Fun Home

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Alison Bechdel Character Analysis

The author and protagonist of Fun Home, Alison traces her life from childhood into early adulthood, centering her reflections on the circumstances surrounding her father Bruce’s death as well as the progression of her understanding of her own lesbian sexuality and inclination toward masculinity. Throughout the graphic memoir, Alison is open and up front about her desires to dress and act like boys, and she also details how the pressure of her non-conformity to social expectations leads her to develop many strange compulsive behaviors as a child, including rituals, superstitions, and a proclivity for autobiography. Alison’s journey into self-recording begins with a simple, truthful childhood diary that over time transforms into a much less reliable teenage document that hides as much or more than it captures, and continues through the writing of Fun Home. Through the book’s construction and its dozens of literary allusions, Alison brings the reader inside her point-of-view by showing how she often uses literary, mythical, or historical references in order to frame and contextualize her life. After Alison leaves her home and goes to Oberlin college, she begins to explore her sexuality openly, coming out of the closet to her parents, becoming a part of the gay campus community at her college, and beginning a transformative relationship with Joan, her first girlfriend. Alison’s story within the book, then, is one of a difficult but ultimately successful growing up, in which Alison becomes aware and accepting of who she is.

Alison Bechdel Quotes in Fun Home

The Fun Home quotes below are all either spoken by Alison Bechdel or refer to Alison Bechdel. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Gender Identity and Coming of Age Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Mariner Books edition of Fun Home published in 2007.
Chapter 1 Quotes

My father could spin garbage… into gold. He could transfigure a room with the smallest offhand flourish… he was an alchemist of appearance, a savant of surface, a Daedalus of decor.

Related Characters: Alison Bechdel (speaker), Bruce Bechdel
Related Symbols: The Bechdel Family Home
Page Number: 6
Explanation and Analysis:

This quote is situated near the very beginning of the graphic memoir, in the midst of Alison introducing Bruce’s obsession with restoring the family’s Gothic revival house. Here, Alison Bechdel first hints at the sinister elements hidden beneath Bruce’s obsession; at first, Alison stating that Bruce could “spin garbage… into gold” seems as if it might be a compliment, but then her reference to him as a “savant of surface” suggests, rightfully, that Bruce was far more concerned with making things appear to be beautiful, artificially, than the truth of how they were beneath the surface. In this way, Bruce was a master craftsman, but his end product always ended up feeling shallow or even like a kind of trick, more gilded than golden, to use Alison’s analogy.

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Sometimes, when things were going well, I think my father actually enjoyed having a family. Or at least, the air of authenticity we lent to his exhibit. Sort of like a still life with children.

Related Characters: Alison Bechdel (speaker), Bruce Bechdel, Helen Bechdel, John Bechdel, Christian Bechdel
Related Symbols: The Bechdel Family Home
Page Number: 13
Explanation and Analysis:

This quote occurs after Alison Bechdel has delved into the more ominous side of Bruce’s obsessive behaviors, in that he acted like a tyrant toward the rest of the family and didn’t listen to any of their preferences. Here, Alison extends this idea, implying (and later overtly stating) that Bruce sees his family more as objects than flesh-and-blood human beings: he wishes his children (and perhaps even his wife) were more like furniture for him to place around and order about as he likes. Also, Alison implies here that Bruce mainly enjoyed having a family for the artificial reason that having one made it appear that he was a “normal” family man, while also serving to hide his homosexual proclivities and secret affairs with teenage boys.

I developed a contempt for useless ornament… If anything, they obscured function. They were embellishments in the worst sense. They were lies. My father…used his skillful artifice not to make things, but to make things appear to be what they were not. That is to say, impeccable.

Related Characters: Alison Bechdel (speaker)
Page Number: 16
Explanation and Analysis:

This quote occurs after Alison Bechdel narrates the fundamental differences between her and her father—mainly, that he was obsessed with “ornament” and appearance, and, in reaction to this, Alison grew to hate embellishments of all kinds and became attracted to the purely functional. Alison’s idea that ornaments, at least in the way Bruce uses them, are indistinguishable from lies stems from the fact that he uses such ornaments to camouflage his true self, and to give people the idea that he’s a loyal father and husband when in reality he’s nothing of the sort. While at this time the young Alison has no idea of her father’s darker behavior – his affairs with teenage boys – she is still somehow aware that her father is somehow living a lie, and that her family life is therefore also a kind of lie. Given this context, it’s not hard to see why Alison became disgusted by useless ornament and tried to steer towards items that were devoid of artificiality, and purely meant as functional.

…his absence resonated retroactively, echoing back through all the time I knew him. Maybe it was the converse of the way amputees feel pain in a missing limb. He really was there all those years, a flesh-and-blood presence… But I ached as if he were already gone.

Related Characters: Alison Bechdel (speaker), Bruce Bechdel
Page Number: 23
Explanation and Analysis:

This quote occurs on the final page of Chapter 1, entitled “Old Father, Old Artificer,” after Alison has enumerated her father Bruce’s negative and also positive qualities. Here she explains a strange juxtaposition that she will come back to in the very last lines of her memoir: though Bruce didn’t kill himself until Alison was in college (and after most of her formative years), throughout her childhood Alison already felt her father’s absence because parts of Bruce’s personality were always absent, probably because of his deep internal repression of his own queer sexuality.

In a way, Alison explains here the absurdly “tragicomic” aspects of Bruce’s death—it is almost comical in an ironic, absurd way, in that Bruce in certain ways lived his life as if he were already dead, cutting off certain parts of himself and strangling himself internally. However, when Bruce does eventually die, Alison has an extremely tough time processing the tragedy of his death, in some ways because of his repression and resulting “absence.” His death is difficult for her to grasp because she never really got to know him in the first place.

Chapter 2 Quotes

It was somewhere during those early years that I began confusing us with The Addams Family…The captions eluded 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.

