Maus: A Work of Subtle Nuances to Define Truth
When discussing compelling and highly nuanced literary works, most would not consider a graphic novel capable of delivering any kind of high caliber or highly nuanced level of information. Until recently, graphic novels have been a novelty pastime shared only by children and adolescents. Modern graphic novels like Maus are starting to challenge these notions and dissolve any preconceived thoughts of what literary art must be defined as.
Maus employs the use of art, white space, and strong layouts to convey the feelings of realism without being too pushy or perverse. Along with literary art, Maus has also pushed the boundaries and our beliefs of what non-fiction encompasses becoming a biographic non-fiction novel through the crafty ability to cope with the tragedy of the holocaust without the overshadowing of a person auto-biographical account of living through tragedy. Maus has set a high bar for expectations and shows this through a complex graphic narrative that details a firsthand account of the holocaust but also the tragedy of being born to a father that has lived through the atrocities. Maus is a non-fiction graphic novel that provides a painfully honest account of family life during the holocaust and uses a graphic medium and storytelling techniques to assist the author in depicting highly complex and sensitive topics in a relatable way.
Maus is a non-fiction, highly complex graphic novel which uses animal imagery and caricatures to assist in the development and portrayal of sensitive, complex and often painfully honest topics including the author, Art Spiegelman’s life. Spiegelman uses animal imagery to categorize the human race into several unconventional stereotypes which, at first glance, might be hard to miss. In Maus one and two, those from Jewish descent were animalized and depicted as human rats. This might seem strange but this antisemitic propagandizing view depicting Jews as rats can be traced back to the 1920’s when the film Der Ewige Jude (The Eternal Jew) which attracted more than 412,300 spectators (Museum) was shown all over Germany. This same sentiment was spotlighted throughout history and can be seen outlined in Defining the Holocaust Encyclopedia: An Encyclopedia dedicated to outlining and historically documenting the Nazi Party program. Further explanation of the use of this imagery can also be seen by Hannah Beckler, an undergraduate at University of Colorado who discusses the use of animal imagery in her paper Discursive Construction of Referential Truth in Art Spiegelman’s Maus. Beckler also discusses the outlined psychology of the human mind and how we ultimately perceive the use of these animal characterizations. Beckler describes Siegelman’s choice of depiction as, a literalization of a metaphor that obliges the reader to more fully grasp the blatant racism. The use of this imagery is a way for Spiegelman to further develop the readers mind and start building the capital needed to develop this as a work of non-fiction. Readers are left with a strong sense that this story is depicting real, true-to-life facts which is needed when a story is attempting to distinguish itself from fiction or non-fiction.
Maus uses a graphic medium and non-standard storytelling techniques to assist the with the depiction of highly complex and sensitive topics in a relatable way. Through panel shape and manipulation of presented artwork, Spiegelman relies on the reader to develop missing information without sacrificing the overall story. This ability to develop and create a sense of realism without overexposing its reader to witnessing the atrocities leaves the reader appreciative and serves as a way to develop a sense of realism without overexposure to the inherent graphic nature of the holocaust. This is most notably seen on panel five where Spiegelman’s father Vladek is recounting a time when he watched a German solder jump on someone’s neck, killing him (2: 50). This scene starts out with German soldiers lining up Jews during their imprisonment in Auschwitz when a Jew pushes his way out of line to talk to one of the German soldiers saying, I don’t belong here with all these Yids and Polacks I am German like you. The German guard responds by killing the outlier by jumping on his neck. This scene in a traditional graphic novel would have been high detailed without overtly hiding any detail. Instead Siegelman decides to show this image in a different way. He hides the killing action of the foot stomp and removes the face of the person getting killed. This helps keep the reader focused on the content instead of being caught up in the details of the picture. Beckler describes this as, the employment of cognitive perceptual closure as the reader uses their previous knowledge of the texture, color, and material to fill in the missing sensorial details (18). This simplification of artistic style does not distract the reader from the story, but enhances the story and in many ways which not only makes it more enjoyable but, assists further in the credibility of truth in the story.
