Family Matters

Allison’s family is not really a family in the traditional sense. She outright states in the beginning of the graphic novel that “[it’s] tempting to suggest, in retrospect, that our family was a sham. That our house was not a real home at all but the simulacrum of one, a museum” (17). And adding to that in Chapter 5 of the graphic novel, Allison provides us with an even deeper insight into just how exactly her family is not really a family in the traditional sense. We learn that they never actually are truly together as a family. As seen when we are given a clear picture of just how Allison’s family is really like during this time, as she puts it, “[their] home was like an artists’ colony, we ate together but otherwise absorbed in [their] separate pursuits” (134).

Just like how David’s relationship with his father in Giovanni’s Room was more like a friendship than a relationship between two family members, Allison’s family is not like a “family” in the sense that while they may be living in the same household they are never really considered a family because of the fact that they are isolated from each other.

I find it interesting that after talking about her family situation Allison then begins to tell us of her obsessive compulsive disorder and how it began. In the chapter, we learn of how it first began just as her not being able to let the bath tub drip on an odd number and how her shoes had to line up perfectly so she did not favor on over the other. Eventually, in the chapter, it develops into her not even being able to write in her diary without including the words “I [think]” simply because of the fact that she did not know if what she was writing was even the truth and did not want to be wrong about it. Maybe she is proposing that this situation with her family is what caused her OCD? Or is there something more to it? Just as how David’s relationship shaped him and partly made him who he was, maybe the same applies for Allison and her relationship with her family not only in the context of her OCD, but her as a person overall?
Discussion Questions:
1. Do you think the onset of Allison’s OCD was caused by her not being able to accept the world around her?
2. There are instances that might suggest so, but do you believe her Father had OCD, as well?

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2 thoughts on “Family Matters

  1. I’m also really interested in the OCD Bechdel faces, and how she eventually copes with this.

    But to answer your second question, I really wouldn’t be surprised if Bruce also had OCD. Towards the end of the book, Helen alludes to other possible mental illnesses that Bruce may have had, not just his homosexuality. OCD is a mental disorder that has been shown to be inherited; twin studies have suggested that OCD in children is more likely to be related to inherited genes, rather than environmental factors. (I used to work in a twin lab in the psych department here at UT, so I’ve read my fair share of twin study psych literature. Sorry for all of the jargon!)

    TL;DR – more than Bruce’s compulsive tendencies, psych research strongly suggests that it is more likely than not that Allison inherited her OCD from her father!

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  2. I agree with the points about OCD being most likely genetic. However, in discussing possible environmental contributions to Bechdel’s overall mental state as a child, I think that she likely felt out of control of her life. Bruce had a great deal of control over the atmosphere and setting of their house. Bechdel might have felt as though she couldn’t be trusted with anything, and thereby lost trust of her own accountability. This same distrust of self could have manifested itself into her apparent obsessive need to research and learn (like during college when she reads every piece of lgbt literature under the sun).
    I think that Bechdel’s OCD is ultimately inherited from her father, but that her childhood and home life helped the disorder to develop and intensify.

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