Related Characters: Alison Bechdel (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Bechdel Family Home
Page Number: 34
Explanation and Analysis:

This quote is located a handful of pages into Chapter 2, after Alison has provided some details about the events surrounding Bruce’s (most likely) suicide and then delved into Bruce and Helen’s courtship, marriage in Europe, and ultimate return to Beech Creek, Pennsylvania after the death of Bruce’s father forced him to take over the family-run funeral home in his small hometown.

In this quote, Alison indicates the beginnings of her fascination (and confusion) with the differences and similarities between reality and fiction. As a young kid, even before she could read, Alison sees her own family reflected in that of The Addams Family, but not in the distorted, subversive, somewhat satirical way the writers and illustrators of the television show intended—instead, she saw her own family reflected accurately in the distortions of the Addams family, which captures the oddness of her family. This is also the first time that she describes seeing her family in somewhat fictional terms, the first (but not last) time that she sees them as both characters and as family members.

Joan drove home with me and we arrived that evening. My little brother John and I greeted each other with ghastly, uncontrollable grins.

Related Characters: Alison Bechdel (speaker), Bruce Bechdel, Joan, John Bechdel
Page Number: 46
Explanation and Analysis:

This quote occurs as Alison returns home from college after getting news of Bruce’s death. This moment highlights Alison’s absurd tragic and comic reactions to Bruce’s death—his death is tragic and abrupt, but her reaction to it (and John’s as well) is to grin as if something hilarious has just happened. This is not a traditional reaction to a father’s death, and though Alison at first seems to deal with Bruce’s passing better than most would, the truly tragic part is that Alison treating her father’s death lightly and not letting her grief spill over immediately causes Alison to repress her feelings of grief and remain viscerally angry about Bruce’s death for years afterward. In fact, it could be argued that writing/drawing this graphic memoir (nearly two decades after Bruce’s death) is Alison’s way of processing the event and finally letting her repressed feelings out, as she is finally open about her complex feelings about his death rather than suppressing them with a horrible grin.

You would also think that a childhood spent in such close proximity to the workaday incidentals of death would be good preparation. That when someone you knew actually died, maybe you’d get to skip a phase or two of the grieving process… But in fact, all the years spent visiting gravediggers, joking with burial-vault salesmen, and teasing my brothers with crushed vials of smelling salts only made my own father’s death more incomprehensible.

Related Characters: Alison Bechdel (speaker), Bruce Bechdel
Page Number: 50
Explanation and Analysis:

This quote occurs after Alison has delved into the circumstances surrounding Bruce’s death and also explained how she and her brothers would have to help out around the “Fun Home” (funeral home), including an incident when Bruce once made Alison enter the back room while he was tidying up a gruesome nude male corpse.

Alison states that she repressed her initial feelings of shock at seeing this dead body, and perhaps she was still repressing this initial shock when dealing with Bruce’s death. Here she notes the irony of her proximity to death—though she and her brothers have a “cavalier” attitude towards it, when a death occurs close to them, they have an elongated, drawn-out grieving process. It’s almost as if their proximity and cavalier attitude toward death makes it impossible for them to actually deal with the profundity and tragedy of death when it happens to them. They only know how to deal with it as a detached absurdity.

Chapter 3 Quotes

My father’s death was a queer business—queer in every sense of that multivalent word…but most compellingly at the time, his death was bound up for me with the one definition conspicuously missing from our mammoth Webster’s.

Related Characters: Alison Bechdel (speaker), Bruce Bechdel
Page Number: 57
Explanation and Analysis:

This quote occurs at the very beginning of Chapter 3, right before Alison juxtaposes her own epiphany that she is a lesbian with the revelation of her father’s hidden, long-term homosexual affairs. Here, Alison learns more from what is left out of the dictionary than what it actually says, teaching her a valuable lesson about omission (and a lack of openness) that Bruce embodies. Also, this section implies that if the dictionary, which is purported to be an empirical, factual document, can leave out fundamentally important definitions, individual human beings (like Bruce) can omit or repress even more. In this quote, Alison notes that the most important definition of the word is missing, just as Alison must confront what she’s been ignoring or missing and finally acknowledge and explore her own queer gender identity.

I’d been upstaged, demoted from protagonist in my own drama to comic relief in my parents’ tragedy… I had imagined my confession as an emancipation from my parents, but instead I was pulled back into their orbit.

Related Characters: Alison Bechdel (speaker), Bruce Bechdel, Helen Bechdel
Page Number: 58-59
Explanation and Analysis:

This quote occurs after Alison has come out of the closet to her parents in a letter and, soon afterward, her mother Helen has finally revealed Bruce’s long-hidden secret (his homosexual affairs with teenage boys). This revelation, coming on the heels of revealing her own true self to her parents, makes Alison feel as if she’s been “upstaged” and gone from being the “protagonist” in her own story to “comic relief” in her parents’ story.

Note how, even when referring to herself and real events, Alison uses the terminology of fiction (upstaged, protagonist, tragedy) to contextualize the situation and give the audience and herself a clearer sense of exactly how she felt. Even in purely real situations, Alison uses fiction as a way to understand reality.

The line that dad drew between reality and fiction was indeed a blurry one. To understand this, one had only to enter his library… And if my father liked to imagine himself as a nineteenth century aristocrat overseeing his estate from behind the leather-topped mahogany and brass second-empire desk… did that require such a leap of the imagination? Perhaps affectation can be so thoroughgoing, so authentic in its details, that it stops being pretense… and becomes, for all practical purposes, real.