This non-fiction graphic novel uses combinations of animal imagery and caricatures to assist in the development and portrayal of sensitive, complex and often painfully honest topics. Maus’s use of straight forward and raw story telling techniques may be unorthodox but, they assist with developing the story without leaving the reader fighting with the idea of a truthful narrative. Instead, the reader is left with a strong sense that this story is depicting real, true-to-life facts which is needed when a story is attempting to distinguish itself from fiction or non-fiction. When attempting to distinguish between whether something is Fiction or non-fiction the literary work must be subject to some form of external review and Spiegelman’s art assist greatly with this without changing the broader topic or narrative.
Beckler, H. (2014). The Comic Book as Complex Narrative: Discursive. Boulder, CO. Retrieved from ttps://scholar.colorado.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1042&context=honr_theses
Spiegelman, Art. Maus: A Survivor’s Tale. New York: Pantheon Books, 1986. Print.
Spiegelman, Art. Maus II : a Survivor’s Tale : and Here My Troubles Began. New York :Pantheon Books, 1991. Print.
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Introduction to the Holocaust. Holocaust Encyclopedia. https://encyclopedia.ushmm.org/content/en/article/introduction-to-the-holocaust. Accessed on 12/11/2018
The Maus a Survivor's Tale
The Maus a Survivor’s Tale is a powerful book that portrays the Holocaust. With the use of comics, the pictures and dialogue create a powerful impact on historical event that’s occurring during this time. The use of animals to represent race and nationalities shows the controversial complexity of this part of history.
Starting out we first become introduced to Art and Vladek’s family. These characters are represented as mice that are actually the Jewish people. Art comes home to see his father Vladek to record and write about his father’s life during the Holocaust time period. The author chooses an excellent representation to display the family as mice because mice are looked at as weak a fragile. As Vladek goes on to tell his story to Art, he explains where he was at the start of the war and holocaust. Anja, Vladek’s wife, struggled with post-partum depression so he takes her out to seek medical treatment. On the way to get help they see Nazism throughout Europe but are far enough away from it. After Anja gets her help, they return home and come to find Vladek’s factory has been destroyed. Eventually Vladek gets taken as a prisoner by the Germans and gets released backed to Poland. The German view the Jews as vermin that needs to be taken out. They look at them as if they are rodents and every last person needs to be exterminated. Once the Jews were taken into the camps they were literally treated like rats. Then was a selection, with people sent either to the left or either to the right. Old people, families with lots of kids, and people without work cards are all going to the left. We understood this must be really bad (4.90 Spiegelman). Here at this point of the comic book the Jews were picked to either be killed or put to work. The ones that got picked to work had poor living conditions and are fed little to nothing. It was many, many such storiessynagogues burned, Jews beaten with no reason, whole towns pushing out all Jewseach story worse than the other (2.35 Spiegelman). This quote shows Vladek that the Jews weren’t looked at as citizen anymore. Some Jews didn’t even get fed, so they became starved and worked to death. Others were gathered in groups and were gassed to get rid of. That form of execution is basically like extermination of rodents. They would only kill the Jews that had no use to the Germans. If they didn’t have a certain skill, were too old, or even moms with too many kids would be gassed right away. A pesticide was dropped into chambers that were filled with Jews. This shows that the Germans viewed the Jews as rodents. Something that should be eliminated and ultimately used a pesticide to kill them.
When the Germans are introduced into the story they are portrayed as cats. Spiegelman picks a perfect portrayal of the Germans being cats due to the society’s representation of cats and mice not getting along. In society cats are always represented that they are out to kill mice. We have movies, comics, and stories that are even told to this day about how cats and mice don’t get along. The irony in this story is that the Germans are the one in charge rounding up all the Jewish people. The Germans are the reason that the holocaust went down. Gradually, all the Jews are taken from homes and are sent to camps. Vladek and Anja pay smugglers to transport them out so they wouldn’t be sent away, but they got turned over to the Germans. The smuggler turned them in. By showcasing the Germans powers and authority here it proves that cat and mouse theory. The cats are just trying to get rid of the mice due to different beliefs. It brings a powerful message to the reader showcasing and highlighting the authority.
