are only on the surface and Blake proves that with his use of the animals. The change of animals and of spacing in the panels shouts out to the small nuances of tone in the poem itself. 

Bechdel - Her Father's Real Home

Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home tells the story about a father’s personality and how it covered up his lie to his family, and how that ultimately affected their family dynamic.  The book has many symbols to accompany this point of view, two of which are the homes that the Bechdel family owned, one being the family home, and the other the funeral home they ran as a business.  In particular, the funeral home, dubbed the “Fun Home” by Bechdel, helps describe her father’s character.  To look at this it is somewhat helpful to first consider Bechdel’s own personality and its flaws.  Throughout the book Alison Bechdel writes with a cold cynicism and openly admits to feeling hollow inside.  She feels little emotion about anything and often considers doing things just to see if it will cause a response in her, so that she can have some proof that she isn’t completely devoid of sentiment.  This is a behavior that has stemmed from the upbringing she received.  The Bechdel family did not actively engage in physical contact like many other families might.  Bechdel describes one instance from her childhood, where she attempted to kiss her father goodnight and only achieved an awkward peck on his hand, an experience she herself was uncomfortable with.  Her father’s look of confused annoyance speaks to how set apart the family members are from real interaction with each other.  This is why the “Fun Home” is so important to Bruce Bechdel’s analysis.  Because he is clearly unable to have normal contact with his family one can assume he trouble with people in general.  He is more at ease taking care of the dead than of the living.  This points to his very introverted nature, and the profession does not require him to be open with anyone, and he possibly finds a sense of morbid peace in escaping to the sanctuary of the embalming room.  It is ironic that he teaches twelfth grade English, essentially a class where interaction is very necessary.  Dealing with lively young adults all day, he is driven to the funeral home to escape his personal burden of uncomfortableness around people.
            Another way that the funeral house is shown to be Bruce’s true home is that he may have a particular preference for viewing people from a detached angle.  Preparing bodies for burial and seeing them on his table gives Bruce the ability view them in his own way and to create an illusion in his mind that suits him.  The artwork of the photographs that Alison found in her dad’s belongings from their beach vacation helps explain this.  The photographs of Roy that Bruce had hidden away shows that he enjoys seeing images of his interests from a more removed perspective, and instead of seeing the person face to face he wants the still image so that he can conjure up the fantasy so it best suits him.  This mental characteristic can be tied back to his job of preparing bodies for interment.  He enjoys the detachment of seeing a person without their knowledge because his emotions are not suited to personal engagement, and to him seeing the bodies gives him control of his perception of the scenario.  The deceased person cannot interact with him so the uncomfortable interaction does not exist for Bruce, and he is free to follow his own course of thoughts.
            This fascination with the dead may also stem from more than just Bruce’s inherent tendency for voyeurism.  From working at the funeral home, Bruce may have become enamored with death because to him it would be the ultimate escape from his lack of emotion towards his family.  He may have become fixated on it enough to set it up on a pedestal as his ultimate goal, something as ideal but unattainable.  The “Fun Home” represents his desire to kill himself because the way he dedicated himself to the work without ever complaining about it shows that he saw a purpose in it for himself, working at it because he saw his own death his mind.  By leaving his copy of Camus’ A Happy Death laying around, Alison makes the comment that he could have been doing it on purpose.  This highlights his desire to meet his end in some planned fashion.  He may have not originally seen himself reaching the point of his own death when he wanted it because of his family, and Alison describes the story of his death as an accident.  The truck driver said Bruce jumped back into road as “as if he had seen a snake.”  This shows that Bruce probably just saw an opportunity and finally decided to act on it, to bring his desires to fruition. 

            The “Fun Home” symbolizes many things for Bruce, his sanctuary for his own personality, his obsessions and desires.  The way Alison Bechdel uses it to epitomize her father’s characteristics shows what it was for him, and how it represents what he really wants in his life, that being his own death and escape.

