Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic | Study Guide

Alison Bechdel

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Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic | Symbols


The Gothic-Revival House

The Gothic-revival house that Bruce restores symbolizes both his deep love for ornamentation and beauty and also his talent for beautifying/concealing ugly truths. The house projects an exterior image of the Bechdel family as well-off and harmonious with its suggestion of Victorian gentility. However, the family within the house is fragmented and far from wealthy. This fragmentation is typified by the house's library, described as "a fantasy, but a fully operational one."

The house also represents Alison's estrangement from ordinary suburban life. The author notes the house's similarity to the Addams Family's Gothic mansion, a fictional mansion that was a parody of ordinary suburban American living. The house, much like the man who restored it, is an ornamental veneer concealing a more troubled interior.

Men's Clothes and Male Beauty

In Fun Home Alison becomes fascinated with men's clothing and harbors an—initially—hidden desire to wear them. To Alison, men's clothing represents utilitarian values, ruggedness, and comfort. She disdains girls' and women's clothing, seeing them as overly ornamental and impractical. At one point, caught reading a men's fashion magazine, she claims she's "considering becoming a fashion designer." Her fascination with male beauty is a projection of sorts, as she wishes she could emulate masculine looks and "cosmeticized masculinity."

Throughout the book Alison wears men's clothing. Additionally, the love of masculine beauty she shares with her father is described as a "demilitarized zone" in their fraught relationship.


Obelisks appear at several points in the book, most notably in the form of Bruce's granite obelisk headstone after his burial. Bruce owns a small collection of obelisks during his lifetime and believes they "symbolize life." And yet, the obelisk that figures most importantly in the book is his grave marker. The obelisks in the book also represent a class of phallic (penis-like) imagery. Another obelisk appears in the form of the metronome on the family piano. It is always seen when Helen, Alison's mom, plays the piano.

Perhaps the most unusual appearance of the obelisk is the "curvy circumflex," or mark, that Alison begins adding to her diary. The circumflex, bearing some resemblance to an obelisk, stands for "I think" and represents Alison's doubts about her memory and reality.

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