Now looking at the Polish they are represented as pigs. Now this might seem a little random but when you look at what the Nazis call the polish it makes sense because the Nazis would refer to the polish as pigs. This is a flat out insult to be calling the Polish pigs. Pigs are viewed as filthy, greedy animals, that eat and gain weight. Also pigs are viewed as vulgar animals so Spiegelman could get his point across about the Poles. Also Spiegelman represented the Polish as pigs because these animals are non-kosher animals. Jewish people and even Muslims view pigs as unclean animals. By portraying the poles as pigs its showing the reader that the Germans are looking at the polish as dirty, filthy animals.
Some animals in the story even wore different masks to make them look different. The mice would wear a mask and or dress up as the cats or polish just to get away from the terror. They needed to make themselves look like the enemy so they wouldn’t face the horror that was going to happen to them. The mice were worked to death, starved, and even killed in gas chambers. Everything that Spiegelman wrote about Vladek’s family and what they went through were actual representations of what happened during the holocaust. Not everyone was as lucky and Vladek and his family. Mostly everyone died if they didn’t have a certain skill. Vladek and Anja had skills that the German needed so that’s why they weren’t killed. They were seen valuable to the Germans to do their dirty work. Vladek and Anja worked as hard as they could and did the best they could to stay alive under these conditions.
Towards the end of the story Vladek catches typhus fever and is transported to the Swiss border where he thinks he will be freed. The Germans take them into the woods to execute them but got scared because of the repercussions from the American soldiers. In the comic the Americans are shown as dogs. The reason for that is because of the classic tale of cats and dogs not playing nice together. As known from society dogs and cats aren’t friendly with one another. Most cats seem to shy away from dogs and dogs typically scare cats according to society and from stories being told. So having the Americans come in to stop the Germans from the executing the Jews shows the cat and dog theory very well. Also another good reason that the Americans are portrayed as dogs is because according to society dogs and mice really don’t have any problems together. You don’t hear often stories of mice getting killed by dogs or even dogs not liking mice. It’s more of a food chain effect that cats hate mice and dogs hate cats. The dogs would eat or kill the cats and the cats would eat or kill the mice. The Americans had to step in to stop the horror that was going on.
By having Spiegelman showcase his characters as mice, pigs, dogs, and cats it emphasizes the horror that took place during this time period. This helped the story get the reaction that’s needed from the reader. Sometimes when people visually see something a different way it can put a greater impact on what went on so they can understand it better. By placing animals with humans it makes you think about the deeper meaning on what’s really going on. It helps you connect the dots and see the characters for who they really are. It can also help you pick up details that you weren’t aware of if maybe humans played as these characters.
Nazi Propoganda and Maus
The role of propaganda plays a crucial part in the encouragement of both the Polish and Jewish people to betray their neighbors, friends, and even their family members. Nazis used propaganda to shape their beliefs on the Germans; they used films, press and radios, because they wanted to flood the Germans with messages that were designed to gain support and acceptance of their vision for the future of Germany. In films Jews were even characterized as less of a person and were considered an alien race.
In Chapter 5 in Maus I, Vladek builds a bunker inside an attic that can only be reached through a chandelier when and one day when they found a stranger in the room below then that said his wife and he had a starving baby and he was only looking for scraps. They gave him a little food but that same afternoon the Gestapo found Vladek and the rest. When they took the stranger in the bunker they thought about killing him, the betrayal had gotten so bad that everywhere they turned they had to determine if they were a friend or a foe. In this case, the stranger was a foe, he was an informant that gave them up. Vladek had a cousin named Haskel, and he was the chief of the Jewish Police, when Vladek and Anja were captured Haskel agreed to have them released in exchange for a diamond ring in the end, Haskel betrayed them and did not help them escape. This goes to show that family did not mean anything anymore, Vladek’s own cousin betrayed him, it was everybody for themselves.
In Chapter Three of Maus II, when the war was almost over the Gestapo had the prisoners marching. One of the guys from the attic with Vladek talked to the guards and tried bribing them with gold to let them escape in the woods, to shoot at them but to shoot over them so that it would look realistic. Vladek does not trust the Germans, although the Germans made the deal with the Jews to let them escape, they shoot the runaways with whom they made deals with. This does to show that the Germans did not give a second thought to killing the prisoner no matter if they paid for a deal.
