Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic is a literary work done by Alison Bechdel published in 2007. The author describes her life in the family setting by establishing grounds that led to a battle between her and Bruce, who is her father. Majorly in the book, Bechdel describes how she discovered that she was a lesbian and disclosed that to her family. The author says that “Feminism is the theory lesbianism is the practice” (Bechdel 24). Bechdel’s father was a teacher and former soldier who is associated with sodomizing young boys and had roots in homosexuality while working as service personnel in the Second World War (Bechdel 34). Bechdel and her father had challenges in bonding due to the sexual identity, family dysfunction, and death which form part of the book’s major themes showing significant struggle during Bechdel’s life with her family.
Analysis of Literary Devices
Sexual Orientation and How Bechdel Draws Parallel with Bruce on Sexual Identity
Bechdel draws parallels with her father due to the two sides’ sexual identities. As a result, the sexuality literary theme shows Bechdel ‘s journey when it comes to homosexuality, specifically her feeling of lesbianism and her father’s gay nature. Firstly, at thirteen years, Bechdel almost confronted that her father was gay. Her father had, at one point, bought alcohol for a boy whom he wanted to connect with his brother to be his lover (Torres-Quevedo 45). From this narration, it is clear that Alisson had started seeing signs of strange behavior that her father had when it came to his male friends. According to Torres-Quevedo, “she repeatedly implies that her father’s love of the arts is directly related to his status as a closeted homosexual” (28). This quote shows that the Alison Bechdel significantly dwelt on the sexuality theme as seen in this context.
The theme of sexual orientation is also highlighted when the narrator mention’s Alisson’s fear of disclosing her first monthly periods. Bechdel says “I suppose that a lifetime spent hiding one’s erotic truth could have a cumulative renunciatory effect. Sexual shame is in itself a kind of death.” (Bechdel 48). That shows she had battles within herself and sexual orientation. She decided to keep it a secret since she felt more affined to be a man and not a woman (Bechdel 56). Furthermore, the author reveals that Alisson and her friend, Beth, had once been groomed in boy’s clothes which made Bruce uncompromising.
In another incident, Alisson and her brothers were taken to New York by their father, Bruce. According to the author, the weekend later changed to be ‘gay’ all around (Bechdel 69). The reason is that Bechdel recounts that the family visited the ballet and saw homosexuals in Greenwich before going to the musical A Chorus Line. The next day, John, Bechdel ‘s brother, was approached by a man who was like predating him sexually. Fortunately enough, John could escape and return to the place where they were living (Michael 444). In that aspect, John had discovered his sexuality and did not want to compromise his feelings at the expense of his dignity. Bechdel was unable to bond with her father due to the character that he had portrayed in terms of sexuality.
Dysfunctional Family Setting
More is said about Bruce than Helen, Bechdel’s mother according to the book. The reason is that the parents had contrary opinions regarding the aspect of life, more so, on rearing children. Bruce felt that Helen was significantly demanding to know his life, while Hellen perceived that her husband often disregarded her opinions almost on every matter. The author recounts that there was no longer fun when Bruce came home from his daily obligations since Bechdel would stop playing with her mother Hellen (Bechdel 116). Therefore, the theme of family constraints is highly evident due to the challenges that barred the members from bonding. The father and Bechdel bonded due to the need to do the English that Bruce was teaching (Michael 452). However, due to her father’s overwhelming interest in Bechdel ‘s classes, the two had to draw parallels on that, making Bechdel avoid her father.
The book gives a thematic aspect of the dysfunctional family setting due to the divorce that Hellen demands from Bruce. Bechdel says that “I’d been upstaged, demoted from protagonist in my own drama to comic relief in my parents’ tragedy” (Bechdel 107). That indicates that there were difficulties in the family unity. The author says that even though Bruce died later, his family felt his absence a long time before the demise, proving that there were issues that made them appear disturbed by the union (Lydenberg 140). In the story, Bechdel says that they were forced to work in a funeral home owned by their father. In this context, one would wonder how comes the father had delegated duties that appeared to be oppressive to his children? Additionally, as a family, he had duties to lead by an example by settling disputes with his wife and not allowing his children to spot their differences.
Death is a key theme that the author has established since various aspects support this idea. Firstly, the name ‘fun home’ was given to the funeral home that the family had inherited (Torres-Quevedo 26). It means that part of their business was to deal with people who had died, hence showing the thematic element of death. Secondly, in what appears to be a contentious issue at twilight, Bruce loses his life due to an accident (Fox 522). Bechdel says that her father had committed suicide due to his differences with his family. When Bruce was alive, he had once appeared to be disgruntled, which can be interpreted as the death of his meaning of life. At one point, Bechdel had dreamt of her and her father being involved in a mysterious event to which Bruce falls prey into it (Fox 517). Later on, the accident that claimed his life appears to be the young girl’s dream. From these two perspectives, death is a unique theme significantly portrayed in work.
Bechdel narrated that she had perceived death from another perspective in that it was not sacred to her. Working in a family morgue had distorted her feeling about death, which means she did not fear it (Lydenberg 163). The entire family, led by Helen, did not feel Bruce’s presence, meaning that they had psychologically killed him due to family issues (Torres-Quevedo 41). All these elements that the author talks about convey the message about death, which is an evident theme in the book.
In the book Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic, the author expresses various themes that show how Bruce and his household had struggles of uniting as one family. Alison Bechdel, the main character, is battling her feeling about being a lesbian. Additionally, her father, Bruce, had shown homosexual feelings for a long time when Bechdel was young. The sexual orientation theme is evident through the work due to the elements that are presented about sex by the author. Other themes that the text talks about comprise family dysfunction and death. Bruce and his wife Helen have challenges bonding with their children, which shows a problem with family. Controversially, the funeral homeowner, Bruce, dies in an accident, strengthening the theme of death as evidently presented in Alison Bechdel’s book.
Bechdel, Alison. Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic. Mariner Books, 2007.
Fox, Meghan C. “Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home: Queer Futurity and the Metamodernist Memoir”. MFS Modern Fiction Studies, vol 65, no. 3, 2019, pp. 511-537. Project Muse.
Lydenberg, Robin. “Reading Lessons in Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic”. College Literature, vol 44, no. 2, 2017, pp. 133-165. Project Muse.
Michael, Olga. “Queering The Family, Reclaiming the Father: Proustian Evocations In Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home”. Biography, vol 43, no. 2, 2020, pp. 430-457. Project Muse.
Torres-Quevedo, María Elena. “Breaking the Autobiographical Pact: Truth and Life-Writing in Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home.”. Revista De Estudios Norteamericanos, vol 7, no. 24, 2020, pp. 23-46. Editorial Universidad De Sevilla.