Fun Home

Fun Home Literary Elements


Graphic Novel, Memoir

Setting and Context

USA (Pennsylvania and New York) West Germany; approx. 1950s - 1980s.

Narrator and Point of View

Alison Bechdel is the protagonist of the novel and writes her recollections in the first-person.

Tone and Mood

The subtitle of Fun Home describes it as a "Tragi-Comic."

Protagonist and Antagonist

Protagonist: Alison Bechdel; Antagonist: Suppression of emotions

Major Conflict

Alison Bechdel's father, Bruce Bechdel, (likely) killed himself when she was 20. She explores his latent homosexuality throughout her memoir and examines its reverberations throughout her life.


Because memoir does not unfold chronologically, the climax comes fairly early on in the book. Bechdel reveals in the first chapter that her father, Bruce, secretly had sex with teenage boys and died in a likely suicide when the author was 20.


-The first image in the memoir is of young Alison playing "airplane" with her father. She uses this visual to invoke the myth of Icarus and Daedalus, thus foreshadowing her father's self-destructive path. "In our particular reenactment of this mythic relationship," she writes, "it was not me but my father who was to plummet from the sky" (4).

-In describing her father's penchant for interior decoration, Bechdel calls him "an alchemist of appearance, a savant of surface, a Daedalus of decor" (6). This melodic repetition emphasizes Bruce Bechdel's ability to cover up harsh realities with beautiful artifice, thus foreshadowing the revelation that he was not the cookie-cutter husband and father he pretended to be.

- Bechdel writes about the emergence of her own minimalist aesthetic as a reaction to her father's embellishments. She calls herself "butch to his nelly"(15), which foreshadows the revelation that both father and daughter are homosexual. It also foreshadows their eventual conversation about sexuality at the end of the memoir in which Bruce admits (to a certain degree) that he is gay.


-Bechdel writes, "My brothers and I had lots of chores at Fun Home, but also many interesting opportunities for play" (37). The word "interesting" is an understatement because the children were playing with the accouterment for a funeral, including capsules of smelling salts intended for people who swooned from grief.

-"My father was really down there, I told myself. Stuck in the mud for good this time" (54). Here, Bechdel is referring to her grandmother's story about her father, Bruce, getting stuck in the mud as a child. This is an understatement because Bruce is not actually just stuck in the mud this time - he is dead. Bechdel increases the impact of this understatement by juxtaposing it with an image of Bruce Bechdel's grave.

-"My father's death... was strange, certainly, in its deviation from the normal course of things. It was suspicious. Perhaps even counterfeit" (57). Bechdel continues her pattern of using understatement when describing death (especially her father's). It is an understatement to call his death "a deviation," because it is clearly a defining moment in Bechdel's life and the emotional core of her memoir. However, her use of understatement is consistent with Bechdel's professed indifference to death - both are defense mechanisms that allow her to distance herself from the grief.


Bechdel frequently invokes literary allusions throughout her memoir, many of which are detailed in the "Analysis" sections. A few additional examples:

-Bechdel reveals that Bruce was gay by first writing that "he appeared to be an ideal husband and father... but would an ideal husband and father have sex with teenage boys? (17). Her specific choice of words is a reference to Oscar Wilde's play "An Ideal Husband" (a recurring allusion). This play, Wilde's most popular, deals with themes of public and private lives and the difficulty of atoning for past discretions.

-When describing the tension that pervaded her childhood home, Bechdel writes that she and her brothers "knew our way around well enough, but it was impossible to tell if the Minotaur lay beyond the next corner" (21). This is another allusion to the Icarus and Daedalus narrative - the Minotaur is a monster with the head of a bull and the body of a man. In the ancient Greek myth, the Minotaur lived at the center of the labyrinth that Daedalus designed - until Theseus, the Athenian hero, killed the beast.

-Bechdel describes herself and her father as "not only... inverts, [but] inversions of one another" (98). This description references Proust's use of the term "inverts" to describe his homosexual characters.


