“Normal is an illusion. What is normal to the spider is chaos to the fly.” This quote attributed to Morticia Addams of The Addams Family speaks to the idea that normal is subjective; that it varies between each person depending upon their lives, upbringing and beliefs. This leads to the question of what is normal? The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines normal as “according with, constituting, or not deviating from a norm, rule, or principle; conforming to a type, standard or regular pattern.” While commonly accepted, it remains uncertain if this idea of ‘normal’ is healthy for people. In Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home, the reader is shown snapshots of Alison’s life, a life that appears normal to an outsider, when it is really a facade which masks the reality of her family. A throwaway reference on page 24 to The Addams Family highlights how this quest for appearing normal actually costs the Bechdel family their happiness. The juxtaposition of the two families allows for a deeper realization of the damages that can fall on a family in a desperate need to fit what society deems as normal when contrasted against a family who do not try to fit the ‘normal’ ideology of society and instead live their lives as they are with no shame.
In life, Bruce Bechdel was a man who lived a charade that brought misery upon himself his family instead of being true to himself because he was ashamed of himself. The charade he managed to keep up until his death was elaborate and seemingly impenetrable. In her youth, Bechdel had no idea about what secrets her father kept, until she was in college and had come out to her parents in a letter. It was this reveal that led Bechdel’s mother to tell her of her father’s own secrets. Secrets which mirrored her own yet were dealt with in a different way. To his family, Bruce was cold and distant, a man more obsessed with his home restorations than the lives of his own children. Bechdel recounts throughout the memoir of his temper and how he could snap seemingly without cause. This temper and his indifference to his family kept the tensions high. The reveal of Bruce’s sexuality and self-hatred hidden behind his masculine identity of home restorer gives an insight to his tightly wound personality.
To Bruce Bechdel’s composed demeanor is Gomez Addams, a man full of life and passion and eccentricity. In all variations of the story, Gomez never is bothered by the opinions of his neighbors. He lives his life without imposing his own views on those around him. He is confident in himself and his love, in his family. This self-confidence and love allows Gomez to be happy with his life. He is open with emotions, honest with himself and his family, and even the neighbors. Because the neighbors are all ‘normal’ Americans, the Addams’ and specifically Gomez, are seen as eccentric and not quite right in the head. Gomez sees this as a difference of opinion and welcomes it. He has no fear of being viewed as deviant and is free to live his own life in peace with his family, never compromising his beliefs and himself to the beliefs of society.
The reference to The Addams Family was initially in relation to the house itself and not the family. The house in which the Addams’ lived on both page and screen was grandiose and full of life, a representation of the love and life the family felt for one another while the Bechdel home was a funeral home, full of death and more a museum than a home, a showcase just as the life the Bechdels were living was simply an act with the world as the audience. Alison’s father was obsessed with the restoration of the house, shown throughout the memoir either fixing some imagined inconsistency within the home, or reading in the library. Through his constant repairing of the home, the Bechdel home goes from a run down colonial home to its former glory “and then some”, even as she called it “just a house” when a schoolmate referred to it as a mansion (Bechdel 4-5). Through the restorations, Bruce obsesses on all the minor details, and in these details the house physically represents that of the Addams Family, who also own a gothic home.
Where all the restorations Bruce does to his family house make it a colder seeming atmosphere where perfection is paramount, the home of the Addams family is filled with a variety of strange artifacts with no rhyme or reason other than they are part of the family’s history and lore. The children have no concern on what may happen should something break, their home is a home where they are free to live and express themselves as they see fit. The atmosphere for them is not stifling, it is simply home, where the world makes sense and their parents love them more than they love material items. To the outside eye, something that was an episodic gag within the run of The Addams Family, their home was strange and dangerous. There were no ‘normal’ decoration, where even the more common things were still off, be they a giant tortoise in the middle of the living room, or the head of a moose with alternating antlers on the wall. It would seem a death trap, yet the family easily maneuvered around it, not minding when things were out place, more content to spend time with one another. It was a home where a family lived.
Family is the cornerstone of society, and on the outside the Bechdel family was picturesque. Father, mother, two sons and a daughter. They were a picture perfect American family who went to church, were active in their respective passions and were simply a very nice picture of what a family should look like. This life was nothing more than a facade though, as tension and silence permeated the Bechdel home more often than not. The act of going to church is just for appearances’ sake, pictures taken causing the family to be late as if the pretense of going was more important than the lessons and teachings of the church, “he used his skillful artifice not to make things, but to make things appear to be what they were not” (Bechdel 16). Bruce Bechdel was the architect of facade but he was not the only perpetrator of it. Pages 134 and 139 paint a telling image of the entire family, isolated in their own home, never with one another and instead focused on their individual passions and hobbies instead of being connected and enjoying one another’s company.
Moreover, children do not need to be present for inter-adult conﬂicts to feel the impact, rather
the family environment that is left in the wake of persistent destructive conﬂicts (i.e.
distracted, emotional parents; upset siblings) can also contribute to maladjustment and
behavioral reactions. (Cummings and Schatz 16).
The tension within the home began between Bruce and his wife, trying to ignore the things that were right in front of them. But secrets beget arguments and tension, tension which the children were aware of even if they could not understand the specifics. Reactions to tension vary by person, and for Bechdel it manifested itself into OCD and rebelling against the normal image her father wished to maintain. The Bechdel family did what was expected of them by society’s measures in their appearances, yet even when secrets threatened to be revealed, found ways to avoid it. When Bruce was arrested for soliciting a minor and giving them alcohol, he instead went to therapy as a way to hide the truth. There was no controversy attached to the family from his actions and they were thus able to keep up their facade, all the while having no one to turn to even within themselves.
The Addams family was set up in a similar manner at its core. There was a father, mother, son and daughter, along with a grandmother, uncle, butler, a ‘thing’ and visiting cousins. Each member of the family was unique in their own way with their own passions, yet these differences did not keep them apart. Instead of leaving their children to their own devices, both Gomez and Morticia took active roles in the lives of Pugsly and Wednesday. Unlike most sitcoms at the time where married couples would bicker over innocuous matters for laughs, the Addamses genuinely cared for on another and rarely fought. In a review for the website Common Sense Media, Melissa Camacho writes, “Despite their ghoulishness, the Addamses are good, generous people who love and respect one another, and parents Morticia and Gomez demonstrate a true commitment to their children.” Their home was harmonious despite the eccentricities of its occupants. In many ways, it was the ideal family for they learned to accept those who were different or had different opinions all the while remaining true to themselves. Camacho also writes, “The characters are likeable and generous, and their behavior, albeit weird, isn't intended to cause harm.” Macabre in appearance and interests, the Addams remained very much in tune with one another and concerned for one another’s well being, never wishing harm on those around them.
Fear of being ostracised for being viewed as different can keep a person locked in a self made cage, as was the case with Bruce Bechdel, and by proxy, his own family. No matter how much he attempted to keep up the facade of normal family man, the lies took a toll on his family as well as on himself. In contrast, the Addams family embraced themselves and were much happier for it. Bechdel may not have intended the brief mention of this fictional family to place a spotlight on the dysfunction within her own family, but the reference does lead to one last question. Is it better to fit into society’s standards of normal or is it better to be true to yourself and happy if it does not cause harm to others?