"My father's death was a queer business - queer in every sense of that multi-valent word."
This is an example of Bechdel using certain words with multiple applicable meanings. Her father's death is queer because he had been secretly queer - at least to her - until just before his death. It is also queer because of the ambiguous circumstances surrouding it. Bechdel strongly suspects that Bruce committed suicide because of the ways in which his death is strangely connected to the deaths of his favorite authors and literary characters - but there is no way to be certain. Bechdel underlines the multiple meanings of the word "queer" by drawing it as it appears in the dictionary.
"I employ these allusions to James and Fitzgerald not only as descriptive devices, but because my parents are most real to me in fictional terms."
Here, Bechdel explains straightforwardly why she has been using so many literary references and comparing her parents' lives to those of authors and their characters. This demonstrates the theme of understanding one's own life through literature - a frequent habit of Bruce Bechdel's that he has passed on to his daughter. The irony of this statement is that Bechdel is immortalizing her parents themselves as "characters" in the work of literature that is Fun Home.
"Sometimes, when things were going well, I think my father actually enjoyed having a family. Or at least, the air of authenticity we leant to his exhibit. A sort of still life with children."
This text appears with an image of Alison, Christian, and John gathered around the Christmas tree, with Bruce looking over the scene in the shadowed foreground. It points to his preference for art over real life and to the theme of artifice that pervades Bechdel's memoir. Alison reveals that Bruce had a furious outburst while setting up the tree, which causes stress for the family. However, once it is done, Bruce admires the scene he has created.
"I felt as if I'd been stripped naked myself, inexplicably ashamed, like Adam and Eve."
Right after a pre-teen Alison sees a calendar featuring a naked woman, she feels vulnerable and exposed. It is as if this image is enticing her to admit that she is attracted to the woman, just as the serpent tricked Eve into eating fruit from the forbidden tree. In the image accompanying this quote, Bechdel draws her younger self sitting next to her father. He is holding a bag of Sunbeam Bread - a symbol of his death, since it was a Sunbean Bread truck that hit him. At this moment, both Alison and her father are ashamed of their secret sexuality; however, Alison is able to overcome that shame while Bruce's eventually leads to his demise.
"I had recently discovered some of Dad's old clothes. Putting on a formal shirt with its studs and cufflinks was a nearly mystical pleasure, like finding myself fluent in a language I'd never been taught."
While Alison has the freedom to explore her sexuality, Bruce is ashamed of his and tries to channel his effeminate tastes through interior decoration and dressing his daughter in very feminine frocks that she hates. However, the masculine shirt that Bruce Bechdel uses to underline his latent masculinity helps young Alison to discover hers. This revelation foreshadows Bruce Bechdel's later admission that as a child, he liked to wear womens' clothes. Ultimately, Alison's coming out prompts Bruce to start speaking to her about his own sexuality, showing the cyclical nature of this parent-child relationship.
"But the best thing about the Wind in the Willows map was its mystical bridging of the symbolic and the real, of the label and the thing itself. It was a chart, but also a vivid, almost animated picture. Look closely... there's Mr. Toad speeding along in the car he bought after becoming disenchanted with his canary-colored caravan."
This is another example of Alison Bechdel using literary allusions as a lens through which to analyze her past. However, Mr. Toad is only a character; the effects of Bruce Bechdel's disenchantment were much more "real." This passage is also a self-referential comment on Fun Home itself. Through Bechdel's images and literary imagery, she, too, has crafted a "mystical bridging of the symbolic and the real."
"It's a curiously ineffectual attempt at censorship. Why cross out the year and not the month? Why, for that matter, leave the photo in the envelope at all? In an act of prestidigitation typical of the way my father juggled his public appearance and private reality, the evidence is simultaneously hidden and revealed."
In this passage, Bechdel is describing a photograph she finds amongst Bruce Bechdel's family photographs after his death: it is of a young man named Roy, the children's' babysitter, with whom Bruce had an illicit affair. In continuing with the theme of secret sexuality, Bechdel insinuates that Bruce could never truly hide his "private reality." The photograph itself is a symbol of how Bruce's secret homosexuality pervaded the family's existence whether or not any of them understood this at the time. Throughout Fun Home, Bechdel reexamines her past memories with the knowledge of her father's internal struggle, and thus allowing her to identify more evidence of his homosexuality which is, like this photograph, hidden in plain sight.
"For years after my father's death when the subject of parents came up in conversation, I would relate the information in a flat, matter-of-fact tone... The emotion I had suppressed for the gaping cadaver seemed to stay suppressed, even when it was Dad himself on the prep table."
Because Bechdel grows up around death, she seems to develop a certain indifference to the idea. Therefore, while others expect to see overt displays of emotion when confronted with the subject of her father's death, Bechdel develops her own ways of grieving, one of which has clearly been the process of writing Fun Home.
"The covert references to homosexuality eluded me. Now I know it was right after The Importance opened on Valentine's Day, 1895, that Wilde's trials began. He'd just returned from Algiers, where he and Alfred Douglas had been disporting themselves with local boys. Douglas's father delivered his famous note to Wilde's club, accusing him of being a sodomite. Indignant, Wilde took him to court for libel and lost. Then, Wilde was tried for committing indecent acts and sent to prison while both The Importance and The Ideal Husband were playing to full houses. In The Importance, illicit desire is encoded as one character's uncontrollable gluttony."
This is an example of Bechdel ascribing literary meaning to certain events in her life. She points out the irony of a celebrated playwright being in prison for his proclivities while his plays are being well-received by rapt audiences; she also identifies Wilde's ability to "encode" his own illcit desire in his work. Therefore, Bechdel implies that society was unknowingly applauding the very aspects of Wilde's identity for which he was being punished. In this passage, Bechdel not only uses the example of Wilde to hold society somewhat responsible for her father's shame, but also to contextualize Bruce Bechdel's struggle.
"What if Icarus hadn't hurtled into the sea? What if he'd inherited his father's inventive bent? What might he have wrought? He did hurtle into the sea, of course. But in the tricky reverse narration that impels our entwined stories, he was there to catch me as I leapt."
In the last pages of the memoir, Bechdel fully integrates her own story into the literary metaphor with which she began. Here, she compares her father to Icarus instead of Daedalus; he goes from being the opaque paternal figure to the young, ambitious man who flew too close to the sun. However, Bechdel understands that it is because of Bruce Bechdel's hidden sexuality she even came into existence; and it is because of him that she has the courage to leap.
Fun Home Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Fun Home is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.
The New York story is important to Alison because it represents the beginnings of her parents' relationship. Helen grew up in New York, met Bruce in New York, and the couple courted there.... it's where it all began. For Alison, their courtship,...
Allison believed her father killed himself because he felt his life was falling apart..... spiraling out of control. He is forty-four years old when he chooses homosexuality over the bisexual lifestyle he'd been leading. This choice led him to...