Fun Home

Fun Home Symbols, Allegory and Motifs

Obelisks (Symbol)

"He had an obelisk collection, in fact, and his prize specimen was one in knee-high jade that propped open the door to his library" (p. 29). 

Bechdel uses obelisks, a phallic symbol, as a way to represent her father's attraction to young teenage boys. 

Icarus and Daedalus (Allegory)

"Considering the fate of Icarus after he flouted his father's advice and flew so close to the sun his wings melted, perhaps some dark humor is intended. In our particular reenactment of this mythic relationship, it was not me but my father who was to plummet from the sky" (4). 

Bechdel uses the myth of Icarus and Daedalus to craft an allegory for her relationship with her father. She parallels Bruce Bechdel's suppression of his sexuality to Icarus's hubris; his failure to accept himself sent him tumbling towards his demise. She revisits the allegory at the end of the memoir, this time comparing her father to Icarus. Because he plummeted into the water, she muses, that meant that he was at least there to catch her when she fell. This shows that Bechdel has learned to accept her father for what he was, despite his faults. 

It's a Wonderful Life (Allegory)

"It could have been a romantic story, like in 'It's a Wonderful Life,' when Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed fix up that big old house and raise their family there" (10).

Bechdel uses this classic film as an allegory of what her life could have been like when her father renovated her childhood home. However, Bechdel's narrative diverges from the film in that Jimmy Stewart's character comes home bitter one night, which leads him to go through a transformation, while Bruce Bechdel was angry all the time. 


Snake (Symbol)

Bechdel revisits a family vacation during which she and her brothers come upon a large snake. They come running to Bill, who was their father's secret lover at the time, but by the time Bill (gun in hand) arrives at the spring where they spotted the creature, it is gone.

This trip is a turning point for young Alison, who has started to realize that she is attracted to women. The snake, therefore, symbolizes both a phallus and temptation, especially because Bechdel alludes to the myth of Adam and Eve earlier in the chapter. When young Alison does not have the opportunity to conquer the snake, she feels as though she has "failed some unspoken initiation rite" (115) - a likely reference to heterosexual sex. 

Dictionary Definitions (Motif)

There are a number of moments throughout the memoir in which Bechdel inserts a hand-drawn image of a definition from the dictionary. This motif reveals her quest to find meaning in gray areas and her tendency to comfort herself by looking up concrete explanations for vague and/or confusing events. For example, Bechdel includes an image of the dictionary definition for "father" underneath text that reads "What is a father? Even the dictionary conveys vagueness and distance... looking up the archaic participle doesn't yield more than a tautology" (197).