Propaganda will always be a part of society that is just how or government works, people promote and publicize their particular political case and point of view. Whether or not people in the united states will betray their neighbors, friends, and even their family members in the United States is hard to tell, but we are living in a world full of hate based on the color of our skin. Our current President has been taking it out on immigrants, specifically Hispanics/Latinos that are just trying to provide a better life for their kids, a life they wish they had when they were growing up. The migrant caravan for example, it is legal for people to ask for asylum and people do not understand asylum is not just granted, it is a process that includes a court date to establish if there are ground for that asylum. President Trump has been using his propaganda of, make America great again, as if America was not already great, then proceeding to blame immigrants for stealing jobs. He has also been using propaganda to say that everyone coming to seek asylum in the migrant caravan are all criminals is not true, they are parents trying to get away from violence in their country, trying to give their kids a better life only to have tear gas to try to disperse families with their young kids. There are so many fake news going around which promotes propaganda that is not true, yet people believe these news and do not even check the source to see if it is factually correct or not. Since President Trump was elected president hatred towards certain people have now been more open and said out loud than previously before.
There is no superior race, everyone is a human being that deserves respect, generosity, and kindness, no one deserves to be belittled just because they are a certain race or ethnicity, and promoting propaganda that states otherwise does not make someone a better person. In Maus: A Survivor’s Tale, Anja’s own sister, Tosha, killed her nephew, Richieu, along with herself and her own kids, because she was afraid of them going to concentration camps. Having someone be so belittled to the point where they rather poison themselves, their kids and their nephew so they will not suffer in the gas chambers, Tosha chose death over the concentration camps, that is unimaginable pain and suffering.
Maus and the Worlds of Reality and Fiction
History is a vast spectrum of information, this study of past events is not only quantitative and qualitative but also emotionally diverse. To understand history we need to look beyond the boundaries of physical reality. The drawings in Maus are split into categories, reproductions, and interpretations.
Reproductions are real images, they’re reproduced within the book specifically as they seem in the real world with human faces intact. Interpretations are primarily hand-drawn versions of real images, that translate pictures into the comic and replace human heads with mouse or pig heads. Spiegelman’s call to use each of those depictions in Maus, compels him to straddle the worlds of fiction and reality.
It’s generally viewed and agreed upon, that a life narrative established from a tenuous strand of your memory and the suspiciously trustworthy information accumulated from friends, loved ones and other associates around you, are consistently going to be viewed as facts. Since we can’t outwardly accuse these people and their content as being lies and slander, it’s generally accepted to be facts. Perhaps this is because no one is really willing to admit that their memories just aren’t as perfect and hole-proof as they’d hope them to be. This thought also carries easily into our reading and understanding of life narratives. When reading and interpreting a life narrative, it is necessary to peel off that band-aid so to speak, no matter painful it may be, and reveal the truth for what it actually is. Memories do not equate to facts. They are a matter of perspective upon a fact, and those perspectives will go through countless stages of evolution, so that by the time you look back at them again, they may bear only the vaguest whisper of resemblance to what they were before. However, this does not reduce their significance. Thinking of Maus, Art Spiegelman is recording, depicting and directing the story, partially from his memory, of himself interviewing Vladek, his father, about his memories of the Holocaust. Their conversations were recorded on tapes and just in those tapes, the information is most likely solid but his confrontations with his father and the precise moments of the interviewing and how they happened for both son and father during those moments of the interview are straight from Art Spiegelman’s own memory. Vladek’s memories of the war could hardly be exaggerated and yet it is still possible that between the times he experienced those horrors and the time he recounted those same horrors to his son, much of his perception about all the events may have changed. Art Spiegelman’s memory of how time really passed during his interviews with his father may also have been altered slightly, a mental image blurred and diluted based the information he received, as well as his close relationship and deep feelings towards his father, all of which are definitely not constants.
