In Maus, Art Spiegelman tells the story of his father, Holocaust survivor Vladek. Spiegelman’s career is abundant in literature and primarily falls into the comics category. Spiegelman depicts Jews as rats, Poles as pigs, their oppressors, the Germans, as cats, and Americans as puppies. In the novel, Vladek recounts his childhood memories all the way up to the time when he marries Anja, Spiegel’s mother. Vladek also describes the traumatic and traumatizing experience of cruelty and persecution that he and Anja had at the hands of the Germans, which resulted in the death of their son Richieu. In the second chapter, Maus narrates their migration to the U.S after the end of the German reign and the subsequent birth of Spiegelman and the death of his mother Anja through suicide. Spiegelman has a strained relationship with his father who has a new wife but is also worried about the failing health of his father. In Maus Spiegelman uses various literal elements like themes and character traits to give life to Valdes’s story and paint a vivid picture of Maus to the reader.
In Maus, Spegelman uses the theme of power to portray the occurrences that build up the plot of the story. Spiegelman’s style of narration and character analysis that depicts the Germans as cats and the Jews who occupy Poland as mice is symbolic. Basing on the natural biological law of predation, the cats readily feed on the mice as a natural occurrence of the food chain. The Germans are powerful and hence use their power to frustrate and the less powerful Jews. Vladek states that, every town resented the Jews and held them with contempt as they were bill treated and victimized without any valid reason (Spiegelman pg. 35).” Vladek insinuates that, the Jews suffered under the state’s order and sanctions against them. Spiegelman, however contends that not all the Jews were powerless at the hands of the Germans as some were highly resilient and resourceful. Spiegelman feels that the state of physical powerlessness improves one’s mental ability and power. He recounts the events of his father’s humble upbringing, the loss of his textile factory to the ultimate escape from the hands of the Germans in the Swiss border.
Spiegelman centers his narration at a time of crisis in Poland where his father originated. The thematic and structural organization of Spiegelman’s tales depicts a form of war, anarchism and savagery. Spiegelman does not only focus on the physical war that the Jewish people suffer from, he also depicts various forms of internal wars, struggles and oppression that dominated the war infested Poland. Through the story of Vladek who is a survivor, Spiegelman describes the traumatizing and dehumanizing experience that the Jews in Poland went through the three main torture camps of Auschwitz-Birkenau and Dachau. In Spiegelman’s conversation with his father he asked his father about his first encounter with Auschwitz and why the word was so scary to most of the Jewish people (Spiegelman pg. 90). Vladek’s answer to his son concerning the onset of the torture of the Jews tells the feeling of disbelief and fear that the Jews had concerning the war.
In a different form of war other than the physical effects of the holocaust and the German torture, Spiegelman tells the story of psychological torture. Many of the victims of the holocaust resisted on two fronts. On one end they resisted against the oppressive regime of the Germans and on the other end they had to deal with their inner struggles. Spiegel’s mother is a classic example of the survivors who had to deal with the traumatizing effects of the war. Anja ended up commiting suicide due to her inability to cope with the loss of her son as well as the traumatizing near death experience that she went through in the German detention camp. Through the story, Spiegelman explores the theme of war and gives a different impression of war. In the first instance, war is a symbol of oppression and suffering for the Jewish people who suffered and perished in the concentration camps. On the other hand, war is a symbol of liberation and freedom as evidenced with the Americans who are characterized as dogs entering the war zone. Vladek in his narration of a near death experience claims that on the verge of execution by the German soldiers, it is the emergence of the American troops in the border forest that salvaged them.
Spiegelman’s composition of the entire comic speaks the language of race. Through the depiction of the Jews as mice, the Pols as pigs, the German as cats and the Americans as dogs, the author presents a state of conflicting permanence in the race of the characters. The Jews are the bottom of the food chain an implication of their state of helplessness. The Jewish people are helpless and even the Polish people are above their level. The difference in the nature of the animals that Spiegelman uses gives a conflicting but direct account of the holocaust situation (Spiegelman, p.112). The author places a state of permanence on the ethical origins of the characters to depict not only the permanence of the racial tags but also the relevance of the tales to the contemporary society. Spiegelman’s assertions and depictions of the racial arrangement and composition in the comic evoke a stir among the readers.
