by Brooke Dimarzio
One work of fiction that I have read recently for my Young Adult Fiction class was Fun Home by Alison Bechdel. At first read, I did not immediately notice the connections to gothic literature in this graphic novel. I have this class immediately after Dr. Peeples, and one day while reading it hit me all at once how “gothic” this novel actually is. Fun Home closely connects with “gothic” aesthetic because of the way the past perpetually haunts the present moment for the main characters. Fun Home is an autobiographical graphic novel that allows the author to become the artificer of her own life and share her truth. This directly contrasted with her father, Bruce, who uses art to conceal and repress his truth. Fun Home’s Alison Bechdel narrates the discovery of her sexuality while being entwined with her father’s suppressed past. After Bruce commits suicide, Alison comes to terms with her father’s suppressed homosexuality. The story unfolds the conflicting and cross-sectional desires between father and daughter—Alison is in many ways jealous of her father’s “wasted” masculinity. On the other hand, Bruce projects is innermost desires onto his daughter by forcing her to dress femininely as a child. The story is centered around death, family trauma, and repressed identity. Not to mention, Bruce is the director of his family’s funeral home, “Fun Home”—directly facing death on a weekly basis.
One specific element in the story that solidifies this gothic interpretation is the home that the family lives in. Bechdel’s childhood home—a gothic revival house, was a center point of the narrative for multiple chapters. Allison’s father, Bruce, painstakingly pours his suppressed identity into the details of the home through decoration. The ornate decorations of the home in many ways represent his repressed gender expression and sexuality. Allison Bechdel repeatedly suggests how her father’s control over the house becomes symbolic of his artificial life. You can see how Bechdel presents this through her illustrations.
The house in Fun Home is inherently gothic (not just because it is literally a gothic revival home, but also symbolically) because the suppression of secrets and corruption comes through the family home. Although Bruce’s life was dedicated to repressing his sexuality, we see how the truth eventually comes to the surface in a way that haunts the protagonist. After Bruce dies, Alison is left to process not only her father’s repressed truth but must come to terms with her own sexuality. All of this happens within the walls of this house.
One cartoon in particular still captures my attention:
Here, we can see Alison and Bruce sitting together in the library of the home. Throughout the narrative, the library is a central room where Bruce interacts with other men he is interested in. Additionally, both Alison and Bruce have a profound love for literature. They communicate and understand each other through metaphor and literary tradition. In the top image, we can see how both Alison and Bruce are sitting together in the same room. They both occupy the same space and exist together but are separate– consumed by their own worlds. Alison sits at the desk writing while Bruce sits in the chair reading. The perspective of the drawing makes it look like they are physically close together in a small space.
Looking at only the bottom image, you might not know that the two were in the same room because of the perspective difference. Alison is sitting at the desk while Bruce seems much more distant since we can only see them through the two windows. Interestingly, Bruce’s face is obstructed by the window frames. On a symbolic level, you can say that he is trapped behind bars. This symbolic element has to be deliberate. Although Alison and Bruce are in the same room, they are emotionally distant from each other because Bruce is trapped by his repressed sexuality. On the other hand, Alison, who is able to come to terms with her own lesbian identity, is unobstructed by the frames of the windowpanes. In these two images, the furnishings of the house and the actual structure of the house serve to represent the way Alison processes her relationship with her father. This method of autobiography through the medium of a graphic novel is inherently gothic.
In some ways, the elements of this story reminded me of Poe’s “Fall of the House of Usher.” Although Poe’s depiction of the gothic house is vastly more extreme, they both follow similar principles. In both stories, the houses are symbols of repressed identity and lack of freedom. In “Fall of the House of Usher” the house is a character. In Fun Home, Bechdel personifies her family home often and it deliberately becomes its own character.