Although Vladek is talking about actual events and real people, Art does not have any access to the deep-rooted realities of what his father actually experienced. He does not have access to the people and places that undoubtedly defined Vladek’s life during the war, and his experiences during the war, are completely foreign to his son. Similarly, Art has no basis for understanding the intense emotions and deep traumas the war created. When looking at and interpreting his parents’ photographs, most of which show relatives who did not even survive WW2 and the Holocaust, and who Artie will never meet. Artie understands that because he will never meet these family members he will have to re-create their experiences, and in doing so he will not be accurate. the victims who died can never tell their side of the story (Spiegelman, 45). And because of this, Art recognizes that his work is an act of imagination as much as, or maybe even more than, it is an object of historical memory. This is important because Art knowingly admits that his presentation of the story may not be accurate. He goes as far as to say “”reality is too complex for comics … so much has to be left out or distorted””(Spiegelman, 16). Further expanding on the point that Maus is a work of imagination and fiction as much as it is a work of history.
In total, only three of the photos in the book are actual reproductions: the snapshot of Anja and young Artie in “”Prisoner on the Hell Planet”” in Maus I, Chapter 5, the photo of Richieu at the beginning of Maus II, and the “”souvenir”” photo of Vladek near the end of Maus II, Chapter 5. Hand in hand, these three pictures show to people in Spiegelman’s immediate family. These are the people he can actually picture in his mind, relate to, as well as share a connection and memories with. Because his connection with them is the strongest, they are shown as they actually are. The hand-drawn photographs in the book, on the other hand, are all family members who died during the war or passed later on. To Art, these people’s lives are completely separate from his own, like a fictional story with a distressful ending. He’s trying to connect with them but can’t picture them as fully formed people because he has never shared memories or connections with them. They basically remain one-dimensional characters who look like every other mouse in the book. And because of this, even though the faces of his long-lost relatives are fiscally accessible to him through photographs, he can never truly know the people they depict.
In chapter 2 of Maus II, Auschwitz (Time Flies), flies make an abundant appearance. Flies commonly appear to represent death as they often surround dead bodies and flies are also seen buzzing around Art at the beginning of Maus II. This is representing the memories of the dead that haunt him while making his book. In May 1968 my mother killed herself. (She left no note)(Spiegelman, 41). He is always thinking about these real events while writing Maus and this is why Art also drew flies near him, representing how he is haunted by the ghost of his past with the death of his mother. The fact of the matter is that Art was so perplexed by his mother’s death that he could not represent her as the fictional character he displayed everyone else with. And he also couldn’t do this because of his direct relationship with his mother, he understood why his mother killed herself and blamed himself for it as well. In “”Prisoner on the Hell Planet”” Artie said that I Felt Nauseous The Guilt Was Overwhelming!(Spiegelman, 102). He was referring to the guilt he had of his mother killing herself, he believed that because of his last conversation with his mother and some other reasons were the reasons she committed suicide. Because this was such a traumatic event in Art’s life it caused him to switch from depicting characters as mice to depicting them as people and he even included a reproduction. Since this was such a major event in his life he started to shift to the world of complete reality. This is because he was actually able to picture, remember and connect with these events in his head. He remembered exactly how he felt, which caused him to make this part of the comic as realistic as possible.
Throughout Maus (I and II) Spiegelman has been forced to straddle the worlds of reality and fiction. This is shown time and time again and gives us an understanding that history is never going to be documented perfectly because we can never truly understand the veracity of what has happened, but this is what makes history so diverse, complex, entertaining, and insightful. Through Vladek’s experiences written by Art, we can come to understand how insightful this form of presenting history is. We can gain a wide spectrum of perspectives through these two publications which give us enormous comprehension of what actually happened during the Holocaust and what exactly Art wanted us to understand. Going in between reality and fiction really expanded the meaning of the book as well as provide us insight upon what Spiegelman’s perspective really was.
"Maus" by Art Spiegelman
Art Spiegelman, the author of Maus, interchanges between the past and the present to provide an in-depth accounting of his father’s memories, his own childhood, and the present struggles between the father and son. This recounting from his father emphasizes the impact and trauma experienced by second generation survivors such as Art himself. The author portrays a second-hand perspective of the Holocaust to enrich the reader’s understanding of the atrocities of the Holocaust.
