Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Genre: The Family Tragedy

In Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic, the author unearths her experience of growing with her family in her meticulously constructed gothic revival home, in Pennsylvania and coming out as a lesbian in college. Bechdel aptly subtitles her graphic memoir as a “tragicomic”, which effectively refers to both the genre and the format in which the memoir is presented.

First, I want to clarify what the definition of genre is, in case you are unclear with it, much like myself (of course before doing the research for this post).

The New Oxford American Dictionary defines “Genre” as “a category of artistic composition, as in music or literature, characterized by similarities in form, style, or subject matter” and it is not to be confused with format or category which the piece of literature presents itself such as graphic novel, or children’s book.

Her memoir truly fits under the tragedy genre. The memoir centers around her relationship with her authoritative and emotionally distant father who just happened to be a closeted gay. This revelation was only made present to her when she decided to come out as a lesbian to her family in college. Her father, a perfectionist, had died at the tragically at the young age of forty four. The true nature of his death is still a big question. In with Ginia Bellafante’s article in The New York Times titled Twenty Years Later, The Walls Still Talk, Bechdel stated that “another piece of evidence in support of the theory that my dad killed himself was the fact that he’d pretty much completed restoring the house at the time he died. As if perhaps, now that he was finished with this project, he was finished, period” (Bellefante). So perhaps, Bruce Bechdel’s ending was not the true tragedy. Perhaps the true tragedy was how Bruce saw his life through the lenses of other writers or fictional characters to make up for not being able to live the life he wanted to live. For instance, in the letters he wrote to Alison’s mother during his time in the army, he obsessively referenced and compared his life to Scott Fitzgerald’s

(Image 1: Page 63) (Image 2: Page 65)

Bruce, who was heavily engrossed with literature, carried a grand repertoire of life stories that he admired and preferred to his own, in his head. In speculation that her father’s death was planned she realized that his lifespan almost matched that of one of his hero Scott Fizgerald, with the difference only being three days. To Bruce Bechdel, maybe his death was planned, perfectly. But in Alison’s perspective, who perfectly understood her well-read father and his refusal to live in his own reality was a tragedy. 

(image page 85)

Here's an interesting link to Bruce Bechdel's online memorial, where one can learn more about him aside from what was presented in the memoir. 

Post by: Leanne Lau

Works Cited

Bechdel, Alison. Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic. 1. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2006. 232. Print.

Bellafante, Ginia. "Twenty Years Later, the Walls Still Talk." New York Times 03 AUG 2006. n. pag. Web. 27 Oct. 2011. < 1SNH8sRkuz5azY4XDISuQ>.


  1. Such a fascinating man, really, as is obvious by Alison's obsessive details and observations of him. I can only imagine that going to war in the past as a gay man would have been terribly difficult and the failure to "fit-in"- as I'm sure he felt- was no doubt overwhelming. It makes me wonder if he would have chosen the same "exit" had "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" been revoked decades earlier.

    I have read "The Great Gatsby", and he DOES remind me of Jay Gatsby; very interesting.

    Question for anyone else: Do YOU think his death was suicide or do you think he really was hit by a truck? If it was suicide, why do you think he chose to end it then?

    Posted by Sabrina

  2. Hey Leanne,

    I can't believe you actually found his memorial.
    That's really cool. Though it's also slightly creepy that you can "find a grave" on that website. Haha.

    Anyway, you mentioned something which I found fascinating which was that, "Bechdel stated that “another piece of evidence in support of the theory that my dad killed himself was the fact that he’d pretty much completed restoring the house at the time he died. As if perhaps, now that he was finished with this project, he was finished, period” (Bellefante)."

    It seriously gives him a more poetic death than just getting hit by a truck.


    That's a very hard question...

    Well, Bechdel believed that it wasn't an accident and shows hints that somewhat supports her statement. Like the divorce and the date that Bruce wrote in the copy if Camus' A Happy Death that he'd been reading that was left around the house deliberately. However,"it's possible that [she] chose to believe this because it was less painful" (pg 29).

    Alison repeatedly mentions and draws the moment of her father's death throughout the book.(pages 28 and 89). It's something I guess that she's trying to solve herself.

    As I mentioned earlier, it's nicely poetic for him to have intended his death. It certainly does give the man a good ending. I believe he chose to end it then because all his children are now living separate lives, his wife wants to separate from him and he's basically done revamping the house. Though he wasn't successful, he completed his duty as a father, a husband and a renovator. So really what's left for him?

    Heather Agoncillo