ALISON BECHDEL: The Ordinary Devoted Mother

The ordinary devoted mother is a very interesting first chapter of Alison Bechdel’s novel, Are You My Mother? Basically, this chapter talks about her relationship with her mother that made clear through psychoanalysis. She tells about the ordinary things that happen in everyone lives, dreams, random thoughts, journals, and children-parents relationship. I admire how she could clearly express the difficulty that people face in writing. I was happy to know that I am not the only one who feels frustrated in writing, which Alison says on page 91, “… and for every sentence, I put down, I delete two. I just feel like I’m in my own fucking way all the time”. Also, Alison speaks about how one discover and fix one’s selves in a deeper way, as she tells about her going to psychoanalysts. She brilliantly points out how in an ordinary way, a mother would always be devoted to her children.

Although Bechdel successfully creates an interesting comic drama, I find that this comic is hard to follow because of her unique writing style. I also find that the vocabularies that Bechdel uses are uncommon and difficult, such as the word “infinite regress”, “sanctimonious”, “patronizing”, and “terminus” all in one page (page 79). Also, I was confused who is the main character, I kept wondering if she were a male or a female. I say her frame jumps from one idea to another. I had to reread the whole comic for one more time only to get the big picture of what the comic is about. I could not understand what is the connection between Alison’s childhood dream that she always remember, a memoir about her parents, her psychiatrist, and psychoanalyst, Virginia Woolf, and basically everything. On top of my confusions about this comic drama’s storyline, I find the most thought-provoking part of this reading is when Alison spoke to her psychoanalyst that she wished Donald Winicott, a British psychoanalyst, and pediatrician to be her mother (page 93). How could someone imagine a man that ones don’t personally know to become one’s mother, one’s closest figure by bond?


I have two meaning predictions of what Alison means by her words that she wants Winnicott to be her mother; that is about mother vs father and daughter relationship, and about writing a memoir. Indeed, exactly like Bechdel writes her comic, human’s mind is jumping around. I thought to myself that perhaps trying to understand every page of her comic is like trying to grasp an oxygen, in a way that the Alison is having an OCD and not everyone is having the same mindset. However, I am confident that an author always has a purpose to say to the readers. I predicted that Alison might be targeting Winnicott, instead of Virginia Woolf, merely because he is a male, and that daughters tend to be closer to their fathers or males. Alison probably mentions Winnicott specifically because he studied pediatrician and psychoanalyst, in which pediatricians tend to be lovely, patient, and able to handle children even in difficult times; whereas psychoanalysts are intelligent and understanding, especially when Alison likes to discuss her ideas with psychoanalysts. Alison might be unhappy with her tough mother. She might long for an understanding and loving figure by her side, which she expresses on page 85, “getting her undivided attention was a rare treat” and on page 90, “my desire to think that she’s thinking of me at all is a bit pathetic”. Alison might likely want to have a private psychoanalyst whom she could contact every day, just like her mother.

Another analysis I think is about how Alison really wants to write a memoir about her father and mother. On page 95, in the first frame, Alison says, “But I know that if he had been my mother, I wouldn’t be suffering over this book. I’d be doing something useful”. At first, I thought that Alison regretted inheriting her mother’s dream to be an author, but her saying that, “the only way to get her out of my head is by writing the book” clearly stated that she, herself, does want to write a book and she loves her mother big enough to take the trouble of writing her memoir. Thus, I suspect Alison is just sick of her demanding mother who wants her to write a close-to-perfect memoir, “My mother’s editorial voice–precisian, dispassionate, elegant, adverbless–is lodged deep in my temporal lobes”. Her suffering is expressed on page 83, as she writes “another difficulty is the fact that my mother considers memoir a suspect genre. This adds a confusing observer effect to the whole process”. I believe, apart from the uncommon imagination of gender crossing role of father and mother, Alison’s real intention of desiring Winnicott to be her mother is merely because Winnicott would care enough to give her great guidance in writing her mother’s memoir.


Bartholomae, David, and Anthony Petrosky. Ways of Reading: An Anthology for Writers. MacMillan Higher Education. 12 Nov. 2010


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