The path from one’s childhood to their adulthood has never been a narrow, easy path, it is one filled with numerous obstacles that can make it feel like your entire world is collapsing around you, while providing you no way out. This is prevalent in Alison Bechdel’s, “Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic” and Phoebe Gloeckner’s “The Diary of a Teenage Girl: An Account in Words and Pictures”. Bechdel’s graphic novel memoir centers around her relationship with her emotionally detached father, Bruce. The author specifically focuses on the events surrounding the day of Bruce’s death while she was in her freshman year of college. Alison’s childhood of abandonment, mixed with the trauma of her father’s unclear death that she marks as a suicide, all play a significant role in the various shifts in her life. Gloeckner’s graphic novel is a collection of diary entries written by Minnie, a fifteen-year-old girl living with her careless mother and little sister in 1970s San Francisco. The story centers around Minnie after she loses her virginity to her mother’s middle-aged boyfriend, Monroe Rutherford. The author highlights the various instances in which the character deal with understanding the complexity of her sexuality while raising herself.
The abandonment and trauma experienced by both Minnie and Alison are crucial in being the catalyst towards their journey of becoming. The authors illustrate them finding what coping mechanism works best for them as they go from their search for affection from their parental figures, using literature and their writing as an outlet to seeking mental health help
The abandonment Alison experienced in her childhood due to the detachment of her father does not push her away as one would believe but instead causes her to yearn for his physical affection even more. Bechdel makes sure to acknowledge the importance of this feeling right from the panels on the first page. “It was a discomfort well worth the rare physical contact, and certainly worth the moment of perfect balance when I soared above him” (Bechdel, pg. 3). Bechdel introduces her father as a secretive man incapable of expressing any form of affection and tended to make Bechdel feel inadequate in various ways. By the first page, she is quick to distinguish the type of relationship she had with her father and establishing it as a her normal. They way she fondly touches upon that memory lets the readers know how much she cherished it as it truly was so rarely ever experienced. Bechdel also recalls the memory of how although her father was the leading cause of her fear in life, he was also the one that gave her the kind of warmth and affection that she craved. “My mother must have bathed me hundreds of times. But it’s my father rinsing me off with the purple metal cup that I remember most clearly” (Bechdel, pg. 22). Bathing must have been a particularly pleasant activity in Bechdel’s life and because she shared very little moments like that with her father, it became a memory that stuck out. In both instances of rare affection for young Bechdel, she is seen saying “Again”. This could be referring to the rare warmth Bruce gave her through those action followed by the cold absence of when he would fail to show it. In Minnie’s life, her affection is non-existent with her mother and so when Minnie is seen exploring her sexuality she finds herself mixing up the desire for familial love with sexual love. The misplacement of Minnie’s affection becomes her way of dealing with her mom not taking on the role of a mother like Minnie hoped (Taylor). “I wasn’t really sure whether I wanted him or anyone else to fuck me but I was afraid to pass up the chance because I might never get another” (Gloeckner, pg.6). Minnie came from a broken family and so she searched for validation from her mother but instead got the opposite. Her irresponsible mother would make her feel inadequate and incapable of being loved a number of times throughout the story. Minnie finds validation in Monroe as well as the affection she was deprived of for so many years. Out of fear of never being enough and finding love she turns to the arms of an older man to provide her with that comfort. In another instance Minnie’s mother proposes that Monroe marries Minnie because he had slept with her. “Oh yes, my loves, he loves me, he wants to take care of me, even my momma wants what’s best for me now at the end of this long painful road I shall finally have my warm happiness, the pink glowing love that I needed so badly!” (Gloeckner, pg. 254). Minnie feels herself find the affection she so desperately ached for from both adults and so a part of her subconscious hopes that it was actually real. It kills two birds with one stone, as Minnie’s mother is finally seeing her as adequate to approve of something in her life while also having the certainty that Monroe will protect her from harm’s way. Both characteristics that are likely to be identified amongst parental figures so Minnie mistakes the joy of finally having a parent with the traumatic reason behind suggesting marriage.