Related Characters: Alison Bechdel (speaker), Bruce Bechdel
Related Symbols: The Bechdel Family Home
Page Number: 59-60
Explanation and Analysis:

This quote occurs after Alison has come out of the closet as a lesbian and her mother Helen has finally revealed the truth about Bruce’s secret string of homosexual affairs with teenage boys. Alison pinpoints how her father uses his fictional persona “as a nineteenth century aristocrat…” not only to obscure the truth, but even to seduce teenage boys by making them buy into a “pretense” so detailed that it feels real to them. The artificiality of Bruce’s library, then, is not a placid kind of artificiality (like perhaps a plastic pink flamingo on a front lawn might be), but instead a sinister kind of artificiality, because it tricks many of those viewing it into believing the artifice is real, and thus becomes a kind of lie or deceptive trick. The complicating factor in Bruce’s artifice is that he himself seemed to buy into his own fictional illusions, at least on the surface.

I think what was so alluring to my father about Fitzgerald’s stories was their inextricability from Fitzgerald’s life. Such a suspension of the imaginary in the real was, after all, my father’s stock in trade. And living with it took a toll on the rest of us.

Related Characters: Alison Bechdel (speaker), Bruce Bechdel, Helen Bechdel
Page Number: 65
Explanation and Analysis:

This quote occurs after Alison details Bruce’s youthful obsession with the writer F. Scott Fitzgerald, as well as Fitzgerald’s part in Bruce’s courtship of Helen (she gifted him a Fitzgerald biography, and he often wrote to her about the author). Alison indicates that Bruce’s obsession with Fitzgerald wasn’t solely based on the author’s prose, but it was also wrapped up in the myth of Fitzgerald as a man and how he used his real life experience to influence his work.

Later, Bruce’s fictional persona as an artful “aristocrat” stuck in Beech Creek, Pennsylvania seems influenced by his ideas about Fitzgerald. However, as Alison notes with her last sentence in this quote, while Bruce was happy to intermingle his fictional persona in his everyday life, the rest of the family suffered the consequences as Bruce often shirked his real-life responsibilities to fulfill his fantasies. At the time the “toll” on Alison and her brothers was a sense of her father being absent, of their being a hole or emptiness or lie at the center of their lives. Though of course the toll was in fact even greater than that, as Bruce’s fantasies also involved his seduction of teenage boys.

I employ these allusions… not only as descriptive devices, but because my parents are most real to me in fictional terms. And perhaps my cool aesthetic distance itself does more to convey the arctic climate of our family than any particular literary comparison.

Related Characters: Alison Bechdel (speaker), Bruce Bechdel
Page Number: 67
Explanation and Analysis:

This quote occurs after Alison has explained the arc of Bruce and Helen’s courtship and eventual marriage, largely using literary frameworks (like the Henry James novel Washington Square and later Shakespeare’s play The Taming of the Shrew) to understand their relationship dynamic. Alison overtly expresses here that she often confuses or blurs the line between fiction and reality in regard to her parents, or perhaps even that she never connected to them very well in reality, so she began to attempt to understand them through fiction, and thus began to see them more as fictional characters than real people.

My parents met, I eventually extracted from my mother, in a performance of The Taming of the Shrew… It’s a troubling play, of course. The willful Katherine’s spirit is broken by the mercenary, domineering Petruchio… Even in those prefeminist days, my parents must have found this relationship model to be problematic. They would probably have been appalled at the suggestion that their own marriage would play out in a similar way.

Related Characters: Alison Bechdel (speaker), Bruce Bechdel, Helen Bechdel
Page Number: 69-70
Explanation and Analysis:

This quote occurs after Alison has detailed Bruce and Helen’s early days together. Here, after much prodding, she finally learns how her mother and father met. In a fitting coincidence, Bruce and Helen met during a production of The Taming of the Shrew, and sadly the reality of their relationship came to imitate the fictional model presented in Shakespeare’s play. Given their relationship’s beginning, it’s no wonder that Alison begins to see her parents more in fictional terms than as real people, as Bruce largely sucked the enthusiasm and vitality out of Helen in the same way Petruchio does to Katherine in the play.

My realization at nineteen that I was a lesbian came about in a manner consistent with my bookish upbringing. A revelation not of the flesh, but of the mind.

Related Characters: Alison Bechdel (speaker)
Page Number: 74
Explanation and Analysis:

This quote occurs when Alison is at college at Oberlin and finally discovers—or at least suspects—that she may be a lesbian. Rather than discovering this through physical feelings or real-world actions, Alison discovers her queer sexuality by reading about other lesbians in a book, when she has the epiphany that perhaps she might be like the women she is reading about. Given the written word’s impact on her life, it makes sense that Alison’s realization about her gender identity and sexuality occurred in college, away from her family, in a library with the help of a book. Some of the most important discoveries of Alison’s life happen with her eyes glued to a book, and her coming-of-age revelation that she is a lesbian is no exception.

Chapter 4 Quotes

Proust would have intense, emotional friendships with fashionable women… but it was young, often straight, men with whom he fell in love. He would also fictionalize real people in his life by transposing their gender—the narrator’s lover Albertine, for example, is often read as a portrait of Proust’s beloved chauffeur/secretary, Alfred.

Related Characters: Alison Bechdel (speaker), Bruce Bechdel
Page Number: 94
Explanation and Analysis:

This quote occurs after Alison has detailed her childhood feelings that Bruce wasn’t nearly manly enough, largely thanks to his obsession with flowers, which Alison compares to Proust’s floral obsession in Remembrance of Things Past. Just as Proust used his fiction to express his homosexual feelings in the guise of heterosexual characters, Bruce used his fictional persona (as a kind of pseudo-aristocrat) to seduce young men and boys while also keeping some kind of cognitive dissonance about his morality and status as a good husband and father. Both Proust and Bruce use different types of fiction in order to not be open about their gender identity but still express how they feel, albeit surreptitiously.

I sensed a chink in my family’s armor, an undefended gap in the circle of our wagons which cried out, it seemed to me, for some plain, two-fisted sinew.

