Alison Bechdel's Fun Home, appropriately sub-titled 'A Family Tragicomic', is a graphic novel style autobiography that revolves around the story of her complicated relationship with her father, and the realization of her own homosexuality. It is a unique and effective contribution to the genre of graphic novels, and should be taken note of. It is complex, intelligent and insightful. The story develops as the interweaving of Bechdel's memories of her childhood and the realizations she is able to make in hindsight. Part of what makes Fun Home so successful are the themes that it carries. Bechdel challenges the concepts of gender roles, sexual orientation, and most importantly fatherhood through her own stories so that they may take on a deeper meaning in the end.
As she was growing up, Bechdel and her father both struggled with gender roles. Some struggles were public, like Bechdel's refusal to grow her hair long, or reluctance to wear dresses, skirts, or jewelry or her father's preference for gardening, and fine creams and colognes. But others, like Bechdel's resentment to her developing breasts, and her father's affairs with other men, were kept privet. As a child Bechdel was acutely aware of the breech in conventional gender roles that occurred between her father and her. She resented it, even says outrightly on page 96, frame 2 that "where he fell short [with masculine things], [she] stepped in". And so it is, that through the theme of challenging of typical gender roles, the theme of sexual orientation is introduced.
Though she didn't realize it fully until she was in college, Bechdel, and her father both spent their lives struggling with the realization of their sexual orientation. Evident in their struggle with gender roles, but never spoken of during her child hood, Bechdel's preference towards women and her father's preference toward men stood as a common bond. When Bechdel officially came out to her parents, her mother made her aware of her father's homosexual affairs. She's shocked to hear of the scandals, but as her mother reacts adversely, her father offers understanding. As they're talking in the car, he tells her "when I was little, I really wanted to be a girl", "I wanted to be a boy....remember?" she responds (pg 221, frames 3-6). It's not typical, but neither is their relationship. It's one of only the ways that her father and her are able to connect.
Bechdel's represents her father as a distant man. His passion never resided in his wife or his children, but instead in solitary things like gardening or historical restoration. He very rarely showed any sort of physical or emotional endearment to them, but was quick to anger and at times physically abusive. She challenges the traditional sense of what it means to be 'a father', especially after her own father's death--a suspected suicide. This theme of what defines a 'father' flows throughout the novel and finally comes to a head on the last page in the last frame. "But in the tricky reverse narration that impels out entwined stories, he was there to catch me when I leapt", Bechdel writes. In hindsight she sees everything her father was, and everything his fatherhood meant in her development as a person.
Fun Home revolves around the themes of gender roles, homosexuality, and fatherhood. Bechdel tells her story by interweaving all the themes into one piece that's nearly as complicated as her childhood itself. It's complex and that's what makes it so great. In hindsight everything is clearer, she's able to draw connections and realize things she was never able to as a kid. She let's the reader understand her childhood, but only in the way she herself was able to come to understand it; the reader is only able to grasp the full meaning when they reach the end and can look back on everything that proceeded it. Her father and her struggled with gender roles because they were both struggling with realizing their homosexuality; homosexuality also caused her father to act the way he did when she was a child. Somehow, though, in the culmination of everything, he offered an unconventional shade of fatherhood that she was able to finally understand.