Alison Bechdel’s second memoir, Are You My Mother?, explores her relationship with her mother and her quest for her to understand their relationship. It discusses her experiences of therapy in her attempts both to understand herself from a psychoanalytical perspective and the way she and her mother interact with each-other. It also covers her parents’ relationship, and her mother’s marriage to a closeted gay man as detailed in her first memoir, Fun Home.
The memoir itself is not only that of her mother and an exploration of her personality, but also an exploration of Bechdel herself. She constantly tries to analyse herself and her mother, through her study of Freud and the meaning of dreams, as well as comparisons between their favourite writers (Woolf for Alison and Plath for her mother) and how this interlinks with her life and her further exploration into psychoanalysis. Bechdel is not afraid to expose herself in a more vulnerable way, with candid descriptions of her time spent with two different therapists and their impact, as well as the effect of this on her love life. It also shows the struggle she faced in writing and coming to terms with her first graphic memoir, Fun Home, using this primarily as a way to explore her mother’s reactions to her work and her persistent struggle with the feeling that she will never succeed in her field.
Although very similar to Fun Home, Are You My Mother? seems to explore her relationship with her parents in a more analytical way. With her father, she is able to understand some of the reasoning behind his decisions due to the way in which he has to live. However, she seems to have less of an understanding of her mother’s behaviour which could explain the fact that she stopped kissing her goodnight at seven, and Bechdel’s desire to obtain her approval. It shows the true extent to which she has struggled to produce her work, and the toll this has taken on her.
Through Are you My Mother?, the journey Bechdel has taken to come to her point of understanding with her mother is clear. It is obvious in the interactions she details that their relationship was unconventional, although ultimately her mother was determined to provide her with as much as she could in a way in which she could manage. If read with Fun Home, it shows the reader that even the most unconventional families are not necessarily entirely different; they all want the best for their children, and give them this in the best way they can.
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- Fun Home – Alison Bechdel
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