“Old Father, Old Artificer”: Reading Fun Home by Alison Bechdel, Blog Written by Kirsty Allard

This week’s blog from Kirsty Allard, Final Year Student Kingston University.

PersepolisAllard

In chapter 1 of Fun Home, “Old Father, Old Artificer”, there lies a duality that is apparent in many different forms; bad father vs. good father, respect vs. contempt, affection vs. distance, and, as is also clear in Persepolis, reality vs. perception. In Persepolis, this duality is described as very separate in nature, almost a sense of ‘black and white’; “Our behaviour in public and our behaviour in private were polar opposites”.

BechdelAllard
In Fun Home, this duality is less ‘black and white’, than it is shades of grey, despite it being a very apparent duality that is constantly present. The image of the perfect family, with what “appeared to be an ideal husband and father” is not the same as the reality of their home life. While this is similar to the idea that is given in Persepolis, Bechdel’s methods of describing the relationship of her father with his children, and her description of her father as a whole, his identity, leaves a space for a firm decision of what this dual image actual means about him as a whole. He feels like a present absent father, or the absent present father, and he is many things, but she does not ever state anything as her ultimate opinion or feeling toward him.
“The embarrassment on my part was a tiny scale model of my father’s more fully developed self-loathing.”
Bechdel offers, instead, a variety of observations and thoughts on her father; all honest, and relevant to an understanding of his character, they paint a picture of a man, but leave behind an uncertainty. Not an uncertainty of oneself, as in much of Persepolis, but instead an uncertainty of someone else, who they are, or what they mean to you.
This uncertainty of his identity is matched with a vivid understanding of the parts that make him who he is; the difficulty seems to be making the pieces match, in order to form an understanding of the whole. When you put together Icarus, the boy who flew too close to the sun, and Daedalus, the craftsman who made his demise possible, who is left?

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10 responses to this post.

  1. I agree with Kirsty’s thoughts on Fun Home, the Father is a complex figure and while it appears that he doesn’t understand his children, I feel that the loss that is felt by the children creates this uncertainty you speak of, he is there but not to be approached.

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  2. Posted by Eva on November 16, 2015 at 2:17 pm

    “He was an alchemist of appearance, a savant of surface, a Daedalus of décor.” Her father is obsessed with appearance. He wants to be perceived as the “ideal husband and father”, and that is more important than the reality of his life. It turns out her father is hiding his sexuality and because he won’t identify himself as who he really is, he construct the image of what he believes he should be. The work on the house is part of that construction – it has to be perfect – and it causes anxiety when the rest of his family threaten this construction – when they move the vase, or when Alison breaks something. The identity he has constructed for himself is mirrored in the house and his appearance, but since what is mirrored is false it never gives him a sense of completeness – the work on the house seem to be never-ending.

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  3. The frames after the Father dies are interesting because if his contribution to the family was romanticized before, it definitely was after his death – he is only remembered in an overwhelmingly positive way, through his amazing interior design and the occasional clumsy attempt to bond, considering his abuse, short temper and infidelity. This dynamic reminded me of what Rachel Cusk said about it being easier to be grateful to a parent who isn’t there. This can also be seen through the symbolism of the Father as a martyr to his idea of perfection within the family unit – he is even seen within one frame to be holding a piece of wood across his shoulders in a very christ-like way.

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  4. Posted by Eliza on November 17, 2015 at 11:13 am

    The motif of the house in ‘Fun Home’ really interested me, as the dual nature of the house further emphasises the dual nature of the father (as Kirsty points out). Beneath the surface of Bechdel’s father’s alterations was a house characterised by a historic decline in fortunes, and could be described as an artifice in and of itself. However, Bechdel also shows her father as wanting to ‘uncover’ the former glory of the house, and restore the original features. Indeed, this seems to be his main project; and perhaps it mirrors Bechdel’s. In ‘uncovering’ her father as he was, Bechdel reveals someone who is, in some ways, vulnerable and human. This is something which traditional masculinity will usually deny and prohibit, and yet the role of craftsman not only includes the project of building, but also the sensitive pursuit of restoration, of revealing what’s beneath.

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  5. Posted by Lukas on November 17, 2015 at 6:19 pm

    I think it is interesting to think about (like Eva said) the father’s obsession with appearance. He spends so much effort on making the house ‘nicer’, yet no one in the family seem to like the way he decorates. In fact, the only one who is shown to care about the appearance he puts forth is himself. Thus, it seems like he is using the house’s appearance as a way to control his own perception of himself. Yet, he never seems to be satisfied with the way the house looks, indicating that he never comes to terms with his own identity.