Some readers and analysts argue that Spiegelman’s depiction and labeling of the different characters is incorrect and stereotyping. The argument behind the allegations is that, attaching a particular title or character trait like “cats” to all the Germans is an implication that all the Germans are malevolent or that all the Jews are saints. In Spiegelman’s narration, there are some mice that wear pigs masks, an indication that even race could not pin down people’s abilities. Through the interaction of the Jewish people with the Pols, most Jews became fluent in several languages with the inclusion of Vladek and Anja Spiegelman’s parents. Vladek tells his son that he had been saved on several occasions by the ability to converse fluently in Polish among other non-Jewish languages (Spiegelman, p.134). Spiegel’s man uses of race and its relevance to the holocaust era is an implication that race goes beyond the sphere of one or just a few character but touches on the whole group of people that are affiliated to it.
Spiegelman equally concludes that race affiliation and association does not solve all the problem or give all the assuarity. Mala for instance states that, despite all the holocaust survivors going through traumatizing experiences most of them bounced back to normalcy unlike Vladek who remained bitter and indifferent. In her reference for the detested and rebel against Vladek’s ideologies, Mala makes it clear to Spiegelman that although they are both “mice” they have their differences and hence that alone is not a reason for their unity. The author himself had his differences and a strained relationship with his father and hence backs up his own allegations and portal of race as just a label and nothing beyond the general term (Spiegelman, p.150).
Although Art is the author of the book, he is also a character who strives to get understand the holocaust better. In an earlier incident when art was 11, he trips and falls and the friends that he had abandoned him. Through his shared experience to his father he starts to realize that as the second generation of the holocaust, he shall for ever be distinct from his parents. Art’s presence is felt in the second chapter when he starts recording his father’s story (Spiegelman, p.116). Through the shared experience that art has with his father, he soon realizes that the holocaust shall for ever cast a shadow on him and that he will never be on equal grounds with the rest of his family concerning the holocaust. Within his inner thoughts Art feels that even his brother’s ghost has a better affiliation to the memories of his father than his physical presence which later develops into guilt.
Vladek who is also the main protagonist of the story makes it clear to Spiegelman that he is better than him in everything. Art views his father with a certain kind of awe that later drives him even further from his father. Vladek is a perfectionist and a survivor from his narration as he states that surviving Auschwitz in itself is a challenge that millions could not attain. In the initial phase of the story, Vladek describes his strong physique, ambitious desires and a strong personality that saw him through the holocaust as a husband, father, skilled trader and prisoner. Vladek’ self-conscious nature makes even Mala and other survivors detest his pride. In the latter years of his life, Vladek still shows sign of perfectionism from the way he took his medication to the way he struggled with his illness’.
Art brings out the symbolism of father son relationships in many parts of the story. Even the choice to interview his father for the story was a way of creating a relationship with him and trying to get close to his father like an ordinary son. Vladek also strikes a brief relationship with his father as well as the other father figures that he encounters in his narration. His rich father in-law and the catholic priest at Auschwitz are some of the people that he related to as father figures. Unable to strike a strong bond with his father, Spiegelman in his desperation later strikes a relationship with Pavel , his therapist who just like his father is a holocaust survivor. Spiegelman employs the use of fatherhood and father figures in the comic book to create a symbol of hope, security, protection and a sense of belonging. Pavel gives Spiegelman much hope throughout the novel when he listens to his stories and points of view and even pushes him forward to interview his father concerning his experience of the holocaust (Spiegelman, p.230). Fatherhood is a symbol of identity and comfort in the predatory works that Spiegelman describes.
In Maus, Art Spiegelman gives an account of the holocaust era through the experiences of his father Vladek. The author uses a strong element of characterization and personification to attach meaning and shared experiences of the Jewish people through the animal characters. Spiegel uses the themes of power, race and war to describe the oppressive regime of the Germans and the suffering nature of the Jews. He equally uses symbolism to describe the strained relationship that he has with his father and his affiliation to his therapist who believes in him. Through the detailed account of Vladek, Spiegel manages to relate to the holocaust experience and narrate to the world as a second generation survivor of the holocaust.
Spiegelman, Art. Metamaus., 2011. Print.
Gale, Cengage L. Study Guide for Art Spiegelman’s “maus.”. Detroit: Gale, Cengage Learning, n.d. Print.
Spiegelman, Art, Art Spiegelman, and Art Spiegelman. Maus: A Survivor’s Tale: I: My Father Bleeds History, Ii: and Here My Troubles Began. London: Penguin, 2003. Print.
Spiegelman, Art, Louise Fili, and Art Spiegelman. Maus: A Survivor’s Tale, Ii : and Here My Troubles Began. New York: Pantheon Books, 1991. Print.