Just an extra thought…

 

Well, here I am. Back at the class blog. Partially because I believe at some point I fell a blog post behind and am hoping that I can still throw a few points in the gradebook (cough cough Hi Liz cough cough), but also because I just found myself looking over all we’ve gone through in the past semester. With this final post to our lovely blog, I wanted to just point out a small thing that caught my eye in our final days. During one of my last hours sitting in that dark corner and leaning against the brick wall, I found myself flipping through Fun Home. It was something on the very first page in the book that caught my eye and got me thinking. This was the image:

Image

I could be thinking too deep into this, and most likely am, but I started to think about what this picture represents. It is the first page. You open the book, you see this. Before you read the family tragicomic, it probably has no real meaning to you. If I had even taken the time to look at it then, I’d have thought it was just an illustration of a shadowed adult leaning against a post as a child swings around next to them. Nothing special. But after reading Fun Home and learning of the relationship between these two characters, who we can now assume to be Bruce and Alison, this image suddenly has a different meaning to me. As Alison Bechdel illustrated through her graphic novel, the childhood relationship between the father and daughter was a strained one. Bruce was a distant father and Alison compares the children to furniture in the house. However, I think that she was wanting that close relationship with him all along. There’s the instance on page 19 where she tries to show some affection by kissing his hand. After reading her story, I see this image as Alison quite literally leaning toward or gravitating towards her father in search of that relationship and affection. She’s holding onto the post, anchoring her where her current fraught relationship is with him, but she is leaning in for more.

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Where is too far?

This section of Fun Home continued with its extravagant twist and turns, the downward spiraling of Allison’s life that I cannot seem to put down. When I finished reading the section assigned for Thursday I began to see a reoccurring theme in the novel, Allison’s life slowly spinning out of control. The story begins with a father who makes the children do chores (completely understandable) to the end of this section where Allison’s homosexual father has committed suicide after a divorce as she is fighting off obsessive-compulsive disorder. The story is life a train wreck that you cannot look away from, but as I read without blinking I wonder what is with our societies obsession with others demise? Tabloid magazines are now one of the hottest commodities and the latest celebrity drug addiction is even making the front pages of respected newspapers. Even today as I turn on CNN, the videos of twin bombs exploding at the Boston Marathon are still being played, it makes me wonder why we watch the demise just as much as we like to watch those people rise out of the ashes. Is it we are hoping to see them get their lives back together or making us feel better about our own lives? Is it our human nature to gossip about others or as a society are we getting worse when it comes to watching others fail? Fun Home was published in 2006 and is a New York Times best seller, I believe everyone can think of a dysfunctional novel, TV show, or movie that was good even though there was not a happy ending but why are some so fascinated with this genre?

 

Another spot I found interesting is how Bechdel decided not to change the setting, names, etc. in the book, when you Google map Beech Creek, PA the map identical to the one on page 140 appears. Although already dead this book had to destroy her fathers and families reputation in a small town on 700. The book shows them as having a perfect reputation as the all American family but behind the shiny polished house stood a family on the verge of collapse. Does literary integrity of telling the true story outshine the reputation of her family? Although written about her family’s life in the 70’s and 80’s, small towns tend to have multiple generations of families that continue to live in that town. This could easily be a stigma on the Bechdel’s that continue to live in Beech Creek. This all rounds back to the idea of watching peoples demise because it comes down to the ethics of journalism. Does showing or writing about a shocking subject to get the story out outweigh the people the story will inversely hurt? Its something I believe we must look at as we read the news newspapers and watch the TV. But the thing that makes Fun Home so interesting is how Bechdel left her whole life on the table for the reader to make their own opinions and perceptions about her family. Which is something that could be honorable or something that could have ruined her family in the long run. 

Is Suicide a Solution to the Absurd?

The theme of death seems to be a common reoccurrence in this book. Obviously, we have Bruce Bechdel who has died to “unknown causes”. Death is also present because the Bechdel family runs a funeral home. On my blog post, I would like to focus more so on the coincidence between Bruce Bechdel death and the book The Myth of Sisyphus

Bruce Bechdel seems to have a connection with books of all sorts. While reading this first passage, I came across the author mentioning more books and the importance of books to Bruce, for example The Myth of Sisyphus or anything by Scott Fitzgerald. The reoccurrence of books does make me link clues to Bruce’s possible suicide to notes he has written in these books. 

