Controlling the Chaos - Fun Home: A Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel
What aspects can define what Popular Literature is? How is control a crucial aspect of Popular Literature? Popular literature is intended for large audiences and requires a certain level of engagement and entertainment. It is accompanied by many different aspects that can help showcase a good understanding of the story. Fun Home: A Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel published in 2006, surrounds the story of her childhood and youth by focusing on her complex upbringing and relationship with her father, Bruce. In addition to the main premise, it explores the death of her father and the struggles she faces with discovering her own sexuality. As readers, this book allows us the opportunity to read this text as a graphic memoir. It was created by the survivor of the past, as it is written and read in the first person. This book is a very prominent example that clearly defines what Popular Literature is. Thus, it accompanies many important narrative techniques. Popular Literature is often surrounding itself with different themes and genres. A notable technique is a control. Control can be defined as having the power to influence people’s ways. A controlling person can often be defined as someone who is isolating themselves or others from secrets or the things around them. Through Fun Home, control is seen as a crucial aspect in Popular Literature, which is demonstrated through, Alison’s perfectionism with the life around her, Bruce’s motives towards his family, and how readable this novel is for its audience.
Fun Home itself is a controlling text. It appears to have a very manipulative way of using its techniques to tell the story. This theory directly links to the idea that the author retains supreme control. For this novel, Alison Bechdel is the primary controller for how this story comes across. When reading this book and learning about Bechdel’s characteristics, it is frequently notable that she may have some type of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) tendencies. As a child, she tends to have to be in control of her emotions and the way she acts around her father. She feels she had to be or dress in a certain way. This could have also stemmed from her mother and how she told Bechdel and her sibling how to act, specifically around her father. “No comments on his appearance. Is that understood?…Good, bad it doesn’t matter” (19). From the beginning, it is noted that she was always taught to be a certain way. As she grows older, she must be her own controlling person, for herself. We see some sort of calendar list on her wall in her room, presenting some behaviors that she has adopted to feel this sort of control in her life. “On my wall calendar, I set myself deadlines by which to abandon specific compulsions, one at a time” (149). She has written specific goals to achieve, for example, “Toss shoes” and “Don’t fold towels funny” (149). The one that stands out the most is, “Don’t worry. You’re safe” (149), which makes the reader think about how capable she is to control her life in, her own way. Bechdel tries to control her evident uncontrollable life with these perfectionist type strategies, like making lists. As it worsens, it causes some chaos to come about. Even in her own diary, she may have the potential to have errors that could infringe her controlled structure, that she has already built up and around herself. However, Bechdel admits in the narrative, that she does not have the means to describe the entirety of the facts. Being the author, she can control the sequence of events being persuaded on paper, but this also means she is not the only person that controls the real narrative which reflects the idea of control as this narrative’s major technique.
Bruce, Bechdel’s father, was shown to be a very big influence throughout her childhood or so she says. He can simply be described as the man of the house, who in a sense controls everything that surrounds the family. Thus, being the controller allows him to hide his truths. He is seen to be the main discipliner and the one that makes all the decisions. This quote “What are you doing? That’s the canary-colored caravan! Here, I’ll do the rest in yellow and your blue side will be in the shadow” (130-131), is an example of how Bruce will take matters into his own hands and how he will take things from others to make it the way he wants. What was once just an innocent girl coloring, turned into a disaster that Bruce, now controls the outcome of. These types of fatherly techniques can be described by two different motives. These two motives are engaged throughout Bechdel’s childhood and allow the reader for a better understanding of the characters. Firstly, he deals with reconciliation in relation to Bechdel. Throughout the novel, as readers, we see a type of full-circle effect that occurs. Bechdel always wants to forgive Bruce and in the end, always tries to get his attention. “I showed [my poem] to my father, who improvised a second stanza on the spot. Limp with admiration, I added his lines to my typescript” (129), which is a great example of how Bechdel will change things just to please him. However, this also shows just how Bruce is in full control of this relationship he has with Bechdel because it seems like it always up to him what happens. The second motive is his abusive nature which demonstrates his control over all his kids including Bechdel. He is always hitting them or throwing things out of anger, but it is usually because of the littlest things. The lamp incident, for example, shows the type of discipline Bruce practices. “How did this vase get so close to the edge of the table” (18), is the question he asks his children that supposedly had nothing to do with it. Bruce does not believe them and is shown hitting them, as they plead that they had done nothing wrong. This is the type of acts Bruce demonstrates to show that he controls what the family can and cannot do. He is always constantly fixing the house, whether that be outside or inside. No matter how perfect he claims to be, it cannot change his true desires.
It is a common factor that any novel must entice the reader so that it can actually be read or understood. Perhaps, Fun Home uses that search for control as its most recognizable technique. It uses its quality to help define its readability. A good Popular Literature book must be compelling hence why this specific book is such a ‘page-turner’ that people cannot put down. With its use of illustrations, it gives off a child-like atmosphere for a very adult-like story and novel. As mentioned above, this novel is based on Bechdel’s life, which makes it very compelling to the reader. However, Bechdel uses some additional techniques that benefit the story. She uses her ability to tell us just enough about a certain topic or about something, that will intrigue us. Once we are intrigued, we continue to read more to satisfy our interest and curiosity. This technique ultimately controls whether we continue to read the book or not. If it is done well, the reader will not catch onto the technique and just continue it out of pure intentions. An example of this in the novel is when we are introduced to the idea of Bruce having secrets. As readers, we do not know exactly what it is and how it influences Bechdel and her life. With this little information, it raises many questions that are worth discovering. What is the secret? How does it impact Bechdel’s life? Is it true? When a book creates this atmosphere to raise questions, it is controlling the way you think which makes it a readable book. In addition, the author will feel satisfied, as his or her story has done exactly what it was meant to do; make a gripping and entertaining novel.
The answer to the question stated above, how is control a crucial aspect of Popular Literature? can be answered through different and complex techniques. A Popular Literature novel like Fun Home by Alison Bechdel is a perfect example of how control is very important in Popular Literature novels. Three pivotal influences in the book, that influences this idea of control are Alison and how she controls the aspects of her life, Bruce with his techniques of abuse and reconciliation, and if the book is readable or not. This book does an amazing job of taking us out of our reality and putting us into someone else’s, indefinitely controlling our decision to read it or not. It is evident that without control, no author would have a successful Popular Literature novel.
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