The Human Abstract- An Internal Struggle (Prompt 1)

                A man, trapped underneath restrictive ropes, seems to be struggling to free himself; in “The Human Abstract,” a piece in the “Songs of Experience” collection from William Blake, we see a situation concerning the importance of religion and the threads that figuratively tie the world together. The poem, clear as it may seem in its message that there cannot be one thing without its inverse, is brought to life by the sense of stress in the image.
                The man who resides on the bottom of the page is perplexed, or maybe angry, that he cannot free himself from the ropes holding him in place. When looked at within the context of the poem, this might be a reference to the stranglehold that mortality has over him. “Pity would be no more, If we did not make somebody Poor,” (SIC) it reads, “And Mercy no more could be, If all were as happy as we.” The words show that, to feel one thing, we have to be able to feel the opposite. To know that we are “fortunate”, for example, we must be able to see what “unfortunate” is. The image at the bottom of the page is a testament to how this knowledge traps us.
                At first glance, the image appears to be predominantly negative. Some further association with the text of the poem reveals, however, that this may not be the case. The man is on his knees, which might be a reference to the line that reads “He sits down with holy fears, And waters the ground with tears: Then Humility takes its root, Underneath his foot.” (SIC). He is afraid of what it means to be human, he is trapped by it, and yet he is on his knees because he respects the idea that he has no control over this fact.

                There are rules that must be followed to be a functioning member of society. And as this man gets older, he struggles to see the purpose, yet he understands and abides. He tries to escape, but the ropes- possibly representing social order- keep him in what we can assume is his proper place in society.  The last section of the poem reads, “The Gods of the earth and sea Sought thro’ Nature to find this Tree, But their search was all in vain: There grows one in the Human brain”. (SIC) This tree could be a physical manifestation of “order”, and if it is, then these words serve to prove that this old man is struggling over the idea that social order is created within his head, and not by the outside world, hence his inner feelings of being conflicted.

Bechdel - Bruce's House

Fun Home, by Alison Bechdel takes an introspective look back on various life events which have effectively shaped her understanding of her father, her emotions, and the world.  Bechdel realized the nonconformist nature of both her father and his relationship to the family home from a young age, and this perspective of her father only grew more complex with time.  Their father Bruce uses the family home as his personal canvas in which to manifest his insecurities and vices in a composed and articulated manner.  The first exposure to Bruce reveals highly atypical behavior, a finely tuned knack for interior design and the overwhelming urge to micromanage every usable square inch of space present in the house.  Bechdel describes that from an early age her father’s behavior and attitude toward his projects within the house were passionate, as well as the work of a martyr.  This iconic description is coupled with a striking black silhouette of their house juxtaposed against an almost religious image of her father hunched over wearing only shorts carrying a carved piece of lumber on his back (Bechdel 14).
Bechdel viewed space within the house not as belonging to the family, but as an extension of her father. Every turn in the house left you face to face which one of his carefully created bourgeois projects ranging from chandeliers reminiscent of French bordellos, to aging mahogany chippen-dales.  Bruce Bechdel was obsessed with the illusion of luster.  He invested himself fully in the pursuit of restoring the house back into the gleaming Victorian era house it was no longer.  Manipulating the appearance of items within the house to portray some sense of false imagery became a central motif in deciphering Bruce’s own psyche.  Troubled by the demons of his past, he strives to create a sense security in his home, and in public by playing the role of the “ideal husband and father”.  When in reality, his private life exposes a stark contrast  accompanied by the occasional sherry-sipping young male who finds their way into the charade of the Bechdel library.
 Through scenes in the family house, it becomes apparent that Bechdel’s father felt if he did not actively manage every aspect of life inside the house, he had no control at all.  This may be due to Bechdel’s father being motivated by the helpless feeling of not being able to control certain aspects of his very own life, such as desires and sexual orientation.  This level of control does not stop at the superficial level of furniture and appearance however, as Bechdel recounts the micromanagement of her life down to the color coordination of her clothes (Bechdel 36).
Even the most intimate spaces for childhood expression and development were off limits to the Bechdel children’s creativity.  Bruce viewed his children’s rooms as accessories to the greater good of his period masterpiece, contrarily to their typically role as a child’s safe haven to escape the pressures of the outside world.  Alison was allowed no say in her father’s decision to plaster pink floral print wallpaper throughout her room (Bechdel 13).  Bruce could often be seen making these stylistic decisions as well as meddling through the house touching up features of his children’s rooms.  As the story progresses, more of Bruce’s items are added into Alison’s room, including an ornate mirror.  These actions further shows Bruce’s determination to achieving normativity in the respective sense of the house as a whole.  For if one single room was not created under the idealized image of Bruce’s imagination, the house, and Bruce by extension, would seemingly be unable to function as a whole.
The house plays a central role in the foundation and development for young children, especially considering the specific and unique atmosphere of the family dynamic.  The atmosphere created within the Bechdel house is one of fleeting emotion and increasing despondence.  Its condition was a mix between a museum and an operating room, flawlessly clean while containing a trove of rich articles, best mirroring the life Bruce wants to ultimately portray, while carefully disguising any weakness or flaws in his own structure. 

