Fun Home

Fun Home Summary and Analysis of "In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower"


Bechdel begins this chapter with a detailed description of how her father died. He was walking across the road to dispose of the brush he had been clearing from an old farmhouse he was going to restore, much as he had restored their family home, when he jumped backwards into the road - right in front of an oncoming truck. Bechdel reflects that Bruce had always loved horticulture and gardening, especially lilacs. He often recruited Roy, the children's babysitter with whom he was having an affair, to help him in the garden.

As a child, young Alison begins to realize that she wants to be more masculine than her father wants her to be. He forces feminine touches like pearls and barrettes upon her because he wants that kind of beauty for himself; concurrently, she wants to see herself in a more masculine image. Years later, shortly after her father's death, Bechdel finds a photo Bruce once took of Roy on a family vacation. She remembers the family had spent a few days at the beach while Helen visited her friend Elly in New York City's Greenwich Village. It was only a few weeks after the Stonewall Riots, and Bechdel remembers walking around the city with Roy while Bruce went to Elly's place to fetch Helen. Bechdel now sees the riots in the context of her own history because years later, she tried to enter a bar in Greenwich Village with several other lesbians and was turned away with an exorbitant cover charge. She writes that she moved to the Village after college and was disappointed by the cold welcome.

Bechdel then describes another family vacation, two years after the beach vacation with Roy. Alison was ten years old. Bruce took his children and Bill (his new hire to help with the yard-work) camping at the Bullpen, their family's deer camp. Bechdel recalls seeing a pornographic calendar that her Uncle Fred gave to her father to hide at the Bullpen so his wife, Elsie, wouldn't find it.

At the Bullpen, Bill shows the children how to shoot his gun. They see a snake in the woods and run back to enlist Bill's help, but the snake is gone. Bechdel draws a parallel between that snake and the one her father might have jumped away from in the road on the day he died, which would have explained his leaping backwards into the truck's path. 

Bechdel reveals that when she was just four or five, Bruce took her with him on a business trip to Philadelphia. In a luncheonette, they saw a woman dressed like a man and her father aggressively asked her if that was what she wanted to look like. She said no back then, but has since come to terms with the fact that her answer was false. 

She finds more photos in the same box in which she discovered the half- naked photo of Roy. One is an image of her father as a young man, posing in a women's bathing suit. There is another photograph of him sunbathing on the roof of his fraternity house. Bechdel compares the second photo to one Joan took of her on her own twenty-first birthday and sees a strong similarity between the two subjects.


Bechdel returns to drawings of written descriptions here in order to demonstrate the connection between her father's love of lilacs and Proust's Remembrance of Things Past. Bruce had been reading that book a year before he died, and Bechdel draws a specific parallel between Proust's narrator falling in love in Swann's Garden, Proust's own intense affairs with women, and her father's romantic relationships with men and boys.

The theme of gender identity arises in this chapter as young Alison begins to discover her affinity for a more masculine aesthetic. She admires Roy's appearance, but not in the same way her father does. She is not attracted to Roy, but rather, she wants to embody Roy's masculinity herself. She refuses to wear the dresses and barrettes her father forces upon her as a child, at the same time noticing that her father's style tends towards the effeminate. This contrast sets up Alison and her father as "inversions of one another" (98). This description references Proust's use of the term "inverts" to describe his homosexual characters.

"Invert" also applies to Bruce Bechdel's hidden sexuality and how it was always present in all the Bechdels' lives, whether or not they realized it was even there. Bechdel's drawing of her father's photograph of a half-naked Roy is a physical representation of Bruce's secret. Here is a beautiful photograph of an intensely private moment, yet it was taken when Roy was on vacation with Bruce and his children; Alison finds it easily in a box of photos labeled "Family." The mere existence of this photograph points to the power of reflection. After her father's death, Alison is finally able to see her family life for what it really was - and understand the weight of all the unspoken truths.

By this point, it has become apparent that Bechdel, both as a writer and as a protagonist, often looks to black-and-white definitions to explain certain events in her life in order to distance herself from emotional pain and/or guilt. For example, after describing how she was "eighty-sixed" from Chumley's bar in Greenwich Village, Bechdel uses a drawing of the dictionary definition in order to reveal to the reader the meaning of "eighty-sixed." In this drawing, Bechdel visually combines her own emotional experience with the cut-and-dry dictionary definition; she adds a specific reference to the time she was eighty-sixed at Chumley's in brackets, as if that appears in the dictionary as well. This goes to show that Bechdel believes wholeheartedly in the written word as a purveyor of truth, but then often goes on to realize that life events are not as easy to define as words on a page. In fact, the strength of the author's present-day voice in Fun Home reveals just how important the writing process has been in helping Alison Bechdel come to terms with her father's life and death. 

In this chapter, Bechdel once again creates both subtle and more overt connections between her discovery of her own sexual identity with her father's demise. For example, it is important to closely examine Bechdel's drawing of herself right after she sees her Uncle Fred's "dirty" calendar. The image directly following the rendering of the naked woman on the calendar is of an adolescent Alison in the front seat of the car, next to her father, who is holding a bag of "Sunbeam Bread." At the beginning of this chapter, Bechdel makes it a point to specify that the truck that killed Bruce Bechdel was a Sunbeam Bread truck. Then, the caption on this image of father and daughter reveals that after seeing the calendar, Alison "felt as if [she'd] been stripped naked...  inextricably ashamed" (112). Finally, the snake Alison and her brothers see in the woods at the Bullpen is, as Bechdel points out, "obviously a phallus" (116). They call for Bill, but by the time he arrives with his gun, the snake is gone. Bechdel remembers feeling as though she "failed some unspoken initiation rite" (115). She uses the snake to juxtapose this symbolic moment, which she calls "the beginning of my truth" (117), with the end of her father's life.