Related Characters: Alison Bechdel (speaker), Bruce Bechdel
Page Number: 95
Explanation and Analysis:

This quote is located immediately after Alison compares Bruce to the author Marcel Proust, in that they both, in her view, exhibited “sissy” behavior. So, as a child Alison tried to compensate for her father’s lack of masculinity by minimizing her femininity and trying to be as masculine as possible.

This circular relationship captures the way that Alison grew up in opposition to her father and yet was profoundly affected by him. It also captures how complicated gender identity and societal expectations about gender identity can be. Here Alison, who will grow up to be a lesbian, sees her father as being not manly enough. In other words, Alison sees the world according to gendered expectations – men should be tough and strong – even as she is beginning to have the sense that she doesn’t fit into the gendered expectations of girls.

In an act of prestidigitation typical of the way my father juggled his public appearance and private reality, the evidence is simultaneously hidden and revealed.

Related Characters: Alison Bechdel (speaker), Bruce Bechdel, Roy
Page Number: 101
Explanation and Analysis:

This quote occurs near the midpoint of Fun Home, on the only two-page illustration of the graphic memoir, which is an illustration of Alison’s hands holding a photograph that Bruce took of Roy, presumably one of his lovers, wearing just his underwear while on a family vacation on which Helen wasn’t present. Alison notes that Bruce blotted out the date on the photo, yet kept it in the envelope that held the family photos for this vacation. He tried to hide the evidence, but did so in a haphazard way. Though Bruce clearly didn’t consciously want to get caught in a homosexual affair, it is obvious that he didn’t try as hard as he possibly could to hide the evidence. Perhaps, subconsciously, Bruce was beginning to tire of repressing himself and yearned to be out in the open—why else would he keep this picture in the envelope with the rest of the family pictures? Further, why would Bruce even take this picture in the first place if he didn’t, at least on some level, yearn to be forced out into the open with his sexuality?

As the man showed us around, it seemed imperative that he not know I was a girl… “John! C’mere! … Call me Albert instead of Alison.” My brother ignored me. But looking back, my stratagem strikes me as a precocious feat of Proustian transposition…

Related Characters: Alison Bechdel (speaker), Bruce Bechdel, John Bechdel
Page Number: 113
Explanation and Analysis:

This quote is situated in the midst of a family vacation without Helen but with Bruce’s young helper (and presumably lover), Bill, to the family’s cabin out in the mountains. Alison and her siblings were given a tour of a gigantic crane and construction site by a construction worker, and in this masculine-dominated space, which included a calendar tacked to the wall featuring nude women, Alison wanted to be identified as a man rather than a woman. Alison narrates that her sudden assumption of this fictional persona was a “feat of Proustian transposition” because Proust allegedly translated his feelings for his homosexual lover, Albert, into his fictional narrator’s heterosexual feelings for the female character Albertine. Alison, by wanting to be seen as a boy after feeling attracted to the pictures of the nude women, is in a sense trying to make her feelings “normal.” If she is a boy, then attraction to nude women makes sense. She is trying to “transpose” herself to hide the “abnormality” of her feelings.

Chapter 5 Quotes

Our sun rose over Bald Eagle Mountain’s hazy blue flank. And it set behind the strip mine-pocked plateau… with similar perversity, the sparkling creek that coursed down from the plateau and through our town was crystal clear precisely because it was polluted… wading in this fishless creek and swooning at the salmon sky, I learned firsthand that most elemental of all ironies… that, as Wallace Stevens put it in my mom’s favorite poem, “Death is the mother of beauty.”

Related Characters: Alison Bechdel (speaker), Helen Bechdel
Page Number: 128-129
Explanation and Analysis:

This quote occurs soon after Alison’s description of the history of Beech Creek, as well as the way that Bechdels have tended to not leave their hometown. Though the “crystal clear” creek appears to be beautiful, Alison acknowledges that it is an artificial kind of beauty, caused by human pollution’s negative impact on nature. The sky, too, sparkled beautifully at sunset largely because of the fumes from the paper mill nearby. Alison deepens her understanding of this phenomenon by comparing the beauty of her surrounding lifeless nature to the famous Wallace Stevens line, “Death is the mother of beauty.” And indeed, this ironic reality caused Alison, too, to be moved to write poetry as a young girl. Reality is often the prompting for someone to write fiction, which is why the line between the two can be so blurry.

…The most arresting thing about the tape is its evidence of both my parents at work, intent and separate… It’s childish, perhaps, to grudge them the sustenance of their creative solitude. But it was all that sustained them, and thus was all-consuming. From their example, I learned quickly to feed myself.

Related Characters: Alison Bechdel (speaker), Bruce Bechdel, Helen Bechdel
Page Number: 133-134
Explanation and Analysis:

This quote occurs after Alison has discovered a home-recorded cassette tape featuring the voices of both of her parents: Helen used it to rehearse lines for a play, while Bruce used it to prepare an audio guide to a museum run by the Beech Creek county historical society. This moment is a perfect example of the fundamental flaw in Helen and Bruce’s creative pursuits: their obsessions left little time for other passions, especially the passion that can be felt in close-knit families. Yes, all of the Bechdels had creative internal (and often fictional) lives, but, as Alison says, that is all they had, and so the Bechdel children began to seek emotional and creative sustenance from their own internal passions rather than from real people, including their parents. This led the Bechdel house to feel more like an artists’ colony than a real family to Alison, with each member of the family engaged in their own creative pursuits.

…I had to kiss each of my stuffed animals—and not just in a perfunctory way. Then I’d bring one of the three bears to bed with me, alternating nightly between mother, father, and baby… I should point out that no one had kissed me good night in years.

