Fun Home

Fun Home Summary and Analysis of "The Ideal Husband"


The summer Alison was thirteen, important events in her coming of age overlapped with shifts in her family and in the country. The Watergate scandal occurred, Alison started menstruating, and her father told her he was going to a psychiatrist. Looking back, Bechdel realizes this was because he wanted to stop cheating on Helen with young men. Meanwhile, Helen was practicing for a role in The Importance of Being Earnest and writing her master's thesis at the same time. At the same time, a plague of locusts descended upon Beech Creek.

At one point, the parents of Alison's best friend, Beth Gryglewicz, surprise Helen and Bruce by taking Alison, Christian, and John to their house for a few days. While Alison is at Beth's house, she finds out that Bruce has been arrested for picking up an underage boy named Mark Douglas Walsh in the next valley. Apparently Bruce asked him where his brother Dave was and bought him beer. This, not his cheating, is the cause for Bruce seeing a psychiatrist.

Meanwhile, Helen is becoming completely consumed by The Importance of Being Earnest and her thesis work. On opening night of the play, Nancy Gryglewicz and her husband, Dr. Gryglewicz, bring her flowers. Bechdel has since learned that the Gryglewiczes once suggested to her parents that they engage in group sex together.

Back in the summer of her thirteenth year, Alison discovers how to masturbate bring herself to orgasm by rocking back and forth on her chair. In her diary, she uses the code word "ning" to refer to menstruating and masturbating, things she is too ashamed to write about literally.

As tension in the Bechdel household grows, so does the tension surrounding Nixon's impeachment as a result of the Watergate scandal. While they are swimming one day, Helen reveals to Alison that her father might have to go to jail for buying a beer for an underage boy; if that happens, they will move away. As it turns out, the charges against Father are dismissed but he has to complete six months of counseling.

One day before her mother's thesis is due, Alison forgets to close the sewing room window and a rain storm destroys many pages of the thesis as well as two trees near the family's home. Helen has to furiously retype the missing pages that night. 

On Labor Day, a few days before Alison's fourteenth birthday, the Bechdels host a party for the cast and crew of The Importance of Being Earnest. Bruce meets his new love interest, Jack. Alison and Beth Gryglewicz miss their ride to the dance with a boy named Randy, so instead they play dress up in Bruce's clothes. Alison immensely enjoys dressing up as a man. 

By the end of that November, Alison stops writing in her diary altogether. According to records Bechdel found later on, Bruce continued going to therapy, and Helen suspected that he had started an affair with his male psychiatrist. Bechdel believes that she told her mother about getting her period the following month, but has no evidence of the exact date.


Alison's diary from the summer she was thirteen becomes an important primary source in this chapter. Bechdel self-consciously comments on her tendency to keep an autobiographical record, noting how convenient it is now that she is writing a real memoir: "There was a lot going on that summer. I'm glad I was taking notes" (154).

Written words have been a thread throughout Bechdel's drawings, but here it becomes more and more apparent that they can be unreliable. For instance, Alison doesn't even write about getting her period in her diary. She notes, "My diary was no longer the utterly reliable document it had been in my youth" (162); this is evident in her extensive use of ellipses and in her growing tendency to omit her true feelings about the most important events in her life, including discovering orgasms.

These orgasms are related to the recurring theme of secret sexuality; and in this chapter, Bruce is having an increasingly difficult time hiding his true identity. He comes close to going to jail for his secret sexuality by picking up Mark and buying him beer. He ends up avoiding the need to confront it by engaging in what seems to be useless counseling. Meanwhile, young Alison does not write about orgasms or masturbating directly in her diary, since she is ashamed about engaging in these pleasures. Nevertheless, she greatly enjoys dressing up as a man and dancing with Beth instead of going to the more heteronormative dance with Randy. 

The theme of preferring art to life reemerges in this chapter, as Bechdel imagines her family members as characters in a story. In relating how the Watergate scandal coincided with what she sees as her loss of childhood innocence, she remarks, "It was only one of many heavy-handed plot devices to befall my family during those strange, hot months" (155).

Bechdel compares Oscar Wilde's own life and his play The Importance of Being Earnest to her family's life, since her mother was performing it during that time. In 1895, Wilde was accused of sodomy by the father of his friend Alfred Douglas after the two men returned from a trip to Algiers. Similarly, during the summer recounted in this chapter, Bruce is nearly accused of sodomy with the brothers Mark and Dave Walsh. Furthermore, this chapter takes its name from Oscar Wilde's play about political corruption and the tension between public and private identity. "Sooner or later," Wilde notes, "we shall all have to pay for what we do."