The Myth of Sisyphus has lead me to think that this was Bruce’s biggest way into slightly telling his family that he was planning on killing himself. One of the main points of The Myth of Sisyphus is that there is always a conflict between what we want from the universe and what we actually get from it. I think that Bruce really craves perfection from the world he lives in. We see this in examples of how he constantly wants the exterior and interior of the house to fit his personal likings. He is trying to find ways to make it just right all the time. Also, because there is a lack of emotional bonding between him and his children, I think that he once expected something so much more of what he actually gets by having children and that is why he has this lack of love with them.  I feel as though Bruce expected a life that he quite exactly didn’t receive. 

We see that Bruce’s wife tells Alison that Bruce did have homosexual relationships while in the military. This is another point that would have to relate to the idea of The Myth of Sisyphus. He wanted a loving, healthy relationship but not with a women. He got the opposite out of the universe he wish he could have. 

As stated in A Fun Home, the line that Bruce did underline was about to what extent suicide was the solution to the absurd. Bruce lived a life full of disappointment in his eyes. I think that he constantly was trying to make things work for himself but got nowhere while doing that. He believed that he lived in a life of absurd and corruptions. To end this pain, he followed exactly what he thought the book told him to, commit suicide  Yet, in the long run, The Myth of Sisyphus ends with explaining that suicide is not the right answer. 

Because Bruce has this secret of being homosexual, I think that he finds his joy and happiness through reading books about people who do find light in the darkness of times. I think he also depends on books for guidance and reassurance. I think he became part of the book. By this I mean he wanted to live through the theories in the book or the characters Scott Fitzgerald writes about. 

Therefore, I do think that the connection between Bruce and books is very tightly knit. I think he gains insight from these books. He finds answers that he knew he could never ask anyone and that makes him satisfied. But, in the long run Bruce thinks that suicide is the only answer in order to end the absurdness he was living in. So, do you think that these books were purely coincidental or do you think that these books were the guidelines that Bruce wanted to live by? Did he really depend on books as his source of reasoning?

Caught in Fiction

The most important thing to analyze while reading this text is the way that Alison chooses to tell her story. She makes very bold, matter of fact statements about very important information but presents them in a very fast way as if they aren’t important at all. In the beginning of the book as we are introduced to her family it is obvious that there is some strange vibe in the family. This is no ordinary close, kind and considerate family when it came to their father. There seemed to be some disconnect. The first thing that is shown to us as the readers is Bruce’s love for the house and the precise decorations and overall vibe. On page 14, Alison states, “I grew to resent the way my father treated his furniture like children and his children like furniture.” Also, to be able to pick up on the overall tone of Bruce is very important. It becomes obvious that something is going wrong and upsetting him but we do not find out what it is until later on.  Allison gives us a reader another very important piece of information on page 17. She says, “He appeared to be an ideal husband and father, for example. But would an ideal husband and father have had sex with teenage boys? It’s tempting to suggest, in retrospect, that our family was a sham.” This page alone was system overload. Allison drops a huge bomb on the reader by giving  us this information but as swiftly as the moment came, it quickly goes away. She states the fact and moves on, explaining nothing. She does this a few times in the chapters that we read. On page 46 she reveals her sexual orientation to us by stating “As I told my girlfriend what happened…” Again, this information is new to the reader but as quickly as it was introduced it is thrown to the way side and she continues going on with what she was saying.

The relationships between family members seems to be based a great deal on works of literature. In ways we observe that Bruce and Allison may have some sort of bond, besides literature. Our first inclination that Allison and her father may have a distant relationship but some sort of bond is seen on page 19. Allison shows that she wants to show affection to her father in some way, even though it was awkward. I believe that Bruce answers or reciprocates this affection in unconventional ways, such as reading to her (page 21), bathing her (page 22), and inviting her in to the surgical (funeral prep) room at the fun house. These actions led me to believe that they had a bond, even though it wasn’t made conventionally apparent.