Prompt 2: The Mansion vs. The "Fun House"

                Fun Home, by Alison Bechdel, is in my opinion, a comment on the flaws of society as a whole. Bechdel spends her childhood with her mother, father, and siblings in a large mansion that her father, Bruce, is infatuated with restoring and improving even though it is already complete as far as fixtures and furniture and appearance goes. Bechdel also spends time living with her grandmother in the family owned funeral home which she refers to as the “Fun Home,” as she enjoys her time spent there more so than the time she spent at her other house. I believe that this is some sort of metaphor for closet homosexuals versus those who are openly gay.
                Bechdel’s father was married to a woman, but was secretly having affairs with younger men. Just like the mansion, his marriage and family looked perfect from the outside, but things weren’t as good as they seemed. Bruce seemed like the ideal husband to some, but Alison wrote on page 17: “But would an ideal husband have sex with teenage boys?” In the photo on that page, Bruce’s eyes can be seen staring at one of the altar boys, probably checking him out. Bruce was married and wanted to keep the façade of his “perfect family” intact, and coming out as gay would’ve changed all of that. It became evident that when his wife was thinking about filing for divorce he decided to take his own life rather than have the truth come out. I believe that Bechdel was trying to point out that if society were more accepting of homosexuals, maybe Bruce never would have married a woman in the first place and could’ve been comfortable with being with a man openly.

                The “Fun Home” was the place Alison preferred to stay. Ironically, it was a funeral home, which is not a place where your average child would enjoy living. However, compared to the mansion, the funeral home was a lot better, partly because Alison’s grandmother lived there, and she would tell stories about Alison’s father getting stuck in the mud as a child, which painted him as being vulnerable, which is a trait that he did not show off around his kids. Everything in the “Fun Home” is straightforward and as it appears. From the dead bodies lying in the caskets to the modest furniture and fixtures, what you see is what you get at the “Fun House.” This is symbolic of Alison being openly gay later in her life. Unlike her father, she tells her mother that she is gay and is able to openly be who she really wants to be, regardless of what others think. 

Not so Fun Home

            Not every family is normal. Some have only one parent, some have grandparents in the mix, some feature same sex parents, there may be abuse, may be spoiling, poverty and the Bechdel family had quite the unique dynamic. In Fun Home Alison Bechdel recounts this story through the comic book medium. After only reading the first half, one can understand how this unique family life came into fruition. The head of the household was the Father and the way he prioritized his life caused many problems within the family. The fact that he cared more for how the wallpaper looked rather than how his kids feel was what seemed to be the main issue.
            The father was an English teacher who also helped with a funeral home. Those two professions are radically different than an interior designer and landscaper, which were his true passion. His whole adult life was essentially spent perfecting his home. Looking at the words of the story, this is the conclusion that would be drawn. However, looking at the images a drastically different view can be taken. After considering how Alison Bechdel illustrated her frames is leads one to believe the father was living a secret homosexual life and his strive to perfecting his environment is due to his inability to control his secret life.
            To live a lie is a very detrimental act on your interaction with others. The father could not fully express his innate love for his children. As many images show, the father has a stoic expression. Even while trying to fix the house, trim the hedges all that is done, his face remained blank faced. If something takes up almost all your time, something that is essentially all optional, why would it cause no joy? This may be because all of what he does is simply a façade.
            While the father wanted to live his true life, he had to hide it from his family, so he did all he could to express his sexual orientation throughout the design of the house. As Alison put it “What kind of man but a sissy could possible love flowers this ardently” (Bechdel 90)? This fascination with flowers may be his way of trying to plant his feelings away and hope they grow and bud into a new beautiful plant. Which could be his attempt at trying to hide his secret in a way that it may grow into something else more innocent.
            All of his life he was hidden away somehow. Looking through the first half, one will notice the father is doing one of two things, working or reading. Hardly ever though, will there be a smile on his face. Even when the grandma tells the story of him as a child getting stuck in mud, his expression is stone cold. His emotions mirrored that of his obelisk collection, stone like. The obelisk also interesting since it symbolizes, according to him, life; but also is a phallic symbol of sorts while also being his headstone at the cemetery. All of this adds up to describe the father in an abstract way. He is a resigned figure that has a hidden life. The obelisk is a stone figure head that covers his corpse six feet underground. He is hiding his life six feet within himself, doing all he can to cover up how he truly is.
            The happiest the father ever looked was on page 120. The illustration is of several photos of Alison’s father when younger. She attributes one of him in a bathing suit to possibly being part of a fraternity prank. However, she points out that most boys in fraternities when carrying out a prank, would feel slightly uncomfortable or just be quite silly about it; her father seems to be “lissome, elegant” (Bechdel 120). He seems to only be comfortable once finally able to express himself fully. Another photo shows what may be the first smile on his face in the book. It depicts him sunbathing and possibly with his lover, when compared to a photo of herself smiling with the same exuberance on her birthday as her lover took the pic. She makes it seem like together they are parallels and gives an insight into how her father feels.
            Overall, every action and symbol of Alison Bechdels father’s life was an attempt to conceal the feelings inside. He had homosexual affairs, yet was married with two kids. He attempted to bury away his feelings by planting flowers, collecting obelisks, painting the shingles, rolling on wallpaper, organizing rooms. Every which way to keep himself busy, including whisking off into a book with any downtime. The efforts he put into hiding his life ultimately hurt his families. The mother a once exuberant woman with dreams of traveling the world into looking perpetually unapproachable and unhappy. She must have felt the repercussive effects of the dulled love from her husband. Even, the father himself could no longer handle how he was living his life, with possibly taking his life at 44.   

