Fun House is Not a Home
Fun Home is an autobiographical graphic novel by American author and cartoonist Alison Bechdel. It follows the story of her maturation, growing up in Pennsylvania, moving out of the house, and coming to terms with her sexuality. In the process, she discovers some surprising secrets that her family had been hiding from everyone, including each other. Bechdel uses this piece to argue that the structure of the home is a reflection of the family and a way for the family unit to express itself. This particular family uses their home to hide and to create a facade that disguises their problems from the rest of the world.
The decision to tell this story as a graphic novel helps to paint a more complete picture for it’s audience. Bechdel recreates photographs, and entire locations, refers to old diary entries, she even mimics her former handwriting and the wallpaper of her childhood home. She goes as far as to imitate her father’s penmanship, which she calls, “one of the crazier rabbit holes [she] went down on this project (Chute).” She goes to some extreme lengths to preserve the authenticity of the graphic novel and the accuracy of this retelling seems to be of grave importance to Bechdel. However, she is looking at her childhood through adult lenses, which inadvertently changes the way she sees things. Bechdel even calls Fun Home a “revision” of her history (Tison). While all her reference material adds credibility to her story, the memories may not be completely accurate and could have warped and shifted over time.
In general, a house is a reflection of its residents. From the architecture to the accessories, one can tell a lot about the family that lives in it. Architect Lindsay Daniel says, “there is an intimate relationship between your visual taste and your values.” Suggesting that we can learn something about a person by the way they keep their space. Perhaps subconsciously, we judge each other quickly, with what little knowledge we have of them, before figuring them out and learning anything deeper. We look at the way they dress, the way they keep their car, the organization of their work and that snap judgment can also extend to residencies. Even different building materials can evoke different feelings. Carlos Raul Villanueva, a famous Venezuelan architect, makes an example out of concrete and calls it a, “symbol of the construction progress of a whole century, submissive and strong as an elephant, monumental like stone, humble like brick.” Something as simple as the building material can speak for the house and sends a message about the people living inside without even making mention of its contents.
Bechdel makes reference, more than once, to her father’s specificity and high expectations for their house’s upkeep. Bruce Bechdel carefully selects each piece in the house and takes good care of them. He has a passion and an eye for design that he extends not only to his own house but to the houses he restores as well, which are a hobby and an outlet for him. He also employs his children to help take care of the house. In chapter one, while doing chores, Bechdel says, “I grew to resent the way my father treated his furniture like children and his children like furniture (Bechdel).” It’s not typical of a child to enjoy doing chores but it seems that Bruce takes these tasks to the extreme, expecting every aspect of the house stay perfectly tidy and, it seems to Alison, that this tidiness is at the expense of his kids. If the home is a reflection of the family living inside it, then it’s clearly important to Bruce that he and his family are perceived to be put-together and nearly perfect. This overcompensation may stem from Bruce’s secret of being a closeted homosexual and his desire to keep that information private. He wants to create the impression that he and his family are perfect by making his house perfect.
Bechdel makes many allusions to other famous works throughout this story. She does this to help the audience better understand her history and her childhood through works with which the audience may already be familiar. Bechdel may also reference these materials not only for the reader’s benefit but because they help Bechdel herself better understand her existence, her family, and her relationships. Time and time again, she compares events in her life to those of Greek tragedies. However, one reference that particularly stands out is the comparison of Bechdel’s family to the Addams family. She points out her mother’s likeness to Morticia, the way a bat occasionally flies into their home, and the similarities in the family businesses. The most significant comparison Bechdel makes is their homes. In chapter two, Bechdel writes about her Addams Family comics saying, “the captions illuded me, as did the ironic reversal of suburban conformity here were the familiar dark, lofty ceilings, peeling wallpaper, and menacing horsehair furnishings of my own home (Bechdel).” In this passage, Bechdel acknowledges that her family is unusual and nontraditional without saying so. She goes a roundabout way by implying the Addams Family is nonconformist and her family is like the Addams Family. She does this again when she compares her features to those of Wednesday Addams in the form of two side-by-side pictures, even acknowledging they have the same lamp, which in this case is a form of self-expression. She then describes Wednesday as a “worried girl.” Bechdel is using Wednesday as a catalyst to express her own feelings and the Addams Family in general as a stand-in for her own. Additionally, the Addams Family is a somewhat autobiographical story of the creator’s, Charles Addams’s, own family, which may serve as inspiration for Bechdel to turn her own life into a cartoon.
The title of Fun Home comes from the nickname the Bechdel family has given to their family funeral business. However, it could also be a reference to a fun house, as in an amusing room of trick mirrors and slanted floors, usually found at an amusement park. The mirrors that are featured in fun houses don’t show a perfect reflection of how things are, they instead show twisted and warped interpretations of a subject, making them appear fat or short or upside down. Bechdel depicts mirrors in many of her illustrations throughout Fun Home, but only in stories of her childhood. Mirrors are featured prominently in her childhood house. Bruce and Helen Bechdel try to keep up a perfect image of their family and of their home but things are not at all what they seem from the outside. When looking into their seemingly perfect lives, what is reflected is a carefully crafted version of how they want to be perceived. In addition, telling this story many years removed from the actual events makes things from the past look different, warped and misshapen over time, likely resulting in a false retelling. The artist Lydia Davis, calls this “autofictionalography,” coining a term for the blurry and creative space between fiction and recollection (Freedman).”
In Fun Home, Alison Bechdel uses her childhood home as the backdrop for her story about growing up. It’s unclear whether or not the house really has the same details and energy that Bechdel writes about or if her memories have changed due to her new knowledge and understanding of her family in her adult years. Memories change over time but Bechdel keeps it as accurate as she can by calling on family photographs, handwriting samples, and actual journal entries from her childhood. Regardless of the accuracy of her house, a home can say a lot about the family living inside and the Bechdel’s home says they are perfect, while in reality, they’re full of shame and have something to hide. The house serves as a representation of the family and highlights all the things they are hoping to disguise.
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Fun Home is an autobiographical graphic novel by American author and cartoonist Alison Bechdel. It follows the story of her maturation, growing up in Pennsylvania, moving out of the house, […]