Fun Home

Helen Bechdel Character Analysis

Alison’s mother, Helen reminds Alison of a character out of a Henry James book in that she is an idealistic young woman who becomes entrapped and dragged down by the negative influence of Bruce and his deceitful surface-level charms. Helen dreams of being an actress. She and Bruce meet during a college production of The Taming of the Shrew, and after college Helen moves to New York for a couple of years to pursue acting. But eventually, after a prolonged correspondence through letters, Helen decides to move to Europe while Bruce is in the army to marry him, and their return to Bruce’s hometown of Beech Creek a few years later puts an end to Helen’s dream of Broadway. While raising three kids in Beech Creek, Helen continues to act in community theater productions, throwing herself into them so thoroughly that she learns all the lines, not just her own. But there is also a sense in the book that Helen throws herself into these roles in part to escape the actual facts of her life, and it is eventually revealed that she knew of Bruce’s affairs and just never acknowledged them.

Helen Bechdel Quotes in Fun Home

The Fun Home quotes below are all either spoken by Helen Bechdel or refer to Helen 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:
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). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Mariner Books edition of Fun Home published in 2007.
Chapter 1 Quotes

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 Symbols: The Bechdel Family Home
Page Number: 13
Explanation and Analysis:
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Chapter 3 Quotes

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:
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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:
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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:
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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:
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…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:
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Chapter 6 Quotes

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:
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Helen Bechdel Character Timeline in Fun Home