See separate section on "Imagery"


-"He discovered the cruel paradox by which we always deceive ourselves twice about the people we love - first to their advantage, then to their disadvantage" (28). Bechdel uses a paradoxical passage from Camus's 'A Happy Death' to describe her parents' marriage. Bruce Bechdel denied his homosexuality at the beginning of his and Helen's relationship, which allowed her to have a family. However, their marriage in and of itself did not fulfill her and she eventually gave up on their dynamic ever improving.

-"Who embalms the undertaker when he dies? It was like Russell's paradox... the famous conundrum of a clean-shaven barber whose sign reads, 'I shave all those men, and only those men, who do not shave themselves.' The barber, equally unable to shave himself, and to not shave himself, is impossible. Yet somehow, there he is" (51). Bechdel overlays this famous quandary onto images of her father's funeral, connecting it to her youthful struggle to understand his death: She is looking at her father even though he is no longer there. It seems impossible and yet, it is true.

-"If my father had 'come out' in his youth, if he had not met and married my mother... where would that leave me?" (197). This paradox is the closest Bechdel comes to a resolution about her father's bifurcated identity. Throughout her memoir, Bechdel identifies ways in which Bruce Bechdel's hidden sexuality caused turmoil in her family life. However, she realizes that if not for his shame, he never would have been so committed to the artifice of heterosexuality. Ultimately, this paradox reveals that Bruce Bechdel, for all his faults, is why Alison Bechdel exists; he is the reason she is who she is. Therefore, her resentment and latent anger can only take her so far - now that he is gone, all she can do is accept him, even though he never accepted himself.


-"I was Spartan to my father's Athenian, modern to his victorian, butch to his nelly, utilitarian to his aesthete" (15). Bechdel frequently uses parallelism to draw connections between her and her father, who often seem to be complete opposites. Here, this device acts to align Bruce and Alison not only in spite of but because of their diametrically opposed styles.

- "Maybe this was the same offhanded way his own notoriously cold father had shown him his first cadaver. Or maybe he felt that he'd become too inured to death, and was hoping to elicit from me an expression of the natural horror he was no longer capable of. Or maybe he just needed the scissors" (44-45). Again, Bechdel uses parallelism to bridge the distance between herself and Bruce Bechdel. In this instance, she projects her own emotions onto her father, thus ascribing a deeper meaning to his actions. Even if it is purely conjecture, Bechdel is looking for answers in every memory she has - hoping that she will be able to figure out the mysteries that surrounded her upbringing.

-"Bruce: 'You're the only one in that class worth teaching.' Alison: 'It's the only class I have worth taking'" (199). Similar to the previous examples of parallelism, this one serves to align Alison Bechdel with her father. In fact, their shared love of literature is evident throughout Bechdel's memoir, and her frequent use of literary allusions as a lens through which she can analyze her life can be traced back to her father, Bruce.

Metonymy and Synecdoche

-"Like many fathers, mine could be occasionally prevailed on for a spot of 'Airplane'" (3). This is an example of metonymy because Bechdel uses the word "Airplane" to refer to the game where an adult balances a child on his or her feet.

-"...the one definition conspicuously missing from our mammoth Webster's" (57). This is an example of metonymy because Bechdel uses the formal name "Webster's" (the publisher of the dictionary) to refer to the dictionary itself.

-"For crissakes! I stopped for a hot dog" (139). This is an example of synecdoche because Bruce uses "hot dog" to refer to the act of stopping and eating a hot dog.


-"My own odyssey was calling so seductively" (207). Bechdel personifies the word odyssey in this way to emphasize the fact that her journey is one of sexual self-discovery.

-"The real accusation dared not speak its name" (175). By personifying the "accusation" that Bruce attempted to seduce an underage boy, Bechdel highlights the detachment between her father's actions and the artificial persona he struggles to maintain.

-"But the immersion-- like green dishwashing liquid bathing a cuticle-- left me supple and open to possibility" (191). Here, Bechdel is describing her sexual awakening over the course of a weekend in New York City. By personifying "dishwashing liquid," she creates potent visual imagery and also speaks of her realization as a natural and inevitable process catalyzed by a particular environment.