Related Characters: Alison Bechdel (speaker)
Page Number: 137
Explanation and Analysis:

This quote occurs after Alison has explained that because her parents were so engaged in artistic pursuits (Helen with acting and piano and Bruce with books, his affairs, and his obsessive house restoration), the household felt more like an artists’ colony than a family home. So, Alison sought not only creative fulfillment in imaginative fictions, but, as can be clearly seen from this anecdote, she also craved the intimacy and love she wasn’t getting from her parents. It wasn’t just that nobody kissed Alison goodnight for years—neither of her parents probably even knew that Alison wanted to be kissed goodnight, because they were so focused on their creative endeavors that they weren’t paying very much attention to the emotional realities of their kids. Alison, here with our bears, is playing out the kind of loving family (albeit in a compulsive way) that she doesn’t get from her own parents.

…How did I know that the things I was writing were absolutely, objectively true? My simple, declarative sentences began to strike me as hubristic at best, utter lies at worst. All I could speak for were my own perceptions, and perhaps not even those.

Related Characters: Alison Bechdel (speaker)
Page Number: 141
Explanation and Analysis:

This quote occurs after Alison details her descent into obsessive-compulsive tendencies, largely thanks (or so she reads in a book) to “repressed hostility.” One of her OCD tendencies is to write in a personal journal every day, but her compulsion for truthfully reporting the facts of her day gives way to a different kind of compulsion—the compulsion for empirical truth. Alison has an internal crisis in that she begins to believe her own perceptions may not—and cannot be proved to be—one hundred percent empirically true. After all, we all can only speak for our own perceptions. Thus Alison began to add the phrase “I think” to any sentence that purported to be factually accurate, giving her recounting of her life a distinctly fictional bent. In this mindset, nothing anybody writes as nonfiction should be perceived as wholly, empirically true, and the line between reality and fiction becomes blurred to Alison in that all memories or experiences are filtered through a mind’s lens, filled with subconscious biases and personal preferences.

Chapter 6 Quotes

This juxtaposition of the last days of childhood with those of Nixon and the end of that larger, national innocence may seem trite. But it was one of many heavy-handed plot devices to befall my family during those strange, hot months.

Related Characters: Alison Bechdel (speaker)
Page Number: 155
Explanation and Analysis:

This quote occurs near the beginning of chapter 6, right after Alison sets up that the summer of 1974 was a pivotal, dramatic summer for the Bechdel family—Helen was at top stress levels because she was working on her Master’s degree thesis and performing in an Oscar Wilde play, while Bruce had to go to court to defend a charge of offering alcohol to a minor, while Alison received her first period. Here, Alison describing this summer as filled with “heavy-handed plot devices” indicates that her memories of this summer, like her perceptions of her parents in general, seem more fictional to her than real.

Though these signifiers, like a plague of cicadas swarming the town of Beech Creek, would be considered plot devices or symbols in a fictional work, in real life they’re simply real-life events, perhaps even coincidences, that don’t really foreshadow anything. But, in Alison’s view, they serve as “plot devices” in the dramatic Bechdel family narrative, blurring the line between whether she sees her family history as fictional or real.

In a photo taken a week before the play opened, she’s literally holding herself together. But in her publicity shot as Lady Bracknell, she’s a Victorian dominatrix to rival Wilde himself.

Related Characters: Alison Bechdel (speaker), Helen Bechdel
Page Number: 164
Explanation and Analysis:

This quote occurs during the same summer that Alison gets her period, the Watergate scandal sweeps the nation, Bruce has to go to court, and Helen is working on her Master’s thesis and playing the female lead in The Importance of Being Earnest. The juxtaposition of the two photos Alison describes illustrates how Helen utilizes fiction as a positive—if escapist—force in her own life. In reality, Helen is a nervous wreck, looking gaunt, exhausted, and diminished. But in her publicity shot as Lady Bracknell, she is confident, elegant, and even powerful. When acting as someone else, Helen is able to feel, and perhaps even become (at least for a little while) confident and in control of her life, while in reality her husband cheats on her and her various responsibilities are running her ragged.

I had recently discovered some of Dad’s old clothes. Putting on the formal shirt with its studs and cufflinks was a nearly mystical pleasure, like finding myself fluent in a language I’d never been taught. It felt too good to actually be good.

Related Characters: Alison Bechdel (speaker), Bruce Bechdel
Page Number: 182
Explanation and Analysis:

This quote happens after the crazy summer of 1974 has mostly calmed down for the Bechdel family—Helen’s thesis has passed muster, Bruce has been acquitted of his charge (though he has to go to counseling for six months), and the literal storm that hit the Bechdel home has passed. When Alison one day talks her friend Beth into dressing up in Bruce’s clothes, she feels the natural pleasure of doing something that makes her feel internally fulfilled. However, she doesn’t acknowledge this feeling to her friend Beth or even to herself in her diary, instead choosing to repress it. Alison is partially able to justify this to herself at the time, perhaps, because Alison asked Beth to do this in the guise of a fictional scenario in which they both pretended to be con men. While taking on this fictional persona, Alison is able to walk around looking how she wants to look, and she enjoys it, but like most fictions it is over far too soon, and it does little more than satisfy her masculine-craving feelings for a brief while.

Chapter 7 Quotes

We grew closer after I went away to college. Books—the ones assigned for my English class—continued to serve as our currency.

Related Characters: Alison Bechdel (speaker), Bruce Bechdel
Page Number: 200
Explanation and Analysis:

This quote occurs after Alison has quickly explored her associations with her father, from early childhood (when he was a fun-killing presence) to her teenage years when they bonded over books after Alison enrolled in Bruce’s high school English course. Fiction brings Bruce and Alison together, and they grow even closer once they are physically separated in reality. The tragic irony of Bruce and Alison’s relationship is that the father and daughter were really quite similar—both were bookish and struggling with society’s (and their family’s) expectations that went against their queer gender identities. However, they only really ever got to explore one half of their possible connection, the fictional half, as Bruce was unwilling or unable to open up with his daughter about his own sexuality and internal battle with repression and compulsion until near the very end of his life.

