Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic Summary

Alison Bechdel

Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic

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Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic Summary

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Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic is a 200 graphic-memoir by American cartoonist, Alison Bechdel. Bechdel is best known for her long-running comic strip, Dykes to Watch Out For, which follows a series of diverse characters, many of them lesbians between 1983 and 2008. Similarly, Fun Home explores themes of sexuality and dysfunctional family in a unique blend of memoir and graphic artistry. The book has enjoyed critical success and was adapted into a Broadway musical in 2015.

The memoir chronicles Bechdel’s childhood, growing up in rural Pennsylvania, but is told in a non-linear from. In the course of the memoir Bechdel returns to various memories, re-examines and re-tells them as new information about them comes to light. The most difficult relationship for Bechdel to reconcile is with her father Bruce, who commits suicide by walking out in front of a bus. Before his death, Bruce was a funeral director and high school English teacher, and exhibited a tyrannical rule over the household. Bruce is cold and emotionally distant from the rest of the family, but a domineering figure in the household. He is emotionally abusive and his relationship to Bechdel is especially fraught, marred by many arguments. His two occupations allow Bechdel to situate their relationship as somehow realized through literature, and allow her to consider both his life and death.

Despite ostensibly having much in common with her father, from a deep appreciation of literature, to obsessive-compulsive tendencies and homosexuality, their relationship was very strained. In fact, Bechdel says that they were inversions of one another; they have competing aesthetic sensibilities and Bechdel also postulates that they both tried to use each other to express elements of their own sexuality. Even as a child Bechdel viewed her father as a “big sissy”. She suggests her more masculine gender expressions may have been an unconscious attempt to compensate for him, whereas he desires to express femininity through her which constantly escalated their arguments. Before his death, Bruce confesses parts of his sexual history to his daughter, which includes homosexual experiences from his time in the military, as well as with high school students. Two weeks after Bechdel’s mother requested a divorce, Bruce stepped in front of the bus, though Bechdel muses over whether or not her decision to come out as a lesbian to her parents may have influenced his choice.

The rest of Fun Home is a retelling of Bechdel’s discovery and exploration of her sexual orientation throughout her life. She transcribes entries from her childhood diary, and examines memories in which she fights with her family to express herself as she wants to. For example, she argues her point in order to exchange a feminine two-piece bathing suit for a pair of shorts, or one year asks her siblings to call her Albert, rather than Allison. Bechdel also deals very openly with her developing sexuality as an adolescent, and includes anecdotes about her discover of masturbation, as well as early sexual experiences with her girlfriend, Joan. Bechdel came out at the age of nineteen, but in living as an “out” homosexual feels that she has been upstaged when her mother reveals the truth about Bruce. Bechdel writes that rather than being the “protagonist in my own drama,” she becomes the “comic relief in [her] parents’ tragedy.” By grappling with his sexual orientation, but by continuing to live his life as a straight man (perhaps for the sake of his family, perhaps because of homophobia, it is unclear,) Bruce’s struggle becomes the focal point of Bechdel’s childhood, rather than her own.

It took Bechdel seven years to complete Fun Home, largely because of the laborious process which she used to create the artwork. She took photographs of herself posing as each character, using them as the template for her illustrations.