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 façade 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.

Prompt 2: Escape to The World of Flowers

In Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic, the author's father has two jobs designated by society: a mortician at the “fun home”, the funeral home and a father at the “gothic palace”, their family home. He feels obligated to do these jobs but approaches them with minimal efforts. In other words, he shows up for work but disengages his mind from them during work as much as possible. To him, the roles of a mortician and a father confine him from being who he is and who he could be: a free spirited poet and a homosexual. Planting, decorating and arranging flowers are his escape from this reality. His obsession with flowers diverts his mind from his duties. By devoting himself to flowers, he is a step closer to his ideal self and away from his real life. 

By day, the author's father is the mortician in a small town. This is a stable family business that pays the bills to support his family but far from what he envisions his career could be. He identifies himself as American author and poet Scott Fitzgerald and wishes for a life like Fitzgerald--adventurous, free-spirited, and fierce pursuit for love. On location 33, an artwork shows the author's father arranging the flowers delivered by the florists at the “fun home”; “ugly as they were, their quick, damp scent masked the odor of formaldehyde” (Location 33). This is a metaphor to his opinion on his job. He hates the ugly flowers, but he hates being a mortician much more. By taking time to fix the flowers, he is able to free his mind from his occupation. During this very moment, he is expressing himself artistically, bringing him closer to his idol Fitzgerald.

After his day job at the fun home, the author's father returns home where he is expected at his other occupation--a father. Again, he relies on flowers to escape his responsibilities. His house is an “efflorescence of bulbs, buds, and blooms, flowers wild and cultivated, native and imported, flowering vines and trees” (location 32). To have flowers bloom all year all requires the gardener to take care of the different kinds of flowers all year long; the imported species demand more attention and upkeep than indigenous species. Furthermore, maintaining this sheer volume of flowers requires a tremendous amount of time to properly water, weed, and cultivate. The author's father chooses to dedicate his free time to gardening around his house instead of spending time with his children because again, doing so relieve him from his role of a masculine father. Instead, it allows him to express his femininity. During the rare case that he does throw a ball around with his children, the game would immediately comes to a stop as soon as the ball rolls near one of his flowers, “there my father would become lost to us in a revert of weeding” (location 33). Playing baseball with his children is a going beyond his minimal effort approach to parenting because the game bonds the players. He, on the other hand, wishes to distance himself emotionally as much as possible because his kids are reminders for the person he is not. Therefore, when the ball appears to roll near his flowers, he conveniently excuses himself to disengage from the unpleasant “reminders”.

Inside the “gothic palace”, the author’s father also turns to flowers for his rescue when he is expected to fulfill his fatherly duties. For example, location 33 shows an artwork of him painting twinning roses on the eggs at the dinner table during Easter.  Holidays are times of family gathering and celebration. In a normal family, members usually ask about each other's lives, tell stories and make jokes. It is not the case in the author's family. From the picture, you can tell that her father is highly concentrated on painting flowers on the eggs with a tiny brush. Such detail orientated and delicate task cannot be preformed without extreme concentration, allowing him to not to communicate or interact with his wife or children. 

Arranging, planting and decorating flowers require lots of time and attention just like jobs and bringing up children. The author’s father's chooses to do devote his time to flowers instead of his job and family. It is his escape from the duties that the society has given him as a mortician and a father.