It was not… a triumphal return. Home, as I had known it, was gone. Some crucial part of the structure seemed to be missing, like in dreams I would have later where termites had eaten through all the floor joists.

Related Characters: Alison Bechdel (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Bechdel Family Home
Page Number: 215-216
Explanation and Analysis:

This quote occurs soon after Alison has come out of the closet to her parents as a lesbian, upon her first return home. Because the family’s construction is largely artificial (and Bruce’s feelings about his family largely self-serving), when Alison returns home she feels that home as she once knew it is gone, disintegrated, unreachable, and she’ll never get it back. This idea of the family being artificial is mirrored in her dream about termites eating through the structural support in the family home’s floors. Though the floorboards are still there (and the Bechdel family home is still standing), the foundation of the family has crumbled, and thus there is nothing for the relationships to be built upon besides wood that will fail if too much pressure is put on it.

What if Icarus hadn’t hurtled into the sea? What if he’d inherited his father’s inventive bent? What might he have wrought? He did hurtle into the sea, of course. But in the tricky reverse narration that impels our entwined stories, he was there to catch me when I leapt.

Related Characters: Alison Bechdel (speaker), Bruce Bechdel
Related Symbols: Daedalus, Icarus, and the Minotaur
Page Number: 231-232
Explanation and Analysis:

This quote is scattered over the last couple of pages of the memoir and it is Alison’s final narration before the book’s end. She circles back to the beginning of the book, when she compared Bruce to both Icarus and Daedalus, both the one who (metaphorically) plummeted from the sky and also the one who designed the faulty wings (in this case, metaphorically, his ultimately fatal repression).

However, here Alison complicates this idea, as she also compares herself to both Icarus and Daedalus. In doing so, she seems to imply that because Bruce fell—and because Alison witnessed Bruce fall—she herself didn’t have to suffer the same mistakes he did. Bruce suffered from both of the negative aspects of Icarus and Daedalus—he flew too close to the sun, and also was culpable in designing the contraption that launched him there. Alison, too, could be considered a master architect—a graphic memoir, after all, is made up of drawings and words of Alison’s own construction. However, rather than falling, Alison is able to soar thanks to her father, and this book is itself a testament that Alison inherited her father’s inventive bent and put it to far better, and certainly more open and honest, use than he ever did.

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Alison Bechdel Character Timeline in Fun Home

