Relationships in Asha Bandele’s Daughter and Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home

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Relationships in Asha Bandele’s Daughter and Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home


Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel is a graphic memoir published in 2006, a ‘comic book’ of sorts, that documents the author’s growing years in small-town Pennsylvania. The memoir focuses on the relationship between the author and her father, addressing a variety of themes that include gender roles and sexual orientation. An essential component in the memoir is the influence of literature and its importance in forming the family mentality. Fun Home goes back and forth in time to create a non-linear narrative which is driven by the internal logic of the author’s introspection. Daughter by Asha Bandele is a novel published in 2003 that documents the relationship between Aya and her mother Miriam, and the various experiences that propel them through their lives. The novel covers essential contemporary issues such as the conformity of individuals to modern cultures and the importance of living within social norms to ensure one’s own security. While the book maintains a focus on the choices made by Miriam and the consequence of these choices, it also deals with the wider concept of the importance of family. Both Fun Home and Daughter focus on relationships and their impact on the protagonists’ lives.


Daughter by Asha Bandele is a tale that intertwines the past and the present to reflect upon the relationship between mother and daughter. Their relationship may be considered painful, since there was no effective communication between them. According to Bandele, Aya yearned for affection and attention from her mother, who did not have the skills necessary to support such communication. For instance, on one occasion when Aya approached her mother in search of affection, Miriam responded with hurried distraction, as if to affirm that her own worries and responsibilities were more important than Aya’s. Whenever Aya wanted to talk to Mariam, something always came up to prevent her. In retrospect, the relationship shared by Aya and Miriam was based on discipline and work (Bandele 54). The effect of such behavior by Miriam led to poor decision-making on Aya’s part. Although Aya had shown herself capable of learning the lessons that life had to offer, attention and input from Miriam would have changed her attitude towards life and her perception of its possibilities.

            The wall that existed between Miriam and Aya was clearly displayed in the mother’s disapproval of Aya’s choice of a partner. This was a sign of a weak relationship between mother and daughter, considering that Aya expected her mother to be supportive of her choices. At that point in time, Aya was mature and felt she knew her own mind. Youthful and in love, she expected Miriam to understand her situation and make it easy for her to transition to womanhood (Bandele 13). Bandele describes Aya as filled with life and capable of making sound judgments. Even so, Miriam rejected Aya’s choice of a companion and failed to communicate her reasons for feeling that he was not fit for her daughter. In response, Aya attempted to make her mother understand that motherhood was an evolving relationship and not an unwelcoming task imposed upon an inconsiderate superior. To the reader, it is clear that while Miriam wanted the best for Aya, she had to treat Aya with understanding and not expect her to ignore and set aside her own opinions and desires. Evidently, mother and daughter needed to work on their relationship by taking the time to understand and communicate with each other.

            Later in the book, Bandele delves into Miriam’s relationship with her own parents, which was also characterized by a lack of connection and a desire for belonging. In fact, the relationship that Miriam shared with Aya seems to have been an outcome of Miriam’s childhood experiences, in which she was segregated from the external world and prevented from experiencing its unfolding. Miriam was born to her parents Maud and Frederick in unfortunate circumstances and did not have a happy childhood (Bandele 57). During her growing years, she lacked a connection to the outside world and shared a spiteful relationship with her mother. The novel chronicles an occasion when, as a teenager, Miriam was forced to sneak out and later lie to her mother, who could not understand the desire of a young girl for a normal, happy life. This mother-daughter relationship was very constricted by contemporary standards, which encourage a relationship of mutual respect and friendship between parents and their children. The authoritarian treatment that Miriam received from her mother made her, in turn, a cold and distant mother to Aya.

            Further in the theme of difficult relationships, the attitude of the police towards the African American community can be described as brutal and inconsiderate, since they harmed the very lives they were required to protect. For instance, both Mariam and her partner, the Vietnam veteran Bird, were victims of police brutality and violence. Chief Conners failed to consider the fact that the shooting and killing of young people would destroy the relationship that should connect the community with the officers and administrative unit (Bandele 56). Aya also became a victim of police violence when she was shot by a white police officer in a case of mistaken identity. Chief Conners failed to acknowledge the mistake made by the officers, instead arguing that they shared an inconsistent relationship with black people. His response gives the impression that police efforts for the protection of the people were based on racial considerations.

            Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel concentrates on the relationship between Alison and her father Bruce through her growing years. Their relationship played on gender issues superimposed over a queer identity, in that Alison’s character was of an enthusiast of the masculine type, while Bruce expressed traits that could explicitly be identified as feminine, such as arranging flowers in a vase (Bechdel 95). When Alison was shown watching a western movie with violent scenes, she was cast in a male stereotype. Her father Bruce, a fussy and somewhat effeminate character, tried throughout her childhood years to check her tomboy traits and make her more feminine. Even though his relationship with his family was characterized by coldness alternating with violent anger, Alison maintained a touching and carefully linked association with him, from which she retained some treasured moments. Together they attempted to arrive at an understanding of their gender roles by arguing that they were inversions of each other.

            Given that parents have a role in teaching their children to identify with specific genders, Bruce attempted to materialize this role by suppressing Alison’s natural expression of her intrinsic gender identity, thus subverting her most cherished freedoms and desires. For instance, while Alison attempted to understand and sort out her approach towards her own masculinity, Bruce tried to prevent it from manifesting (Bechdel 97). In their conversations, Alison tended towards free expression, whereas her father engaged in a stilted and restricted style of communication that stemmed from his identity as a closeted homosexual. Even as Alison refused to engage in the pathetic effort to embody a faked femininity, Bechdel’s account of the interaction between Alison and Bruce kept the focus on the tense relationship that they shared, rather than on the tangle of gender identities.

            Trying to unravel the different influences of her formative years, Bechdel shows that her father also had a hand in shaping her career as a writer. Beneath the stresses of the father-daughter relationship was an enduring bond that was based on a shared engagement with art and literature. Bruce taught English at the high school in their town, and father and daughter shared a close relationship during class hours. Along with a taste for art, they also shared obsessive-compulsive propensities towards theories and arguments raised in various books. They had frequent discussions in which they dived deep into literary subjects, and often, the misunderstandings between them arose from their divergent views on such topics. Bechdel notes that Alison and Bruce were close, but this closeness was based on the intimacy they shared through literature (225).

            Alison and her two younger brothers lived with their parents Helen and Bruce in an inherited property, a large old house in the Gothic style which had been painstakingly restored by Bruce. It was a family of cold and distant relationships, something of an artist’s colony with each member ensconced in their own cocoon of activity, reading, writing, playing, or carrying out restoration tasks. This coldness was frequently shattered by Bruce’s outbursts of rage. Bechdel expresses the opinion that this peculiar atmosphere was the effect of Bruce’s secretive attitude surrounding his homosexual activities. This secrecy, which could be attributed to the society he grew up in, caused an imbalance in his personality (Bechdel 153). Since homosexuality was strongly taboo at that time, all his dealings were ridden with guilt and shame, and this marred his relationship with his family. Once Bruce’s wife realized that Bruce was beyond saving, she requested for a divorce, and very soon after that, Bruce died in a highway accident. Bechdel expresses the opinion that it was a case of suicide; perhaps Bruce did not care what happened to the family after his demise.


Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel and Daughter by Asha Bandele are both insightful and exciting pieces that look deep into the nature of family relationships. While dwelling on the mother-daughter and father-daughter association, the two works go on to study the tensions underlying the interaction of the individual with the community. The authors explore the relationship themes through different aspects, such as gender, race, interest, and identity. By showing imperfect and troubled relationships as they are, these works make a statement about how relationships should be: that parents are required to form constructive bonds with their children by understanding their needs and by giving them the attention they require to overcome challenges in life. The characters of Aya, Miriam, Alison, and Bruce have been depicted to provide poignant insights into both, the presence and the absence of the bonds that build relationships.

Works Cited

Bandele, Asha. Daughter. Scribner, 2003.

Bechdel, Alison. Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic. Mariner, 2006.

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