On Alison Bechdel’s search for her mother

After reading her first graphic tragicomic for my exam last term Fun Home I quickly made the decision that her second graphic novel would be making its appearance onto my shelf very soon. I made a good choice.

Although not as comical as her first novel, this is equally as gripping and interesting. It follows Alison’s life as she tries to explain and understand the relationship that she has with her mother. Are you my mother? is a memoir that reveals how her relationship with her mother influenced the person she is, her interests in literature, in writing and also her sexuality. It follows her journey through therapy as she investigates and tries to get to the cause of her anxiety, whilst being followed by her mother’s career. Classified as a memoir I would say that it doesn’t really seem to fit. Yes it accounts Alison and her mother’s history non-chronologically, but it also is a metabook. It narrates its own creation. The plot follows the progress and also regress of Bechdel’s struggle to complete her second novel; especially after receiving such success from the one based on her father, Fun Home.

What I particularly liked about this book was that there did not seem to be a coherent narrative. We jumped around from past to present, from mother to Alison, good times to bad: and it worked really well. It was compatible with the storyline. The search to discover who we are and why we are the way we are is a long process, it would not occur in a coherent and linear way. Progress is a not a continuous process, it speeds up, slows, plateau’s, picks up and then storms ahead; and not necessarily in that order. What I am trying to say is that within the novel there are multiple story lines interwoven and developing at different rates; with the relationship between mother and daughter at the heart of it.

Honest descriptions.

Honest descriptions.

The relationship between mother and daughter is the most interesting, complicated and inspiring of all relationships for many reasons. The daughter is interested in the mother as she is the first female that she comes into contact with, they have a bond that cannot be replicated. The mother grows and protects the daughter who will potentially do the same to her daughter. The mother has a duty to protect her daughter until she is independent. What makes this novel particularly heart-felt is that the relationship Alison had with her mother is not the usual sunshine and rainbows that you expect. Alison explores the reasons why she has always been independent, not been close to her mother and ultimately whether that influenced her sexuality. Similar to what made her first full length novel so successful is the way Bechdel takes the normal and regular and manages to make it slightly uncanny, familiar and yet simultaneously new and odd.

Bechdel is truly talented and this is a brilliant read. Graphic narratives really are the way forward, the convey both heavy messages and are also light hearted, and so appeal to many people all at once. I truly recommend this book, not as easy going and comical as the first, but just as inspiring and page turning!

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Discrimination prevents universal freedom of expression

“I am gay.” May be easy for some people to say, hard for others. The looming threat of discrimination can make it difficult for people to be true to themselves. The anxiety caused by living in a society that directly opposes your own beliefs and being can make life horrific for millions of people.

This is not just exclusive to the LGBT community, but it is a worldwide crisis. Discrimination has prevented freedom of expression from being accessible to many. Not just across the world but within different social groups in countries and communities discrimination is present, preventing everyone to their universal right. Poverty, unequal/lack of political representation, basic education, religion, sexual orientation. The people who most need the power of free expression are the ones who are prevented from using it. They need to make their voices heard. Not just because by making their circumstances public they may receive support, but because everyone deserves the most basic of human rights. In a rich country or a poor country, Western or Eastern, black or white, gay or straight. Universality means exactly that. Universal. Everyone.

Furthermore, freedom of expression isn’t just about letting people know about any discrimination you have experienced, but it is about that person’s personal development. Knowledge is power. Access to information helps communities to grow and prosper, creates better economic prospects, equal representation in politics, ultimately to a decrease in discrimination. Without freedom there can only be limited development, and the goal for all communities, cities, countries, the world, is growth. But with discrimination there cannot be freedom.

In Arundhati Roy’s book The God of Small Things the character Velutha is discriminated because he classified by the caste system in India as an untouchable. Outside of the four Varna’s, he is at the very bottom of society. This is only because of the family he was born into. As a person, he is the God of small things. Working as a gardener, handy-man, babysitter. His relationship with a higher caste woman ends with his death and her abandonment. How is this fair?

Yes I have used a fictional example, but that is only because using a real life example is too upsetting, more so than Velutha’s story. The worst (and simultaneously the best) part of the book, is its realism. It is so heavily rooted within Hindu and Indian culture that despite the country’s growing economic status, there is still this discrimination at the very heart of it and this class of people are absent from those benefits. Tradition is hard to replace. In this example, the laws are based in religion, which is then hard to alter because religion is such an important factor for millions of people across the world. This is the problem. This needs resolving before anything can be done in the way of ensuring everyone has the right to free expression.

While people are still being discriminated in their homes it will be almost impossible for the laws on expression to be changed. But this should not be disheartening, because you can also do many great things from inside your home, maybe even write a post on your blog.