The timeline below shows where the character Alison Bechdel appears in Fun Home. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1: Old Father, Old Artificer
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The graphic memoir Fun Home starts with the adult Alison Bechdel narrating over images of her childhood. The first panel shows Alison approaching her father... (full context)
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...results from his obsession with restoring the Bechdel family’s big, old house. As a kid, Alison gets embarrassed when other kids think she’s rich or unusual in any way because of... (full context)
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Bruce salvages trash, redecorates rooms, and is obsessed with everything looking perfect. Alison calls him an “alchemist of appearance, a savant of surface, a Daedalus of decor.” Alison... (full context)
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...bought it, Bruce makes it his mission to restore the house to its former glory. Alison says Bruce’s restoration of the house could have been a romantic story, like when Jimmy... (full context)
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Like Daedalus, Bruce is indifferent to the human (or familial) cost of his projects. Alison notes how Daedalus betrayed the king of Crete by making the queen a cow disguise... (full context)
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When things are good, Alison believes Bruce enjoys having a family—or at least the image of it, as she narrates... (full context)
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Alison’s preference for the “purely functional” emerges when she’s young, in stark juxtaposition to Bruce’s love... (full context)
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Alison says that it’s tempting to view her family as a sham in retrospect, yet they... (full context)
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Alison says her embarrassment is a smaller-scale version of Bruce’s more formidable “self-loathing,” and that his... (full context)
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Although Alison is aware of Bruce’s many flaws, she can’t sustain much anger at him. Over images... (full context)
Chapter 2: A Happy Death
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Alison says that her father’s death was “his consummate artifice, his masterstroke,” because it was impossible... (full context)
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At the same time, Alison notes that before his death, the family couldn’t have perceived Bruce reading A Happy Death... (full context)
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Alison then notes that her father’s grave, the location where he died, Alison’s childhood home, and... (full context)
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...attack and Bruce had to return home to run the family business: a funeral home. Alison was born shortly after her parents returned to the U.S. After living at the funeral... (full context)
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During this time, Alison begins to confuse her family with The Addams Family. She doesn’t understand that the cartoon... (full context)
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Alison and her family called the funeral home the “Fun Home.” Alison’s Grammy lives in the... (full context)
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Alison says that though there are never any dead people in the showroom, it still always... (full context)
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As kids, Alison and her brothers would sometimes spend the night at Grammy’s. At bedtime, they would beg... (full context)
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...kitchen, where she undressed him and then put him in the oven to dry off. Alison notes that she knew her Grammy was referring to a “cook-stove,” but all she could... (full context)
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...tale endlessly compelling, begging Grammy to tell it over and over before bed. By day, Alison has difficulty imagining her father naked, helpless, or put in an oven, though Alison notes... (full context)
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Alison gave her father the scissors without emotion, and she narrates that the exchange felt to... (full context)
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When Alison drove home to Pennsylvania the night of Bruce’s death, she and her little brother John... (full context)
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Alison says it’s not that she thinks Bruce killed himself because of his existential angst—Camus’ conclusion... (full context)
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...as if we don’t know we’re going to die, “But then, he wasn’t a mortician.” Alison suspects that Bruce was all too enchanted by the idea of death. In the letters... (full context)
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Alison says that you would think a childhood spent so close to death might have enabled... (full context)
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Alison is emotionless at the funeral, her sole emotion irritation when the funeral director touches Alison’s... (full context)
Chapter 3: That Old Catastrophe
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Alison begins the chapter by narrating, over an image of the many definitions of ‘queer’ in... (full context)
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The news wasn’t received as well as Alison had hoped, and after an exchange of difficult letters with her mother, Helen eventually revealed... (full context)
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Alison says the line that Bruce drew between reality and fiction was “blurry.” One could tell... (full context)
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Part of Bruce’s routine involved mentoring his more promising high school students—and though Alison notes that the exchange was probably sexual in many cases, no matter what else was... (full context)
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...himself in various characters. Though Bruce never mentions identifying with the character of Jay Gatsby, Alison says the parallels are unavoidable. Like Gatsby, Bruce fueled his metamorphosis by utilizing the power... (full context)
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Alison believes what was so alluring to her father about Fitzgerald’s stories “was their inextricability from... (full context)
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...was “a vigorous American idealist ensnared by degenerate continental forces”—in Helen’s case, the force of Alison’s father. Alison notes that in college, Helen played the lead in The Heiress, which was... (full context)
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Alison says she uses these allusions to James and Fitzgerald not solely as descriptive devices, but... (full context)
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Eventually, Alison extracted the tale of how her parents met from Helen. During a college production of... (full context)
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Alison says that if The Taming of the Shrew foreshadowed her parents’ later marriage, Henry James’s... (full context)
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...Over an image of a passport photo taken eight years after this time in Europe, Alison narrates that Helen’s face has already gone dull. The photo was taken for a three-week... (full context)
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...is what came to pass, it wasn’t in the manner anyone in her family expected. Alison’s realization at nineteen that she was a lesbian was in keeping with her bookish upbringing... (full context)
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Though Alison was silent during the “Gay Union” meeting, she felt her attendance counted as a public... (full context)
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Back at home, Alison accidentally cut her finger with the knife, and smeared the blood into her journal, pleased... (full context)
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Soon, Alison found “an even more potent anesthetic” in the act of diving fully into her new... (full context)
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Alison says she was happy at the distraction of her sexual and political awakening, as the... (full context)
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...that “Sunday Morning” – a poem about crucifixion by Stevens – is her favorite poem. Alison comments that, in many ways, Helen understood sacrifice fully. Alison wonders if her mother liked... (full context)
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Over images of Alison asking her father for a check, Alison narrates that there is a scene in The... (full context)
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Over an image of Alison writing out that check for MAD magazine, she narrates that she’s contemplated the idea that... (full context)
Chapter 4: In The Shadow Of Young Girls In Flower
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Though Alison has suggested Bruce killed himself, it could also be argued that he accidentally died while... (full context)
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Over images of Bruce bringing Alison and her brothers on an illegal flower-stealing trip, Alison narrates that Proust describes Swann’s garden... (full context)
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Over illustrations of Helen letting Roy into the house, Alison narrates that Proust would have close friendships with women, but it was young men with... (full context)
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Alison, too, admired the masculine beauty of these young men. At an early age Alison “had... (full context)
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Though Bruce held power over her, Alison repeats that it was clear to her that her father was a “sissy.” Proust referred... (full context)
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In the only two-page single image spread of the book, Alison narrates over what are presumably her own fingers holding a photograph of Roy, the Bechdel... (full context)
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Alison notes that the negatives revealed that the dark, murky photo of Roy in the bed... (full context)
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In another memory, Helen is staying in downtown Manhattan with her friend Elly. Roy takes Alison (who is eight) and her brothers for a walk while Bruce goes up to the... (full context)
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Either way, Alison says the memory of that afternoon serves as a parallel between Alison and her parents’... (full context)
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Over images of Alison getting approached by a lesbian in a dance club and receiving a pamphlet instead of... (full context)
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Alison notes that the original title of Proust’s second volume of Remembrance of Things Past literally... (full context)
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When Alison was 10, two years after the vacation with Roy, her father started hanging out with... (full context)
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Once they got to the cabin, Alison’s brothers discovered the calendar. They were also extremely excited to see gigantic construction equipment used... (full context)
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...next day, Bruce had to go back to town for a funeral, so Bill showed Alison and her brothers how to shoot his .22 caliber gun. None of them could pull... (full context)