When Bechdel discusses the memories that she believed foreshadowed her father’s eventual passing, the audience sees a peak of interest in literature and writing into journals. “My realization at nineteen that I was lesbain came about in a manner consistent with my bookish upbringing” (Bechdel, pg. 74). She turned to books as they openly answered the many questions her parents avoided answering or even acknowledging as it shatter the image they had built for themselves. Bechdel used literature to cope with the emotions and feelings she was forced to restrain during her childhood as it would upset the image that Bruce constructed. By reading she could define her sexual identity, which was the opposite of what Bruce had done and so that led to his eventual death meanwhile Bechdel had rewritten her story, not it being one with less deadly secrets. Coping through literature is evident again when Bechdel began writing into a diary, throughout the story, the audience is made aware of the notes Bruce had been making into the books he read. “I wish I could say I’d accepted his book, that I still had it, that he’d underlined one particular passage” (Bechdel, pg. 47). Bechdel seems to hold on to the belief that Bruce’s death was a suicide that may have been building up through the underlined sentences that considers suicide as a logical option. Bechdel wrote about her day like Bruce wrote about the corpses that came into the Fun Home. Only Bechdel had more freedom on getting her thoughts across, proved even further through this memoir written by her years later to acknowledge and understand how it all came to be. Minnie relies on her diary entries to also cope with her upcoming; upon initialing a sexual relation with her father, she is unable to openly share her desires and accounts with other individuals. Therefore, she found warmth within her typewriter and physical diary pages where she would spill her heart out. “One night I had a dream that my stepfather found the diary, and I woke up full of fear at 3:00 am and destroyed the little book” (Gloeckner, pg. 13). Minnie turns to unraveling her earliest secret of being attracted to a girl in her class through the pages of the diary. She may have not had a proper understanding of sexual identity quite yet but knew her parents discovering it would be her worst fear. The feeling that Minnie could not turn to her family with her doubts caused her so much inner turmoil, all located within her diary pages. The act of destroying the diary felt like she had been cheated of love and lost a part of herself. Minnie therefore commits herself to continue her future diaries no matter how dark of a secret she included in it. In the epilogue, Minnie isn’t shown to have come a long way since her shame of sharing herself so openly. “A brand-new diary is like a brand-new life, and I’m ready to leave this one behind me” (Gloeckner, pg. 285). This proves that Minnie definitely saw the diary to being an embodiment of her soul, existing and aware but unable to be shared. Minnie used the diary to make sense of her sexuality from when she first explored it with Monroe to when she decides she does not need his validation and realizes that the pages are what helped her come to that conclusion. She feels better about where she ended up and the diary passages serve as proof of that.
From a young age Bechdel finds herself to be diagnosed with ‘Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder” (OCD), this is likely caused by her father’s tendencies to demand perfection from all his surroundings. “The explanation of repressed hostility made no sense to me. I continued reading, searching for something more concrete” (Bechdel, pg. 139). Bechdel is never able to explain the fear, anger and confusion she feels living in an unpredictable household due to her father’s rash actions. She reads in the book that Bechdel was holding back her hostile thoughts thereby causing her to find other ways to express herself. This self-censorship was probably caused by early incidents when Bruce gave very little space for error in young Bechdel’s life, from the incident regarding the lamp to her mother establishing a rule to never make a comment about their father’s appearance (Bechdel, pg. 18-19). The entire situation results in her being hyper aware of her surroundings by building a routine of things like having an exact way of undressing herself, lining up her shoes and kissing every single one of her stuffed animals (Bechdel, pg. 137). When Minnie was struggling with the chaos of her household and personal life she is seeks out help from her psychiatrist, Dr Alfred Wollenberg. “He promised he would not tell my mother, but the reason he gave is that it would not help me” (Gloeckner, pg. 221). Minnie looks into finding alternative methods of understanding the numerous confusions that make her feel so self-destructive and angry. The promise of secrecy from the wrath of her mother plays the same role that she had given her diary, but through the psychiatrist she was getting well needed advice back. The response allows her to understand her circumstance and plays a role in her journey to becoming. This is kind of evident again when she seeks help from a suicide helpline, the service provided was not helpful in any way or form but knowing she seeked help gives both the audience and Minnie the idea that she wants to live, but clearly relaying on others to walk her through it is not working therefore she finds the desired validation for her mental health through her own self.
The authors highlight that trauma and abandonment are severely damaging to a child’s life asn they are more prone to experience it long term as they are so much more impressionable. The authors show themselves transition into their stages of becoming through their desire for parental affection, literature and writing as an outlet and seeking mental health support. They make it evident through both authors attention towards their father figures influence into understanding their identities and desires. Then Bechdel uses her father books to understand the secrets of bother their sexualities while Minnie used her diary to understand the secrets of her sexual adventures. Then lastly, Bechdel is diagnosed with OCD due to her trauma and Minnie found herself coping through therapy and other types of support.