As Fun Home progresses, the relationship between Alison and her father shows at the same time, increasing contrast but increasing similarities, specifically in their sexuality and their preferences. As Alison becomes more aware of her sexuality, her father’s preferences start to contrast heavily to hers. “Indeed, I had become a connoisseur of masculinity at an early age”(95). The bottom panel of the page shows her father, meticulously polishing a vase of flowers, while Alison sits in front of a television, watching a show featuring cowboys and guns. Likewise, on page 99, her father insists that Alison puts on some pearls, stating that she was afraid of being beautiful. Alison tells her father to leave her alone. In the next panel, she suggests that her father should get a suit with a vest. Instead of objecting however, her father meekly agrees. The differing in these two responses indicates precisely the willingness both parties are to revealing their sexuality. While Alison refuses the pearls, thereby confirming herself as a lesbian, her father agrees to the suit and vest, therefore continuing his facade of the heterosexual man.
One of the things that struck me in the opening chapters of Fun Home was Alison’s sense of her community and her place in the various communities she describes. We get descriptions mainly of Alison’s interactions with two communities – the family community that she was born into and struggles to navigate, and the queer community which she discovers in college. The intersection of these two communities was quite interesting to me, particularly as Alison struggles to reconcile her father’s sexuality with her own experience of sexuality. For Alison, joining (at least for one meeting) the Gay Union at school is a method of declaring her sexuality both to herself and to her community, and when she leaves she feels “exhilarated.” Alison’s discovery of her sexuality through books, these meetings, and her relationship with Joan serves the function of a kind of coming of age narrative within the novel, but this arc is complicated by her relationship with her family. Alison describes her declaration of her sexuality to her family as overshadowed by the news of her father’s affairs with young men, claiming that she had been “upstaged, demoted in [her] own drama to comic relief in [her] parents’ tragedy” (58). Alison seems to resent her father for this, but at the same time, it helps her to make sense of her relationship with him and her role within the family. Alison seems to find some sort of comfort in labeling herself as the “butch” to her father’s “nelly” (15), and this is further exemplified as Alison ponders whether her coming out could have influenced her father’s suicide. She writes that she is “reluctant to let go of that last, tenuous bond,” (86) implying that some part of her wants to have influenced her father’s death. Having grown up with such an estranged, complex relationship with her father, and with her own sexuality, the intersection of these two narratives seems to provide a sense of belonging and comfort for Alison, even though these personal
In Fun Home, Allison spends a majority of the first four chapters investigating her father through his actions, but instead of immediately compiling them to create a coherent person, she first breaks them down into pieces of a sexuality. While Alison acknowledges her father is defined by his actions, she attempts to form a character instead from what she sees as the similarities between her and him. We see this a few times, most notably on page 97, on which a blank box reads “It’s imprecise and insufficient defining the homosexual as a person whose gender expression is at odds with his or her sex”. She follows this with a panel where her back is turned, captioned “But in the admittedly limited sample comprising my father and me, perhaps it is sufficient.” The end of chapter four continues with this mirroring, with the two photographs of Allison and her dad respectively, taken in their twenties.
By using her own narrative of her own sexuality, Allison can find traits of what she can conceive as her own character and construct a new character out of those pieces. Passages that would at first to appear to be about her own narrative are really about her father. We see this with the panels on page 97, where a drawing where Allison’s sex is indistinguishable because of the direction she is facing is captioned with text describing the sexuality of her father – only through her own development can we reimagine what interiority could be contained in the exteriority of her father.
I believe that we should add sexuality to our list of what makes a character. By sexuality, I mean more than just sexual orientation, although that is an important part of it. Rather, we should look at how characters’ sexual interactions and their responses to those interactions add to our understanding of their character.
Thinking about Oedipa, I realized that we know almost nothing about her physical appearance. We don’t know about her skin tone, the color of her eyes, whether her hair is straight or curly, or if she’s tall, petite, skinny or curvy. All we know is that many of the men she comes into contact with are sexually attracted to her or think she wants to have sex with them. It happens again and again, with her lawyer who plays footsie with her under the table, with Metzger who we learn wants to sleep with her just because he was told she “wouldn’t be easy,” with Miles when he brings her bags to her room, and with Nefastis who assumes that’s why she came to his apartment. One thing that we learn from this situation is how sexual attraction and attention, most of it in this case unwanted, is separate from a specific physical appearance. In Oedipa’s case, sexual attractiveness appears to be a trait all on its own.
We also learn about Oedpia’s character from her reactions to these constant sexual advances. She appears almost to be numb to them. She allows her lawyer to continue to play footsie with her because her boots are thick enough that she doesn’t really feel it. The idea that he’s doing it does not bother her as long as she can ignore it. She also didn’t seem bothered by Miles’s advances, and acted more like it was a simple misunderstanding than something she was offended by. Overall, we get the impression that these unwanted sexual advances are something that happens all of the time, and that her ambivalence is an acquired form of self-protection.