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Alison wonders, over an image of Bruce walking across the road with an oncoming truck approaching,... (full context)
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...translation of Proust was published, and the book was retitled In Search of Lost Time. Alison believes that what’s lost in this translation is “the complexity of loss itself.” In the... (full context)
Chapter 5: The Canary-Colored Caravan of Death
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Two nights before Bruce’s death, Alison dreamed that she was out at the family cabin with him. There was a beautiful... (full context)
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Alison’s numbness, along with all the mourning at Bruce’s funeral was making her irritable. She wondered... (full context)
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Alison wonders if Beech Creek itself exerted some kind of gravitational pull due to its topography.... (full context)
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By the time Alison was born, one could even drive right across the mountain—Interstate 80 had just been blasted... (full context)
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In this fishless creek, Alison “learned firsthand that most elemental of all ironies. That, as Wallace Stevens put it... ‘Death... (full context)
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...coloring book of E.H. Shepard’s illustrations for The Wind in the Willows. Bruce had read Alison bits of the story from the real version of the book, and Alison notes that... (full context)
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Helen’s talents were also “daunting.” Once, Alison went with Helen to a house where she argued with a man as if she... (full context)
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Alison says that it was jarring to hear Bruce speak from beyond the grave, but the... (full context)
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Alison’s real “obsessive-compulsive disorder” first surfaced when she was ten. First it involved counting, like trying... (full context)
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Every night, Alison had to kiss each of her stuffed animals before bed. Then she’d bring one of... (full context)
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...Spock’s book’s explanation that compulsions are caused by “repressed hostility” didn’t make much sense to Alison. She continued reading, searching for a more concrete answer. Over images of Helen and Bruce... (full context)
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...a small radius encircling the areas where Bruce was born, lived, died, and was buried, Alison narrates that Bruce’s life “was a solipsistic circle of self, from autodidact to autocrat to... (full context)
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The entries in Alison’s diary proceeded blandly at first. She then switched to a date book, which afforded her... (full context)
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At that point, Helen seems to have decided that giving Alison more attention might help her, so she began reading to Alison in the bath. But... (full context)
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“Things were getting fairly illegible by August,” when Alison and her brothers went with Bill and Bruce to the Bullpen in the woods. Given... (full context)
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Alison pauses her narrative to comment about how, when driving toward New York City on the... (full context)
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Alison had forgotten her father’s accent—by the time Bruce died, Alison had mostly succeeded in ridding... (full context)
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...in the car he bought after becoming disenchanted with his canary-colored caravan.” In September of Alison’s O.C.D. year, there was a bad accident on Route 150 in which three people were... (full context)
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On the Monday after the funeral, the writing in Alison’s journal shifted from her handwriting to her mother’s. For the next two months, Helen took... (full context)
Chapter 6: The Ideal Husband
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Over an image of Alison writing in her diary that her dad is going to “a psychiatrist!!” Alison narrates that,... (full context)
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...a week or two, the cicadas finished laying their eggs and died. This is when Alison got her first period, but she didn’t tell her mother, even while they practiced Helen’s... (full context)
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Alison believed there was a chance that by ignoring her period, it would go away, even... (full context)
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Over an image of the police report that Alison looked up 27 years later, Alison narrates that on Thursday at dusk, Bruce had driven... (full context)
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On the first day of July, Bruce told Alison that he had to go see a psychiatrist. Later that same day, Helen went to... (full context)
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Alison loved seeing Helen as the character of Lady Bracknell, and “in a fitting coincidence, Lady... (full context)
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...took Douglas to court for libel and lost. Over images of Helen rehearsing the play, Alison narrates that Wilde was then tried for committing indecent acts and sent to prison while... (full context)
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...the actress Lillie Langtry.” Helen was taken aback, and ran upstairs to prepare. Years later, Alison learned that The Gryglewizes once propositioned Alison’s parents for group sex, a request the Bechdels... (full context)
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When Alison was ten, she obsessed over making sure the “diary entries bore no false witness.” But... (full context)
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Alison was so certain of the indecipherability of the word “Ning” that she used it in... (full context)
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Alison mostly ignored the Watergate hearings, but she “began to take notice as the truth wormed... (full context)
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In Alison’s diary that night, she remarked upon the exchange with the same phrase she used about... (full context)
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Alison can only speculate on the exact nature of Bruce’s relations with the brothers (Mark and... (full context)
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Soon afterward, Beth Gryglewicz, Alison’s friend, tried to improve Alison’s social skills by getting her to go to a football... (full context)
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By this point, Alison’s diary had become totally unreliable. For example, in one entry she forced herself to be... (full context)
Chapter 7: The Antihero’s Journey
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In 1976, Bruce took Alison and her brothers to New York City to see all the ships gathered for the... (full context)
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Alison narrates that the weekend was gay all around, over an image of Baryshnikov at the... (full context)
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Alison narrates that she didn’t draw a conscious parallel between the musical and her own sexuality,... (full context)
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When Alison tries to imagine what Bruce’s life might have been like if he hadn’t died in... (full context)
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Alison is tempted to say that the story of homophobia is her father’s story. She notes... (full context)
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In Alison’s earliest memories, Bruce’s return home from work always signaled the end of playtime for Helen,... (full context)
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This feeling of closeness with her father was novel for Alison. Alison believes that both she and Bruce were starved for attention. They grew even closer... (full context)
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Alison kept trying to please her teacher with essays influenced by coaching from her father. However,... (full context)
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The next semester Alison didn’t enroll in any English classes, and swore to never take one again. But a... (full context)
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When she was home for Christmas, Alison found Bruce’s delight about Ulysses a bit off-putting. Bruce gave her the copy he read... (full context)
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Alison and Bruce did not discuss Earthly Paradise, and Alison added it to her growing stack... (full context)
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But then, Alison also had little patience for Joyce because her “own odyssey was calling.” Alison refers to... (full context)
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At the beginning of the next semester, Alison still hadn’t met with Professor Avery for her Ulysses oral exam, but she had a... (full context)
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Three weeks later, Helen told Alison about Bruce’s big secret. Though Alison was still striving to understand her own sexuality, this... (full context)
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Over an image of Alison’s face near Joan’s pelvis, Alison narrates that going toward her peers felt like the safer... (full context)
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Alison’s first trip home after coming out of the closet to her parents was not a... (full context)
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Each day of vacation, Alison went to the local college library, and though she had a paper to write for... (full context)
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At the end of the week, Bruce and Alison went to go see the movie Coal Miner’s Daughter. On the way, Alison was determined... (full context)
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But, Alison asks: which of Alison and Bruce was the father? Alison notes that she felt “distinctly... (full context)
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Alison returned to school and her relationship with Joan. A letter from Bruce followed expressing his... (full context)
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...he left a letter for his son. Bruce left no such note. After Bruce’s funeral, Alison’s life resumed its course. Grief takes many forms, she says, including the absence of grief,... (full context)
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...better than Joyce’s writing aside form Joyce’s line “and he asked me with his eyes.” Alison narrates that “In a telling mistake,” Bruce had credited “the beseeching eyes to Bloom instead... (full context)
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The front of Alison’s Modern Library Edition of Ulysses includes the decision by the judge who lifted the ban... (full context)
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Alison narrates that “erotic truth” is a sweeping concept and she shouldn’t pretend to know what... (full context)
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...the midwife, doesn’t it?” And as long as the book is being compared to children, Alison notes that it fared far better than Joyce’s actual children, one of whom went mad,... (full context)
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Over an image of an oncoming truck approaching, Alison notes that Icarus “did hurtle into the sea, of course.” But then, over an image... (full context)