Tag: focalization

Focalization and Narration: Omniscient, First Person, or Unreliable?

I think Bechdel’s inclusion and analysis of her own diary entries in Fun Home bring up an interesting question about what type of narrator she is in her own life.

For the majority of the novel, Bechdel is a pretty omniscient narrator, but not fully omniscient. She is omniscient in comparison with her younger self that she is describing because as she writes this novel, she now knows way more about her parents, especially her father, than her younger self knew. However, she is not fully omniscient; there are still mysteries in her father’s story, which then cause mysteries in her own story. For example, she is still not quite sure if her father committed suicide or not: “There’s no proof, actually, that my father killed himself” (27). Another example is when her father calls her into the morgue to hand him a pair of scissors: “Maybe this was the same offhanded way his own notoriously cold father had shown him his first cadaver…Or maybe he felt he’d become too inured to death, and was hoping to elicit from me an expression of the natural horror he was no longer capable of. Or maybe he just needed the scissors” (44-45). Although she knows more about her father than she did back then, she still does not have the whole picture, so her narration of her own history is limited.

When her diary entries come in, the narration switches from memory to actual primary accounts. These can verify the events and feelings she has been describing. However, most of the entries she includes do not say much; they certainly do not detail and analyze events the way she is doing as she is narrating the novel. Even during the beginning phase of her diary writing where she is just writing down hard facts, the facts are not that significant, such as “We watched the Brady Bunch. I made popcorn.” As she becomes older, her diary writing style changes: “…hard facts gave way to vagaries of emotion and opinion” (169). These entries may actually say more about who she was at this point in her life, but she isn’t always honest about how she feels in her own diary entries. For example, she and her friend can’t go to a football game and school dance because they “stupidly missed” their ride; however, the present narrator Bechdel states, “My profession of disappointment at missing the game at dance was an utter falsehood, of course” (183). In fact, on the very next page, she literally writes, “My narration had by this point become altogether unreliable” (184). I find it so interesting that she from the present is invalidating her own written account from the past. Does she really remember that she was lying about the dance in her diary? Is she interpreting these entries correctly? Or is she interpreting them with a present lens? In fact, on the back of my copy of Fun Home, there is a short bio of Bechdel that reads, “Alison Bechdel began keeping a journal when she was ten and since then has been a careful archivist of her own life.” However, her young diary entries do not at all seem like careful archives. Thy are full of words that do not say enough about an important event or say something that’s different from how she felt about an event. She literally calls herself unreliable! How can we fuse the teenage narrator with the adult narrator in order to figure out what is the truth?

Image in the novel

The medium by which Fun Home is told is a strange one. It is a self entitled comic, or “tragicomic” on the front cover, and the back cover refers to it as a “graphic memoir”. There are certain elements of the story that change when presented as images with sparse text captions than the bricks of text that typically compose a novel. Some things are gained by adding visuals, for example Bechdel could describe her father’s indifferent and cavalier attitude towards the cadavers, which she does mention, but with the cartoons she can demonstrate how his face and body language is no different expression over a dead body than he does with his family. She could spend chapters upon chapters, if it were written as a text , to describe things: like the house can be represented in a single panel which would’ve taken pages upon pages of writing to get all the specific details of her dad’s excessive collective and restorative efforts, However things are also lost by transferring over to this visual relationship, such as the concept of movement and physical senses besides sight. It’s much harder to express dialogue but easier to demonstrate non verbal cues. I think one important aspect of character then, would be the physical form in which it was created