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  6. Posted by Salma AlTabari on November 17, 2015 at 8:25 pm

    I didn’t feel that the father in Fun Home was uncertain about his identity. I felt that he had a fairly clear idea about who he was, the only trouble was that he was unable to live openly as his true self, since he was part of a generation that was not accepting to openly-homosexual individuals, hence he leads a closeted life-style.
    I found – after reading Fun Home – that Alison was mostly trying to make sense of her father’s death by recalling memories from the past. There are instances throughout the book, however, that show her struggle to understand her sexual orientation and familial relationships, which are significant parts of one’s identity.
    Persepolis – on the other hand – seemed to be much more concerned with identity in broader terms of human-life such as cultural ideologies, religious beliefs and politics.

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  7. Alison Bechdel’s ‘Fun Home’ explores the themes of identity, sexual angst and dysfunction within a family unit and the use of the comic frames within the story is an interesting way to present these ideas. As Bechdel depicts her family life through the use of art, this could be symbolic of how her father preferred the fictional picture of their family to its real self. In the first chapter “Old Father, Old Artificer” as the readers are introduced to the father in this story, it is immediately apparent of his obsession with their home, or museum, as Bechdel sometimes calls it. Her father is fixated on the upkeep of the home, however it is not the house that he is trying to fix, it is the cracks within his own personal foundation. ‘He used his skilful artifice not to make things, but to make things appear to be what they were not.’

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  8. Posted by Wafaa on November 17, 2015 at 9:22 pm

    From the ironic title ‘Fun Home’ I found that the author feels guilt towards her father, from the way she didn’t appreciate her moments with her father enough, even though she constantly tries to perceive those moments as mundane and tiresome. When she recalls the only moment of affection between them, which at the time she thought herself ridiculous, her statement afterwards about his ‘self-loathing’ makes me question whether she regrets not trying to understand her father better. Similarly to Persepolis it explores the relationships between immediate family members and how they shape who you become and knowing the value of having a family even if they’re not perfect.

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  9. Posted by Christie on November 17, 2015 at 11:20 pm

    When reading Babak Elahi’s ‘Frames and Mirrors in Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis’, I found that the reference to Scott McCloud inspired an interesting explanation for the differences between the illustrations of Satrapi and Bechdel’s graphic novels. Elahi explains that McCloud understands all graphic art as situated on ‘a scale of verisimilitude-abstraction’, that is, the reality-perception which Kirsty speaks of [324]. McCloud situates Satrapi’s illustrations within the abstract/’iconic’ end of this spectrum. He suggests that the simplicity of her illustrations allows the autobiographical aspects of the novel to be read as an ’empty picture frame’ in which the reader can situate themselves, and read Iran’s history from their own perspective.
    In contrast to this, Bechdel’s more realistic illustrations can be placed on the realistic/verisimilitude end of McCloud’s scale. This could suggest that Bechdel has chosen to fill her autobiographical novel with her own perspective, rather than Satrapi’s arguably removable personal ‘picture frame’. Furthermore, – as Kirsty explains- this more personalised ‘picture frame’ suggests that Bechdel is still striving to understand her father, and the narrative is an expression of her conflicting views of her father; the narrator expresses, as Kirsty suggests, “Not an uncertainty of oneself, as in much of Persepolis, but instead an uncertainty of someone else, who they are, or what they mean to you.”

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  10. Posted by Phoebe Deans on November 17, 2015 at 11:37 pm

    After having read Babak Elahi’s ‘Frames and Mirrors in Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis’ also for this weeks lecture, I think its important to look at the individual frames within Alison Bechdel’s ‘Fun Home’. As Elahi points out ‘in visual narration, the task of the author/ artist is to record a continued flow of experience’ as may be seen in the authors eyes. In her ‘tragicomedy’, Bechedel uses symbols within her drawings to hint and foreshadow events not yet known to the reader. The most obvious example of this, as Kirsty points out, can be seen in the cracks of their Victorian family home, symbolising the flaws in their family and the fathers Victorian ideals. Another, less obvious example, of symbolism is in the books Bechdel’s father reads such as Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, containing one of the most quoted first lines of all novels: ‘All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way’, thus hinting at the unhappiness of Bechdel’s; and Kenneth Clark’s The Nude, a book famous for its arguably homosexual representation and appreciation of the female body, thus hinting at the fathers homosexuality before having been stated. The last example of Bechdel using symbolic drawings, is seen in the Sunbeam Bread’ found on the kitchen side a few frames before she announces her fathers suicide. Bechdel’s father killed himself by jumping in front of a moving ‘Sunbeam’ truck, this image therefore foreshadows his death.

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