Last Updated on September 4, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 411
The Value of Living Openly
The book poses Alison and Bruce as foils to one another in many ways. As the only members of the family that are not straight, she sees herself in him, and he clearly sees himself in her. Just after she comes out to her parents in a letter, he ends his own life. The way that Alison's openness affords her freedom and happiness is something Bruce never got to experience. His repressed way of living led to an unhappy life with an unhappy end. Bruce hurt much younger men by sleeping with them despite the power dynamic, while Alison falls in love and has a healthy connection with a woman her age. Though there are a variety of factors leading up to their divergent lives (including timing, gender, and education), the book illustrates the value of living an open and honest life whenever possible.
The Obsessiveness of the Artist
In the Bechdel family, each member has an art to practice. The author beautifully illustrates this with an open house with everyone doing their work in separate rooms. Her mother's love for acting never came to full fruition, though she continues to participate in community theater and care very deeply about theater in general. Her father spends his energy on the house and decorations like flowers or matters like color. He is deeply focused on how their home looks. Alison is always drawing and writing. All three read, especially Alison and Bruce. But as that open house shows, each individual artist's obsessiveness separates them from the others, rather than bringing them together.
The Search for Sexual and Gender Identity While Growing Up
Throughout the book, Alison is looking to find her role as a girl/woman and as a lesbian. As a small child, she experiences a charged moment when she sees a woman with a very different, more masculine gender expression. Alison notices this woman's ring of keys, which symbolizes her power in the world. She also finds a strong connection to lesbian literature as she falls in love with Joan, suddenly recognizing herself in new stories. The darker side of this theme is illustrated by her father's sleeping sleeping with his students. These young men are also in the midst of growing up, but they may have more complicated journeys as they become lovers to an older married man. Bruce himself also shares memories of wanting to be a girl or wanting boys while he was growing up.