The timeline below shows where the character Helen 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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...more like she is raised by Martha Stewart than Jimmy Stewart. Bruce treats Alison’s mother Helen the same way, asking her opinion but usually ignoring it. They are all powerless to... (full context)
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...of place. An idle remark about his appearance could result in a full-on breakdown, so Helen made a rule that no one could mention how Bruce looked, good or bad. Alison... (full context)
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...her father washing her in a bathtub with a cup, Alison narrates that her mother Helen must have bathed her hundreds of times, but it’s her father rinsing her with the... (full context)
Chapter 2: A Happy Death
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...was suicide or an accident. There is, however, suggestive circumstantial evidence, like the fact that Helen asked Bruce for a divorce two weeks before his death, and also how Bruce had... (full context)
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...she returned home from college after his death, Alison and her mother discussed it, with Helen saying that she believes Bruce’s death was intentional. Bruce’s headstone is an obelisk, a shape... (full context)
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When Helen and Bruce were young, Helen flew to Europe to marry Bruce while he was in... (full context)
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...black velvet dress her father squeezes her into, and looks eerily similar to Wednesday Addams. Helen bears a striking resemblance to Morticia. But, of course, what makes Alison relate most strongly... (full context)
Chapter 3: That Old Catastrophe
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...well as Alison had hoped, and after an exchange of difficult letters with her mother, Helen eventually revealed Bruce’s homosexual affairs to Alison on the phone. Alison says she felt like... (full context)
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...Bruce was passionate about many writers, but he was particularly reverent of F. Scott Fitzgerald. Helen had sent Bruce a biography of Fitzgerald when Bruce was in the army, and references... (full context)
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...toll on the rest of the family. Alison finishes Bruce’s flirtation with Roy by having Helen abruptly come into the library to tell Bruce he forgot to pick up John, one... (full context)
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If Bruce was a Fitzgerald character, Helen stepped right out of a Henry James book, as she was “a vigorous American idealist... (full context)
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...of how they met, and they never used terms of endearment. Bruce rarely even used Helen’s name, instead calling her ‘You.’ In her whole life, Alison witnessed two gestures of affection... (full context)
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Eventually, Alison extracted the tale of how her parents met from Helen. During a college production of Shakespeare’s play The Taming of the Shrew, Helen played the... (full context)
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...book The Portrait of a Lady runs parallel to their early days together. Just as Helen left America for Europe, Isabel Archer, the book’s heroine, leaves America for Europe. Then, after... (full context)
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Just as Isabel remains with Gilbert, Helen, too, “ends up ground in the very mill of the conventional” with Bruce. Over an... (full context)
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...called after receiving the letter to tell her he believed that “everyone should experiment,” but Helen wouldn’t come to the phone. A week and a half later, Alison received a disapproving... (full context)
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...the page. Alison responded to her mother’s letter point by point, with some confusion, and Helen called a few days letter, telling Alison that Bruce had affairs with young men. Helen... (full context)
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...after that the call came about Bruce’s fatal “accident.” Over the years after Bruce’s death, Helen gave away or sold most of Bruce’s library. She began immediately after Bruce’s funeral, bestowing... (full context)
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Helen also told them that “Sunday Morning” – a poem about crucifixion by Stevens – is... (full context)
Chapter 4: In The Shadow Of Young Girls In Flower
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Over illustrations of Helen letting Roy into the house, Alison narrates that Proust would have close friendships with women,... (full context)
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...taken when she was eight, on a vacation with Bruce to the Jersey Shore while Helen was away on a trip. Alison notes that Roy looks beautiful in the picture, and... (full context)
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...opposites. But, over an image of Bruce driving Roy and his kids to pick up Helen from the city, Alison adds that, at the end of the book, Proust reveals that... (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)... (full context)
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...adulthood a decade earlier. Alison imagines Bruce taking the bus up from college to visit Helen in the city. She wonders how much Helen’s surroundings factored into Bruce’s attraction to her.... (full context)
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...City after college expecting a community, but instead found the Village a cold, isolated place. Helen once shared a glimpse of life in the village in the old days, saying that... (full context)
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...of going to the beach, Bill and the rest of the family went camping without Helen. The plan was to go out to the Bechdel family’s cabin in the forest, called... (full context)
Chapter 5: The Canary-Colored Caravan of Death
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Helen’s talents were also “daunting.” Once, Alison went with Helen to a house where she argued... (full context)
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...Over an illustration of a young Alison telling her piano-playing mother that she’s hungry and Helen replying that she’ll make lunch in 15 minutes, Alison narrates that listening to the tape... (full context)
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...Alison then points out that “no one had kissed” her goodnight in years. One day, Helen stopped Alison mid-ritual to ask whether Alison felt guilty about something. She asked if Alison... (full context)
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...sense to Alison. She continued reading, searching for a more concrete answer. Over images of Helen and Bruce arguing while a teen Alison reads Baby and Child Care, Alison narrates that... (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... (full context)
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...own rural accent. However, Bruce’s accent and provincialism was planted deep. In Bruce’s letters to Helen during his courtship of her, Bruce wrote fondly about home and made plans to bring... (full context)
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...in Alison’s journal shifted from her handwriting to her mother’s. For the next two months, Helen took dictation from Alison until Alison’s “penmanship” improved. Slowly, Alison did get better. She set... (full context)
Chapter 6: The Ideal Husband
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...taking notes, because otherwise she’d find the density and coincidence of all the events implausible. Helen was playing Lady Bracknell in a regional production of The Importance of Being Earnest, the... (full context)
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...Alison got her first period, but she didn’t tell her mother, even while they practiced Helen’s lines together for many hours. Helen was busy with her master’s thesis as well as... (full context)
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...Bruce told Alison that he had to go see a psychiatrist. Later that same day, Helen went to see her thesis advisor and returned home upset that he wanted more revisions.... (full context)
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Alison loved seeing Helen as the character of Lady Bracknell, and “in a fitting coincidence, Lady Bracknell’s first name,... (full context)
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...being a homosexual. Wilde 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... (full context)
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On the night before the play opened, “the Drs. Gryglewicz” brought Helen a bouquet of lilies. Dr. Nancy Gryglewicz told Helen, “Wilde would bring armloads of these... (full context)
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...pool, Alison was building up the nerve to tell her mom about her period when Helen told Alison there was a chance the family might have to move, since Bruce had... (full context)
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...by one of the boys just as “Oscar Wilde was condemned…” On the day before Helen’s thesis was due, a sudden storm blew up and the Bechdels quickly ran around closing... (full context)
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...light this incident might have conveyed a tone less of devastation than of “narrow escape.” Helen retyped her thesis and it was accepted the next day, while Bruce was only held... (full context)
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...going to the psychiatrist again, though he seemingly continued to do so. Alison narrates that Helen believed Bruce began coming home from psychiatry sessions in “a familiarly manic mood,” once urging... (full context)
Chapter 7: The Antihero’s Journey
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...see all the ships gathered for the bicentennial of the founding of the United States. Helen remained in Beech Creek to perform in a local run of the play You Can’t... (full context)
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...father in a more painful, prolonged way. In that scenario, she may have even lost Helen, too. Alison says perhaps she’s trying to replace her actual grief about Bruce with imaginary... (full context)
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...her own identity. If Bruce had “come out” as a young man and never married Helen, where would that leave Alison? Alison consults the dictionary for its definition of a father,... (full context)
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...Alison’s earliest memories, Bruce’s return home from work always signaled the end of playtime for Helen, Christian and Alison. Bruce didn’t have much affection for small kids, but as Alison grew... (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... (full context)
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...then John, Christian, and Bruce all left for various solitary activities. When they were alone, Helen took Alison into her confidence, telling Alison tales of Bruce’s misdeeds, including how he often... (full context)
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In one of Bruce’s courtship letters to Helen, he praised her by comparing her writing to Joyce’s, saying it was even better than... (full context)