Sei sulla pagina 1di 5

Krishnamoorthy, 1

Sushmitha Krishnamoorthy ENGL 1167 Great New Books 7th October 2013 The Role of Literature in Shaping Alisons Homosexuality The complete title of the Alison Bechdels Fun Home gives an important insight into its content Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic. The family in the novel is dysfunctional because of a homosexual father, an indifferent mother, neglected children and their broken relationships. This dysfunction is at the core of the occurrences in the story. Although Alison claims that her homosexuality is innate, when studied in the context of Elsas interview from the book Word is Out, it is evident that Alisons homosexuality is a result of her longing for emancipation from her dysfunctional family. Her realization of homosexuality and beliefs about lesbianism are also greatly influenced by Elsas story. Word is Out, a series of interviews with homosexual people from various walks of life, is one of the first books that Alison reads about this subject. On page 74 of Fun Home, Bechdel dedicates a panel to a page of one of the interviews in this book. It depicts an interviewee - Elsa and a brief excerpt from her interview. In the complete interview, Elsa describes her own family as: She (my mother) was very unsophisticated, but she was a great reader. My father had sense of adventure, and my siblings were all interested in some kind of art- they all had visions of becoming famous one way or another. (Adair 15) The Bechdel family is very artistic too. In Fun Home, there are panels depicting Alisons mother practicing the piano (Bechdel 132), playing major roles in local as well as prominent theatre productions (Bechdel 154) and writing a thesis for her masters in literature. Her fathers passion for interior design is highlighted from the very beginning of the novel. He is also a voracious reader and an English teacher who has a library in his house.

Krishnamoorthy, 2

Our home was like an artists colony. We ate together, but otherwise were absorbed in our separate pursuits (Bechdel 134), Bechdel writes in a panel that depicts each of the family members in distinct bubbles, engrossed in their artistic activities. This similarity between Elsa and Alisons families may have been evident to Alison, at least subconsciously if not explicitly. The common background could have helped Alison relate to Elsa.

Fun Home, page 74 (Top to bottom) Alisons realization of homosexuality, her discovery of the word lesbian and Elsas interview from Word is Out

The panel with Elsa from Word is Out is placed on the same page in which Alison speaks of her introduction to the word lesbian and her early qualms about it. By choosing to refer to this book at such a critical moment in the narrative, Bechdel conveys the significance of Elsas story in Alisons homosexual experience. On the same page, Alisons first realization of lesbianism is shared. Alison confesses, My realization at nineteen that I was a lesbian came about in a manner consistent with my bookish upbringing: A revelation not of the flesh, but of the

Krishnamoorthy, 3

mind (Bechdel 74). Having had no homosexual relationship, she attributes the realization of her homosexuality to books on that subject. From Elsas complete interview from Word is Out, it comes to light that literature about homosexuality was a vital part of her lesbian experience too. Through Roswell all blessings I started to hear about some literature that would lead me to some knowledge about myself and other people like me. Other than the literary, I think the first books I read were Edward Carpenters The Intermediate Sex and Kraft-Ebbing and Lombroso and all these were revelatory to me because I could have no doubt, having read them, of where my orientation lay. (Adair 17) After reading these texts, Elsa felt reassured of her sexual orientation, although she had had no physical experience of lesbianism. The similarity between Elsas and Alisons accounts is intriguing. In this context, Alisons realization seems to be less of an epiphany. It is likely that the idea of a revelation of the mind through books appealed to Alison because it is in sync with her bookish upbringing and her predilection for literary comparisons. I employ these allusions to James and Fitzgerald not only as descriptive devices but because my parents are most real to me in fictional terms (Bechdel 67). Not only her parents, but Alisons own sexual orientation is born in fictional terms. She pursues this fictional idea by reading more and more books on homosexuality until she starts believing it. Even before she has any physical or emotional experience of lesbianism, Alison announces her sexual preference to her parents. Considering the social stigma attached to lesbianism in the period of the novel, she is impulsive and incautious in her decision to make an announcement. It can be argued that perhaps she believed her parents would accept her, regardless of her sexual orientation. However, referring to another excerpt from Word is Out, a different explanation emerges.

Krishnamoorthy, 4

Ive always had a positive feeling about being a lesbian. Of course, I knew what the social attitude was. Couldnt escape it. But I always felt the right to be me. No regrets, no guilt, no apologies. For women, being lesbian is liberating. (Adair 23) Caught in the web of her familys troubles, Alison also searches for an escape. She covets the liberation that Elsa found in homosexuality. There is no sign of doubt or second thoughts in Elsas answer. The bluntness of No regrets, no guilt, no apologies conveys that her sense of liberation is so profound that she feels no need to offer an explanation for it. Elsas conviction persuades Alison. Influenced by Elsas story, Alison views lesbianism as an escape from the labyrinth of her familys troubles. I had imagined my confession as emancipation from my parents, but instead I was pulled back into their orbit (Bechdel 59). Given the largely negative social response to lesbianism in the period of the book, Alison braces for strong disapproval. She expects her family to ostracize her because she is homosexual. Being outcast is the simplest way of breaking away from her dysfunctional family. It is her escape route. However, when she learns of her fathers homosexuality, she realizes that her attempt at emancipation has failed. As disapproval goes, I suppose it was rather mild. Still, I was devastated (Bechdel 77). She is not met with the disapproval she expects. Instead, she is faced with more twisted family drama than she had imagined. Instead of escaping, she is bound more tightly to her family due to the new common ground with her father. Alisons motive behind the confession backfires, but it is an essential factor in steering her towards homosexuality. Thoughout the book, Bechdel indicates that Alisons homosexuality was a result of nature and not nurture. However, a deeper analysis of the incidents and references that Bechdel uses prove the contradictory. Consciously or subconsciously, Alison develops

Krishnamoorthy, 5

homosexuality as a response to her family, inspired by Elsas powerful story. In this case homosexuality is not an intrinsic trait, but an acquired one.

Bibliography Adair, Nancy and Casey Adair. Word is Out. New York: Dell Publishing Co., Inc. , 1978 Bechdel ,Alison. Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company,2006. Print.