He does this by using a frame story, by using animals to represent humans, and by including graphical accounts from the memories of his survivor-father. The graphic novel displays two very different, but also similar first-person narratives. The author did this by creating a frame story. Spiegelman writes about Art in the future and how he questions his father for information to help him write his story. He then switches the story to Vladek describing the atrocities he faced in Auschwitz and the experiences he endured (Spiegelman 25). Using this literary technique changes the perspective of the story by opening up a new way of looking at the Holocaust.
The first-hand account of the Holocaust is supplemented by a look at how the Holocaust affected his family in the future. This approach is unique and very insightful. We get to see how Art is burdened with post-traumatization because of the second hand-experiences he has lived through. We also get to see the death of Anja and how her death impacted the family. If Spiegelman decided to use one story, we would not get to see all the different effects of the Holocaust on the whole family. Both first-person accounts help the reader see the atrocities of the Holocaust and what they did to the Spiegelman family. Most Holocaust stories focus in on the survivor’s life, but many more people are affected than only the survivor. Many people are victims of Secondary Traumatization. According to the Prandium Journal of Historical Studies, children, such as Art, possess a distinct sense of bearing an unlived trace of the Holocaust past within the present (Kholi 2). Art was not directly affected by the Holocaust but was born with the indirect consequences that the family of survivors has to face. He and his entire family suffered serious consequences as a result of the Holocaust including strained relationships, mental illness, and even death. This allows the readers to see a first-hand account of the atrocities of the Holocaust and also see the effects that the Holocaust played on a survivor’s family.
Art’s works not only depicted the Holocaust but also examined the relationship of the memory of the Holocaust to the present. Both past and present converge and first and second generation survivors are forever harmed by the painful horrific atrocities of the Holocaust. The use of animals in the story changes the perspective of the Holocaust by giving it a deeper meaning. Hitler convinced his followers that the Jews are undoubtedly a race, but they are not human (as qtd in Kohli 9). The Nazis divided everyone into separate species, and each species was treated much differently depending on what race you were grouped into. This is juxtaposed in the story. Spiegelman uses the characterization of the animals in the story to show that they possess very humane qualities. Although they might appear as savage animals that are inferior to humans, they possess the same qualities as the other races. Mice, pigs, frogs, and dogs alike have the same human nature even if their beliefs or appearances are different. With strong human characterizations, the animals seem more like human than animals. Spiegelman uses different animals to portray the social and political hierarchy among the races at the time. It forces the reader to see the characters as unequal. On page 64 of Maus, Vladek is shown wearing a pig mask over his face. Vladek was a mouse, but as long as he wore his pig mask, he would be socially acceptable.
If he took his mask off, he could be imprisoned and possibly killed. Although his character and personality had stayed the same, his appearance had not. That is all that mattered at the time. This new perspective of looking at the characters would not be possible without the use of animals to describe the humans. The Holocaust is such a horrific time in history that is difficult to fully recount the tale in written form. It was a difficult accomplishment to record his father’s story as a prisoner in the Holocaust camp. He tells us that he felt so inadequate trying to reconstruct a reality that was worse than my darkest dreamsand trying to do it as a comic stripthere’s so much I’ll never be able to understand or visualize. (176). In the comic form, all the characters are represented by animals. The cats are the Nazis and the mice are the Jews. The cats have superiority over the mice. They are bigger, stronger and predatory. They have the ability to pull the mice apart and devour them. The mice are generally described as pests and vermin and have no worth or value in society. The metaphor of cats and mice provides context overall as to the importance, power and overall inequality in regards to the relationship between the cats and the mice. It is so hard to believe this time in history could have happened, it seems almost unreal. The title of the story, the German word for mouse, depicts the anti-semitic stereotypes prevalent during the time of the Holocaust. Jews are described as unworthy of the human race.
