8 November 2018
Analysis of “The Ordinary Devoted Mother” by Alison Bechdel
Alison Bechdel, in “The Ordinary Devoted Mother”, explores the topic of identity by delving into the depths of her own self-discovery. She sets the stage by describing a dream, in which she dives into a pool of murky water after trapping herself in a basement. Then goes on to describe the troubled relationship and conflicting feelings she has with her mother. Bechdel asserts that it is essential to let go of past emotions to be at peace with one’s identity. She solidifies her claim by graphically and verbally showcasing her own process of letting go, use of symbols and metaphors, and subtle intertextuality. Bechdel’s purpose is to highlight the necessity of being confident and secure with one’s identity. Given the comic book style, intermediate vocabulary, and informal, reflective tone used in the chapter, Bechdel is writing to an audience of ordinary young people who may be struggling or have struggled in becoming their true selves. By combining figurative language with her personal experience, Bechdel provides her audience with a comforting story, to which they can relate.
The combination of pictures and words are especially effective in conveying Bechdel’s message because each element of a picture-word combination enhances elements of the other. Bechdel has a difficult relationship with her mother. Within the first few pages, the dialogue she imagines between her and her mother portray her mother as unaccepting and slightly aggressive. This becomes even more clear in an actual dialogue that the two have over the phone, although it is not the words that show this, but the pictures. Each box that her mother’s speech appears in is rectangular and jagged around its perimeter. In contrast, Bechdel’s speech bubbles are circular and smooth around the edges. This could represent the sharpness and harshness that Bechdel feels her mother’s words carry. The fact that their conversations are about topics such as the aesthetics of vinyl siding and “chlorine resistant swimsuits makes the drastic difference in speech bubbles even more apparent and effective because the topics themselves are uninteresting(Bechdel, 83)”. It is likely her audience will be able to relate in some way to the dynamic between Bechdel and her mother, as a result of their shared experience. Another example of a compelling picture-word combination takes place at the end of the book. Bechdel and her mother are discussing the granddaughter of one of her mothers’ friends. Throughout the conversation, Bechdel is recording her mothers’ words for her memoir and simultaneously recalling a page from Winnicott’s essay “The Ordinary Devoted Mother.” When her mother says “…well I’m heartbroken she won’t be a child anymore (Bechdel, 107),” Bechdel has a realization and the last three frames of the comic zoom in on the word child, ending the chapter with Bechdel finally being able...