Chapter three seems to be the chapter that gives us a greater understanding of the family. Allison begins to go back and touch on some the information that she had stated in previous chapters. She begins to reveal information about Bruce and his homosexuality, along with marital problems between Bruce and her mother. She also gives us a better understanding into her sexuality and information about her relationship with her girlfriend. She tends to tell a part of the story of her life and then skip back to a later time in life (either hers or her fathers) and tell story and then come back and continue on. It’s almost like the further and further you read the more information you get by Allison going back and filling in the holes, then going back again and filling in more holes, and repeatedly doing this until we get the full story. Looping back repeatedly.

Another main issue of the book is the preference of a fiction to reality. When Alison was young was she just interpreting her father incorrectly due to her age? Was he not a cold, seemingly heartless father but rather a man trapped in his own “reality”? Or his own “fiction”? Was the bond between these two characters due to their shared sexual orientation? Was she her father’s daughter in the sense that she was born a homosexual and this was the unseen bond that they seemed to have when she was a child?

Another issue I wanted to present going off the statement of “the preference of a fiction to reality”. I believe this would be describing her fathers preference of having homosexual acts over the reality of having a wife and kids. Also that Bruce often got lost in the literature he read and adopted thoughts, feelings, or characteristics of the characters in the stories. This is apparent in his letters home when he was serving in the military and in the timing of his death. (Same number of months, same number of weeks, and the same age at the point of death as Fitzgerald.

Bruce Bechdel and the House He Hides Behind

After reading the first three chapters in the book Fun Home I noticed something that I found quite interesting about the illustrations of Bruce Bechdel. He is never smiling in any of the illustrations of him. He has this look that makes him seem like he is constantly mad at the world. Even the picture on the front of the book backs up the fact that he is unhappy. The cover shows him sitting on what looks like a pouch with his head turned the opposite way of his child in disgust.

After finding out that he was gay, I wonder if the artist chose to draw him this way because he was miserable with the life that he chose to have. A life of not being free about who he wanted to be but instead trapped behind bars (family) he never really wanted.

Everything about Bruce Bechdel makes it seem like he was depressed about the life he was hiding behind. For example, the line of work that his family partook in was one of a depressing nature. He was constantly around the dead and people mourning over the love one’s that they had just lost. The book also describes the viewing room of the funeral home as a room that was hung with dark velvet drapery. In the book she states, “My father had been given a free hand with the interior decoration of the viewing area.” To me it sounds like he wanted to design the room to be as depressing as possible.

The old “gothic” house that he and his wife had chose to buy resembled the way that he looked at his life. Hearing the word old and gothic makes me think of dark and gloomy. He wanted to live in a house that was sad and depressed. I believe that the house is a symbol of him and his life. When he purchases the house it is old and mysterious. A house that needs repaired in more ways then one. He sets out to work on this house and fix every little thing that he can. I think this resembles his life. He is repairing the life that he chose for himself instead of the life that he so desperately wants to live. I wonder do others see his house as a symbol of his life that he is trying to repair?

Why Bechdel’s Organization is Important

In chapter one, Bechdel barely mentions a significant about her father.  She states “but would an ideal husband and father have sex with teenage boys?” (17).  It is written, and then she moves on, as though this statement is not very important.  When I sat there reading, I thought to myself “that’s it?  No explanation at all?”

This same reaction happened again on page 46.  She nonchalantly says that she has a girlfriend. This time, it is less of an exposure and more of a fact that should not be thought over. It is subtly put “as I told my girlfriend what had happened, I cried quite genuinely for about two minutes.”  Granted, this graphic novel was only published several years ago–in which case there is not a necessity to explain one’s sexuality. Unless, of course, one is writing a memoir.

So there are these 2 different sentences lying within her book, where she gives us important details to her life, and, yet, she tells us them like they are nothing.  Of course, once we get to chapter 3,  she begins to go over these more thoroughly.  But why is such an explanation delayed?  Why did she not start with chapter 3?  Or why did she not choose to write and illustrate her memoir in chronological order?

Then there is the end of chapter 3, in which she says “…that would only confirm that his death was not my fault. That, in fact, it had nothing to do with me at all. And I’m reluctant to let go of that last, tenuous bond” (86).  And this is what exposed it to me.

Perhaps the novel is not pursuing to tell us about the true connection between her, her father, and his death.  Maybe it is not about the series of events that led to his death.  Because no matter how connected they may seem, they are immovable from time.  Her father was have sex with adolescent boys long before she came out of the closet. As she read Elsa’s anecdote on page 74, she had also been a lesbian, and it will never change.  Every piece was already there, regardless of whether or not Bechdel chose to come out to her parents.

