Are You My Mother Bechdel Analysis Essay

Boston. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 2012. ISBN 9780618982509

Alison Bechdel made an auspicious entrance on the literary scene with her first graphic memoir, Fun Home: A Family Tragic Comic, in which she excavates her relationship with her father. That remarkable work was filled with literary allusions (her father was a high school English teacher) and revelations about the family dynamic. In this new graphic memoir, Bechdel spends most of the book exploring her relationship with her mother and a variety of female lovers and female therapists.  

Sadly, for the reader, the mother-daughter relationship is not as engaging as the father-daughter interaction was in the earlier work. In addition, Bechdel’s use of other literary and psychoanalytic works is less wide ranging here and doesn’t have the resonant quality so remarkable in Fun Home. She is drawn mainly to the work of British psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott and to Alice Miller’s Drama of the Gifted Child, and there are many scenes here with Alison in therapy with a variety of therapists. Her statement to one of them about her inability to write unless she gets her mother out of her head and the concomitant admission that the only way to get her out of her head is to write the book, presents the Catch-22 and raison d’être of this work.  

Bechdel and her character Alison are also steeped in the literature of both feminist theory and liberation; in fact, when she alludes to Virginia Woolf or Adrienne Rich, or explores her need for creating art, this novel achieves some of the power of her earlier work. But all too often she gets mired in the working through of her life against Winnicott’s theories, and this adherence to explanation stalls the work’s power. At times it comes close to reading like a graduate thesis about object relations, Winnicott’s field. 

Bechdel has great skill in depicting characters, both graphically and through language, and she makes artistic leaps that are at times breathtaking. Her creative use of graphic chiaroscuro and her deft use of panels of varying dimensions engages the reader with the text and entices one to jump across gutters to create what Scott McCloud, in Understanding Comics, refers to as “closure.” In other words, there are many delights here, but this graphic memoir fails as a truly coherent work because of what feels, at times, like intrusive pedantry.

Rita D. Jacobs
Montclair State University

For the Kathryn Calder album, see Are You My Mother? (album). For the graphic memoir by Alison Bechdel, see Are You My Mother? (memoir).

AuthorP. D. Eastman
IllustratorP. D. Eastman
CountryUnited States
PublisherRandom House

Publication date

June 12, 1960 (renewed 1988)

Are You My Mother? is a children's book by P. D. Eastman published by Random House Books for Young Readers on June 12, 1960 as part of its Beginner Books series. Based on a 2007 online poll, the National Education Association named the book one of its "Teachers' Top 100 Books for Children."[1] It was one of the "Top 100 Picture Books" of all time in a 2012 poll by School Library Journal.[2]

Plot summary[edit]

Are You My Mother? is the story about a hatchling bird. His mother, thinking her egg will stay in her nest where she left it, leaves her egg alone and flies off to find food. The baby bird hatches. He does not understand where his mother is so he goes to look for her. As he loses his ability to fly, he walks, and in his search, he asks a kitten, a hen, a dog, and a cow if they are his mother, but none of them are.

Refusing to give up, he sees an old car, which he realizes certainly cannot be his mother. In desperation, the hatchling calls out to a boat and a plane (neither responds), and at last, climbs onto the teeth of an enormous power shovel. It belches "SNORT" from its exhaust stack, prompting the bird to cry, "You are not my mother! You are a Snort!" As the machine shudders and grinds into motion, he cannot escape. "I want my mother!" he shouts.

At that moment, the Snort drops the hatchling into his nest, and his mother returns. The two are reunited, much to their delight, and the baby bird recounts to his mother the adventures he had looking for her.


On August 13, 1991, Are You My Mother? was part of the Beginner Book Video series, directed and produced by Ray Messecar. The cast included Ardys Flavelle, Merwin Goldsmith, Marian Hailey, Ron Marshall, Brendon Parry and Jim Thurman.[3]

ArtsPower National Touring Theatre created an hour-long musical performance based on the book geared for children grades K-2, with music by Richard DeRosa.[4]

Critical reaction[edit]

The book's subjective appeal is derived from a compelling and compact plot full of humorous adventure, aided by line drawings that appeal to young children.[5]

See also[edit]


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