Why might Bechdel choose to reveal certain information through drawings of written communication, rather than just telling the reader?
Bechdel invokes the theme of written words through drawings of letters written by herself or by her family members. Often, the contents of these letters reveals information that the author does not mention elsewhere. These images therefore allow the reader a window into the perspective of other characters without the filter of Bechdel's hindsight and voice as a narrator of this memoir. It also reminds the reader about the importance of written communication in the Bechdel family, especially to Bruce, who liked to imagine himself as his favorite writers and the characters from their novels.
What is the effect of Bechdel using art as a lens through which to reflect on her life?
As she relates in this memoir, Bechdel grew up steeped in literature. Her father was an English teacher who maintained an extensive home library, and he impressed upon her from a young age the importance of specific pieces of literature. Her mother was an actress who rehearsed her lines around the house and brought the family to her performances. Thus, it is fitting that Bechdel uses allusions her parents would have understood as a way to understand them.
How does gay history in the United States play a role in Bechdel's own history?
Bechdel interlaces American gay history into her own narrative throughout Fun Home, most noticeably in the final chapter. She uses specific historical events to contextualize the difference between her own experience of coming out and her father's inability to do so. For much of his life, Bruce hadn't even considered being open about his homosexuality an option; in contrast, Alison feels comfortable enough to come out in college and begins dating Joan. Bruce Bechdel died in 1980, only four months after his daughter came out as a lesbian. The 1980s was the height of the AIDS crisis in the United States, and Bechdel wonders if Bruce's risky dalliances with strange men may have led him to contract HIV - and worse yet, if he would have passed it onto Helen.
This is a graphic memoir; how does this specific medium enhance Bechdel's particular story?
Bechdel often includes details in her drawings that she does not otherwise reveal in the narrative, or that she waits to elucidate until a later point. Therefore, the drawings often complement the narrative, or at times, serve as counterpoints. Details that Bechdel includes in her drawings inform to the reader, for instance, the date, how much time has passed since the last anecdote, what the weather was like, and even about a character's mood and/or appearance during a particular scene. By placing certain items or people in the foreground of the drawings, Bechdel is also able to control the reader's gaze and, consequently, suggest the relative importance of those things.
Many of Bechdel's drawings are letters or photographs. Why might she have drawn these things instead of describing them in the written narrative?
By including drawn representations of letters and photographs, Bechdel lends an air of authenticity to her memoir. These are primary sources, and even though the reader knows that Bechdel is choosing which excerpts to include, the inclusion of crossed-out words, errors, and tiny details implies that she has drawn an accurate representation of these artifacts. Thus, though the memoir is clearly a history told from Bechdel's point of view, the letters give Bechdel the opportunity to include the voices of other characters as they intended to express themselves - without the filter of her narration.
Bechdel begins and ends with an allusion to the myth of Daedalus and Icarus. Describe the importance of this particular tale to her narrative.
In ancient Greek mythology, Daedalus was the master craftsman who made wings of wax and feathers. Though he warned his son, Icarus, about the limitations of his creation, the ambitious young man still flew too close to the sun. The wax on his wings melted and Icarus plummeted into the sea. Though this might seem like a neat metaphor for a father-child relationship, Bechdel points out that in the case of her and Bruce, it was the father who flew too close to the sun and died too early. She sees herself both as the child and, in some ways, as the parent. At the end of the memoir, however, she writes that even though Bruce had tragically fallen into the sea - that meant that he was there to catch her. In these final lines, Bechdel uses this allusion to express her acceptance of her father, despite their troubled history.
Death is an important theme in this memoir. Describe how Bechdel approaches death at different points in her life.
Bechdel has a complicated relationship with death. As a child, she and her brothers are exposed to death constantly because their father works in the family funeral home - the "Fun Home" that gives the book its title. She finds more in common with Wednesday Addams than with any of the sunnier literary heroines. When she sees her first cadaver as a teenager, Alison does not show any emotion. Upon hearing of her own father's death, however, she reacts with laughter and irritation instead of breaking down. This is not because she does not care, but rather, death has always seemed absurd to her. Therefore, Bechdel uses works of art to try to understand its meaning. In this way, Fun Home itself is Bechdel's way of dealing with her father's death.
How does the theme of secret sexuality play out in the memoir?
Bruce Bechdel is in the closet for most of his life, even though Helen knows that her husband is cheating on her with many young men. He is so ashamed of being gay that he can never openly speak about his dalliances with other men, even after Alison herself comes out. Though Alison never pretends to be straight, she does keep her sexual exploration secret as a young girl, not even revealing in her diary that she has discovered masturbation. However, Alison is able to shed her shame and come to terms with her sexuality - partially as a result of literature, but mostly because of the supportive community around her. At the end of the memoir, Bechdel contemplates the paradox of her life: her father's shame about his homosexuality is the reason she exists. Had Bruce Bechdel felt comfortable coming out, Alison wonders, would he have ever succumbed to the pressure of heteronormativity?
One of the ways Bechdel understands herself to be an inversion of her father is through their gender identities. How does she represent this tension?
Bechdel discovers her affinity for men's clothing at a young age, before she even realizes that she identifies as a lesbian. She first experiments with cross dressing in high school with her friend Beth, realizing that she prefers to dress in a more masculine style. She notices early on that her fathers tastes are much more effeminate than her own. This manifests itself in his meticulous attention to his appearance and also in his obsession with beautifying their home. Perhaps because Bruce is ashamed of this part of himself, he goes out of his way to enforce femininity upon Alison. Several of her drawings show Bruce forcing Alison to wear barrettes in her hair and to dress like a girl, though she prefers to keep her hair short and dress in a less fussy style. Towards the end of the memoir, Bruce reveals to his daughter that he wanted to be a girl - and while she is excited to make this connection (because she always wanted to be a boy), Bruce is ashamed. This interaction embodies the chasm between father and daughter's approaches to gender identity.
What is the difference between the way that Bechdel uses literature to understand her life and the role that literature played in her father's life?
Throughout Fun Home, Bechdel sets up elaborate literary metaphors in order to add depth to the "characters" in her own life. Citing familiar allusions allows her to represent her experiences more clearly to the reader in addition to better understanding her parents, as she explains. Likewise, in his letters, her father often compared himself to his favorite authors and their characters. The difference between Alison's self-aware approach and Bruce's is that Bruce seems to prefer fiction to reality, at least in his daughter's opinion. Because his life with Helen and his children has so many layers of artifice, he sees himself as living his own fiction.