The Importance of Eating Sunbeam Bread

I was amazed at the extreme detail that Bechdel put into Fun Home. All the tiny OCD-like components of the comic panels such as the specific name brands of the cereal (Life) and the bread (Sunbeam), occur continuously throughout. I wonder if Bechdel put in these details to give a more accurate, vivid picture of the world she was living in, or if it was just an extension of her OCD that swamped her in her childhood. I was fascinated by this purposeful addition of information to every panel and this caused me to try and pick out all the reasons for the addition of such details.

One detail I was interested in from the first panel is the addition of Anna Karenina to the title of the book Alison’s father was reading. This constitutes a pretty obvious allusion to the ending of the book where Anna kills herself by jumping in front of a train, which matches with Bruce’s death in Fun Home. I found it interesting that in Anna Karenina, Anna death is in parallel with a death of a railroad worker earlier in the book, and Bruce’s death is parallel with Anna. Even though this was a pretty simple connection, it got me thinking of the other details in the book. I noticed the reoccurrence of Sunbeam bread, and based on when it came up, tried to notice a connection between the different scenes. The first scene it comes up in is when her dad smashes a plate, showing what can only be described as stereotypical “masculine” rage. This is a dichotomy to her father’s typical feminine characteristics.

There are other scenes that included Sunbeam bread in the background also contains this theme of polarization of male and female comparison as well as male and female stereotypes. In the next panel that contains Sunbeam bread, Allison remarks on the puzzling polarity of “why [her] urbane father, with his unwholesome interest in the decorative arts, remained in this provincial hamlet.” She compares her feminine father to the “provincial hamlet” that he lives in, which he does not fit in with. Later in the novel, Alison compares her father to the “grimy deer hunters at the gas station”, the Sunbeam bread advertisement looms in the background. This comparison is also a dichotomy of masculine and feminine with which she is always comparing her father. In the next scene with the Sunbeam bread, Alison has just found the sexual calendar that her father told her not to open. She explains she felt like she was “stripped naked [herself], inexplicably ashamed, like Adam and Eve. This is the reaction she has to realizing a male stereotype herself and her trying to deal with the emotions it brings up. The opposites of Adam and Eve, male and female are again brought up with the Sunbeam bag swinging in her face.

The most prominent use of Sunbeam bread, however is when it is revealed to us readers that it was actually a Sunbeam bread truck that ended up killing her father. Alison says in a box over the panel “yes, it really was a sunbeam bread truck” implying that this was some sort of funny coincidence or paradox. But, if we look as this truck as a manifestation of the polarity of male and female as well as stereotypes attributed to the two genders, we can look at Bruce’s death as a symbol for what was going on emotionally. The inner conflict that Bruce was dealing with constituted of his sexuality struggle between the characteristics he was supposed to feel (male) and those he actually felt (female). This conflict eventually caught up with him (literally and figuratively) and was a major contributing factor to his suicide/death.

-ACT

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Filed under Week 9: Cherrie Moraga and Alison Bechdel

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