People are taken from their families, their jobs, and are systematically massacred with the goal of extermination or extinction. While Art is writing Maus, he is unsure if he can really capture the horror of the Holocaust without having lived through it. He is not sure how to portray some of his characters and the events they lived through. While Art struggles with his secondary traumatization, he tells his therapist Some part of me doesn’t want to draw or think about Auschwitz. I can’t visualize it clearly and I can’t begin to imagine what it felt like (46). Art uses eyewitness accounts and photographs to bring the past to life. It is not only the recounting of memories being handed over from one generation to the next generation, but it is also the realization that these memories and stories impact the present.
Art and Vladek’s strained father-son relationship is a by-product of the Holocaust. Art became enraged with his father when he realized that he destroyed Anja’s diaries from the Holocaust. Her memories recounted in her diaries was one of the ways she stayed alive and existed in the present. Spiegelman depicts the second-hand perspective of the Holocaust to emphasize the atrocities that took place. He uses a frame story to show us how Art is burdened with post-traumatization because of the second-hand experiences he has been through. His entire family was placed with the burden of the Holocaust, which included mental illness and death. The use of the characterization of the animals in the story shows the reader that they possess very humane qualities with the ability to feel emotion and think intelligently, which contradicts Hitler’s beliefs. Overall, the reader is challenged by whether one can learn from history and ensure the horrors of the Holocaust do not repeat itself.
Maus: Memory and What it Means
While Art sits at his drawing board, a pile of emaciated Jewish bodies lies below him, seemingly unnoticed while reporters and businessmen climb over them, (Maus II.41). These bodies represent the grave nature of Spiegelman’s subject matter, the millions of dead Jews demanding that their story be told, and that their trauma not be downplayed. And at first glance, as we see roughly drawn, animal versions of soldiers fighting in one of the most terrible wars in history, it may appear as though Spiegelman’s book does just that.
But as we read deeper into his novel, we soon discover the depth that his medium provides in its opportunity for an enlightening perspective. Through the use of this medium Spiegelman effectively shows that the Holocaust has affected more than those who experienced it. The children and grandchildren of the survivors have their own stories to tell, the experiences of those who lived through the Holocaust didn’t simply end with emancipation, they continued in ways we can only imagine.
In certain parts of Maus, some events Spiegelman writes about are not directly his father’s. In these scenes, Vladek did not experience everything first hand; instead, he either heard rumors by general word of mouth or heard about things that happened to his friends or family. For example, when the Germans were taking children to Auschwitz, a scene in which a Gestapo officer becomes violent with a kid is drawn somewhat vaguely in the comic. The German’s action of hurting the child is mostly out of the frame; the reader cannot see the child’s face. In the last panel of page 108, the reader can again see that his memory is imperfect and vague as a text bubble is covering most of that scene. The text reads, This I didn’t see with my own eyes, but somebody the next day told me (Spiegelmen, Maus I 108). Speigelmen carefully makes the artwork of these panels less clear to remind the reader that the memories we can retrieve are only a fraction of a larger occurrence. Another example of portraying the patchiness of memory occurs in Maus II, while Vladek is in his first concentration camp. Spiegelman’s father recalls a fellow prisoner that would always complain that he is German and therefore is unjustly being held there. In two sequential panels, the complaining prisoner is depicted as a mouse and right after as a cat. The image in the later panel is more faded than the first, and again there are text bubbles from Spiegelman and his father’s present day conversation covering much of the picture. When Spiegelman asks whether or not the prisoner really was German, his father admits that he didn’t know: Who knows. It was German prisoners also…But for the Germans this guy was Jewish! (Maus II 50). Without the comics accompanying the dialogue of this scene, the reader might not know that there is a degree of uncertainty to Vladek’s story. Through the use of combined pictures and narrative, Spiegelman is able to assert that memory is naturally imperfect. With this assertion, however, Spiegelman provides a certain level of honesty to his father’s story. Vladek doesn’t claim to know everything that happened, but his point of view still gives an important insight to what the Holocaust was like for many Jewish people.
