Duality and Inverse Unfolding of Character

In Chapter 4, Alison compares the interplay between her narrative arc and her father’s with the ambiguous archetype of the serpent. While quite clearly a phallus, it is also an ancient symbol of femininity and fertility. It is interesting, then, how Alison remarks that “perhaps this undifferentiation, this nonduality, is the point…maybe that’s what’s so unsettling about snakes” (116). She then remarks that “my father’s end was my beginning…the end of his life coincided with the beginning of my truth” (117). This passage precisely captures a question I grapple with in Fun Home: does Alison’s character and her father’s character unfold together throughout the tragicomic? Is this unfolding cyclical, the fleshing out of one character directly feeding back into the development of the other? Or perhaps an inverse duality more accurately characterizes the mapping of the two characters; in attempting to piece together her memories of her father to form a more complete picture of him after his death through this, Alison in fact effectively charts her own character while only further blurring the terrain of her father’s character. Such an inverse relationship can be seen in the horribly static, drawn-out spread (220-221) when Alison’s father, at the crux of a potential moment of true emotional connection and understanding, still resists interpretation, or by the sheer amount of times Alison attempts to fill in the gaps her father left behind and form a more coherent narrative with hypotheticals of “maybe,” “perhaps,” or “what if” throughout her memoir. Do her revelations about herself come at the expense of muddying her memories of her father by creating infinite possibilities, explanations, and justifications for his past actions? Is it possible for a reader’s (and narrator’s) understanding of a character not to expand, but to disintegrate throughout a work of fiction?


  1. I was also struck by that double-page spread on page 220-221. I took it at first as an attempt through repetition to find some hint more of facial expression. The minute differences—widened eyes, hand on chin, elbow raised—are nothing more than physical. What Bechdel remembers (and places in text and her own past self’s facial expressions) are her own personal recollections, and by drawing herself repeatedly so close to her father seems like an effort to bridge the gap between them. Her father’s admission of his history mirrors her own description of her journey to realizing she was a lesbian, and regarding their similarities, she asks him, “Remember?” but it goes unanswered. But, in what she calls their “tricky reverse narration that impels our entwined stories,” in a way, she’s asking herself to remember. And she has. In a way, this absolutely muddies her memories of her father, but I think it was an expansion of his character to focus on his similarities with Bechdel, and simultaneously a disintegration, because she will only ever know him now through herself and her own memories.

  2. This is an interesting point because though our view of the father changes throughout the story, Bechdel is writing from a fixed point in the future so any perceived change in emotion towards her father is constructed. I’m not sure if she means to muddy her father’s identity in the latter half of the novel so much as show us, the reader, how disorienting it is to learn something horrific about one’s parents that must reverberate back through the past. Essentially, Alison must go back and relive her once memories to reformulate them as befits what she knows of her father’s sexuality and pseudo-pedophilia.

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