Bechdel’s Self-Knowledge in “Fun Home”

In Alison Bechdel’s graphic novel, “Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic,” the concepts of knowledge and self-knowledge become powerful markers in how Bechdel remembers and interprets her past. It’s really interesting when Bechdel starts a diary and begins to doubt and discredit her daily experiences. On page 141, Bechdel writes “How did I know that the things I was writing were absolutely, objectively true?” Doubt creeps into her diary with “I think” prefacing every action: “I finished [I think] ‘The Cabin Island Mystery’…I made popcorn [I think]…” (141). A diary is supposed to be a medium to divulge one’s true and twisted thoughts and deeds, but Bechdel’s ultra-analytic mindset at such a young age shows how her “‘conscience’” second-guesses itself (RA, 244).

In Smith and Watson’s Reading Autobiography, knowledge and self-knowledge can be described as how one “interprets dream or particular experiences” (244). When Bechdel and her siblings stumble upon the snake in the river, a caption of her subsequent diary entry crosses out “We” in the sentence, “We saw a snake”; she feels anxiety over “the troubling gap between word and meaning.” (143). I think she finds the truth hard to comprehend, (also in light of her obsessive-compulsion) because she doesn’t know the truth in her own museum-like house. Her father’s “secret” homosexual identity feeds into the distance between her and her mother; her mother focuses more on acting and finishing school rather than her crumbling shell of a marriage. Bechdel’s self-knowledge doesn’t start to really surface until she’s away at college and has the opportunity to explore her sexuality and identity.

Before she comes out to her parents, there are moments in Bechdel’s childhood where her father’s understated truth reflects her own. When “the truck-driving bulldyke” dressed in men’s clothing walks into the diner and Bechdel’s father asks her if this figure is “what [she] wants to look like,” Bechdel’s knowledge is increased (118). She realizes that not all women look alike, that she can grow up and not have to look like her feminine mother. The same goes for her velvet-suit-wearing father (98). There are many instances in the graphic novel in which Bechdel’s perception of the events that have happened to her add to how she sees herself.

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