Fun Home

Fun Home Summary and Analysis of "The Canary-Colored Caravan of Death"


This chapter begins with Bechdel's recollection of dream she had about her father two days before his death, in which she ran to the top of a hill to show him the sunset; but when he arrived, the sun had already set. She thinks about how "his particular sun" (125) both rose and set in the same location: Beech Creek, PA. Despite its relative proximity to the interstate highway, the town always seemed isolated.

Alison Bechdel started writing poetry when she was young; she remembers sharing one particular poem with her father, which was illustrated with a watercolor painting. Soon after that, Bruce saw her coloring in a Wind in the Willows coloring book and scolded her for painting the "canary-colored caravan" blue. After that, Bechdel explains, she stopped coloring and writing poetry.

Helen is also artistic; she was an actress in New York and also plays the piano. Years after Bruce's death, Helen is recording her lines for a play and accidentally tapes over her late husband's voice - he had been crafting a museum tour for the county historical society. Bechdel sees this tape as evidence of the way in which her parents expressed their creativity: in solitude.

Later on, Alison develops obsessive-compulsive disorder. Its effects on her daily life are mostly negative, but one positive outcome is that her condition inspires her to keep a diary. After writing entries, she often goes back over her account of the day and inserts the qualifier "I think"; eventually, she starts replacing this frequent modifier with a symbol - a "curvy circumflex" (142). She imagines that her disclaimer will ward off evil thoughts from the people about whom she is writing. 

Bechdel returns to describing the geographical limitation of her father's life, remembering how strong his Pennsylvania accent had sounded on the taped recording of his voice. She writes that she never remembered him speaking that way; she herself purposefully lost her accent once she went to college.

She then compares a map of Beech Creek to one of "The Wild Wood and Surrounding Country" from the Wind in the Willows book she had as a child. Bechdel's drawings highlight visual similarities between the two worlds, and the subsequent juxtaposition also allows her to write about tragic events through the fantasy lens of the Wild Wood. Mr. Toad speeding along the road in his car reminds Bechdel of a car accident that killed three people in Beech Creek, one of whom was her cousin.

Slowly, Alison overcomes her obsessive-compulsive disorder with some help from her mother. Instead of allowing Alison to write in her own diary, Helen starts taking dictation from her, thus preventing Alison from drawing symbols over all the words.


In this chapter, Bechdel casts a certain inevitably over her father's tragic death. Every projection of how his life could have turned out differently, she writes, involves a "geographical relocation" (125), and yet, Bruce Bechdel's existence revolved around the town of Beech Creek, PA. Bechdel uses a drawing of written words - her father's obituary - to show the reader how geographically limited Bruce's life was. In her rendering of the obituary, Bechdel highlights all the mentions of "Beech Creek," the town in which Bruce Bechdel was born and died. Later in the chapter, she draws two letters that Bruce wrote to Helen while he was in the army: one is handwritten, one is typed. All of these written-word drawings represent Alison Bechdel's attempts to understand her father's specific voice and perspective through his words and words written about him. With each piece of evidence, however, Beech Creek becomes increasingly intertwined with Bruce Bechdel's identity. Alison hears her father's deep Pennsylvania accent in his recorded museum tour (which is about the history of Beech Creek); both excerpts from Bruce's letters to Helen contain poetic descriptions of his hometown. While Alison is able to escape Beech Creek and lose her accent, Bruce's hometown was eventually synonymous with the essence of his being. 

Death pervades this chapter, and not just in reference to Bruce Bechdel. Instead, Alison's fear of death and her determination to avoid harm is manifested in her obsessive-compulsive disorder. She draws symbols over the words she writes in her diary as a way of "warding off evil from [her] subjects" (142). When her cousin dies at a young age and she sees him laid out in the family funeral home, the symbols make her diary entries almost completely unreadable. In earlier chapters, Bechdel alludes to her indifference when seeing her first cadaver, but it becomes clear that she has not completely suppressed her emotions about death; they just come out in other ways. 

Bruce Bechdel's death jolts Alison out of denial  - she writes and speaks nakedly for the first time. While those who knew her father offer their polite condolences in the wake of his demise, Alison writes that she wanted to scream out, "He killed himself because he was a manic-depressive, closeted fag and he couldn't face living in this small-minded small town one more second" (125). In this one incendiary statement, Bechdel lets out everything she has wanted to say but has not yet had the chance, thus underlining the therapeutic nature of writing Fun Home. However, at the time of Bruce's death, she is forced to maintain the artifice that shrouded her father's entire existence and mourn him in an appropriate way. Later, Bechdel uses the creek from which Beech Creek takes its name as a metaphor to for her father's life. The creek appeared "crystal clear" (128), but only because it was so horribly polluted by the strip mines nearby. 

Furthermore, Bechdel links the idea of artifice to recurring theme of words having multiple meanings. As a child, Alison is so aware that people can twist the meanings of words that she compulsively draws symbols all over her diary order to protect the meaning in those words from evil. Now, Bechdel writes, those symbols represent "the troubling gap between word and meaning"; they form a shield over of the most troubling parts of her memories (142). The "compulsive propensity to autobiography" (140) Bechdel identifies within herself is reflected here in the memoir, as well as in the diaries she kept religiously as a child. This recognition is an example of the self-conscious narrator commenting upon the very creation of the work.