Her parents’ marriage was unhappy. Her father was unhappy.  She was not the catalyst to her father’s decisions.  And that explains the organization.  She did not need to give an immediate explanation, because, in the end, it will not be important.  Perhaps I am being overly presumptuous for someone who has yet to finish reading.  Regardless to whether or not these were her true intentions, her organization had to be intentional, because there is no way I was the only one re-reading those two sentences.  The revealing of these details were sore thumbs, and only further reading will bring the swelling down.

Bruce Bechdel, lost in his books?

    One chord in Fun Home I find especially heartbreaking, running throughout Alison Bechdel’s relationship with her father, is the detachment that leaves the man more a fictional character to his daughter than the flesh and blood presence he was. By fictional character, I mean that his emotional distance and sudden departure color Alison’s memories of him and that detachment manifests itself in the way Alison recalls him and in the order she presents the narrative. As she says on page 67, “My parents are most real to me in fictional terms.”
    I find it telling that she describes her parents in terms of ill-fated fictional characters of which they are reminiscent. She stresses the literary atmosphere of her childhood, painting her father as a sort of Victorian man of letters living a century and a half too late, but the characters she chooses to relate her parents to are examples of thwarted passions and a sort of settling for the trivialities of daily life. There are the F. Scott Fitzgerald-esque letters her father writes while he’s courting her mother — a tragic precedence of a yearning for a more vivid life, since Fitzgerald burned out so quickly. Her mother is the lead in Henry James’ Portrait of a Lady, a character yearning for the excitement of an artistic life in Europe, yet winds up trapped in stagnant domesticity. Yet not everything is explained in a literary metaphor: the violent arguments between the elder Bechdels isn’t related to any particular work, but instead shown off panel through speech bubbles while the children listen, frightened. The literary allusions and glimpses of a family cracking apart illustrates Alison’s grim prognosis after her father’s funeral: “Dad’s death was not a new catastrophe but an old one that had been unfolding very slowly for a long time.”
    In light of this long spiral downwards, I don’t believe Alison’s coming out is what caused her father to throw himself in front of the truck with the incongruous smiling Sunbeam girl on the side (an example of her often wry eye for grimly humorous detail). Rather, I’m inclined to believe that if it’s any one cause, it’s the divorce: that the shock of having his life in stasis, surrounded by his Victorian house and Victorian airs, jarred by his wife finally having had enough, is what causes everything to fall apart for him. If Helen Bechdel had stayed, and Bruce managed to keep his same-sex affairs secret, I think the situation would have stayed tense yet stable. In that light, I think he viewed his daughter’s lesbianism as either a phase or a wry coincidence to his own sexuality; while her mother is shocked and disapproving, Bruce Bechdel “seemed strangely pleased” and told her “Everyone should experiment. It’s healthy” (page 77) — an ironic reaction given that his own experiment is what is about to drive his wife out the door.
    This is quickly becoming perhaps my favorite work of this semester, and a key factor in my liking of the book, despite the grim events, is the complex characterization. I’m still not sure whether to feel much sympathy for Bruce. Is he a tragic figure, stuck in a stifling marriage and unrewarding, limited life in a place he hoped to escape; or is he a more reckless character, taking out his frustrations on his family physically and indulging his passions behind his wife’s back? How sympathetic is the prodigal father?

    Also, the green coloring throughout the book brought to mind an unsettling association. With my grandfather in the hospital for heart surgery, the past week I have seen an army of green scrubs, a more vivid version of the same pale green mix floating uneasily with a calming blue that colors the novel. Indeed, I am writing this in a hospital waiting room, breathing in the faint odors of disinfectant and distant disease, the same odors that Bruce Bechdel as an embalmer would be so familiar with. That surgical association is reinforced by the elder Bechdel’s funeral home management, especially the grisly, coolly anatomical panels where Alison gives him scissors while he dissects a man. In my mind, that pale green brings to mind the surgical gowns and their association of illness and examination; so by extension the surgical connotations of the coloring emphasizes that something is deeply at fault in this family, and that it will take deep examination and painful treatment in order to find, and hopefully remedy, what has ailed this family, coloring our narrator’s background.