Speigelmen’s imprecise drawings of the animals in his comics also help to communicate the events of the Holocaust. Depicting the people involved in the Holocaust as animals alone is a strategic tactic to help describe the nature of the events that took place. The obvious cat and mouse metaphor represents how the Germans treated the Jewish as their prey. The animals, too, symbolize the inhumanness of the living conditions and torturous situations Jewish people, and anyone in the concentration camps, were forced to endure. The use of comics allows Spiegelmen to utilize animals to complement the story in such a manner that would not work, or not work as effectively, in prose alone. In Maus I, when Vladek and Anja are hiding, Anja is frightened by the rats that infested their hiding place. On the last panel of page 147, a very detailed rat is located at the forefront of the picture; this reminds the reader that the animals in Spiegelman’s story are only filling the places of actual humans that lived this event. In his article, Remastering the Past: Art Spiegelman and the Second Generation, Versaci describes the purpose of Spiegelman’s loose usage of his animal metaphor: (Spiegelman) never invit(es) us to mistake the memory of events for events themselves (Young, cited in Versaci 1999). The animals remind the reader that this story is only a representation of the events. Spigelman is not trying to recreate the events exactly. Spiegelman’s use of animals is a unique method to form the memories his father tells to him. Because the animals are not as detailed as the rat on page 147, it also helps the reader remember that, though they are not drawn as such, the people of the Holocaust were actual people. The use of comics to depict that the characters of Maus I and II as animals helps Spiegelman communicate the events of the Holocaust in such a way that provides a deeper understanding of those characters as humans.
Through comics, Spiegelman was able to create an easily understandable, but still powerful, memory of the Holocaust. By revealing the conversations with his father and his feelings towards writing the story, Spiegelman was able to create an honest retelling of the Holocaust. He did not report any event outside of his father’s perspective, and even then showed uneasiness that he could not tell of things he experienced himself. In this way, Spiegelman creates memory, and doesn’t claim it to be more than it is. He provides the reader with only what he is told and makes sure to describes his feelings about retelling it. In this way, his limited connection to the Holocaust still provides the reader with a clear and strong sense of what it’s participants lived through.
Spiegelman, Art. Maus I: A Survivor’s Tale: My Father Bleeds History. New York: Pantheon Books, 1986. Print.
Spiegelman, Art. Maus II: A Survivor’s Tale: And Here My Troubles Began. New York: Pantheon
Representing History in "Maus"
Today there are many mediums in our society that are used to convey information. Newspapers, such as the Washington Post or The Wall Street Journal, are great sources for information around the world. Websites such as CNN are also useful for the same purpose.
But there exists one method of communication that society has long neglected: the comic book. Today, we regard comic books as childish, but comic books are great mediums used for spreading information, colorful panels and text combine to create an accurate understanding. Many new comics go even further to take on more intense topics, graphic novels such as Maus by Art Spiegelman offer great insights into some of the worst events to ever occur in history. Spiegelman shows that history is cruel and unusual, but it requires investigation to understand why.
History is a difficult thing to grasp, because of human blunders. So many events, the Watergate Scandal, Apartheid, the Holocaust, – all of these things happened as a result of failures of our society. Spiegelman flagrantly highlights this in Maus II. The opening quote of the book itself states Mickey Mouse is the most miserable ideal ever revealed…Healthy emotions tell every independent young man and every honorable youth that the dirty and filth-covered vermin, the greatest bacteria carrier in the animal kingdom, cannot be the ideal type of animal…Away with Jewish brutalization of the people! Down with Mickey Mouse! Wear the Swastika Cross!(Spiegelman 3). The quote came from a newspaper article from Pomerania, Germany, mid-1930s. Not even into the story, the reader is confronted with a quote like this; it provides the sort of ethos that thrived in the Third Reich. The amount of negative energy just from this quote is crucial to understanding how and why German society disliked Jews so much. The citation, which talks about how Mickey Mouse, the innocent, clubhouse-friendly character of our childhoods is now the worst thing to ever be introduced to someone just because it is a mouse. This connection doesn’t stray, in fact it propels us, into Maus II. The quote addresses Mickey Mouse and then closes with a radical statement of Wear the Swastika Cross! and Away with Jewish brutalization of people!. In Maus II, the Jews throughout the book are mice, as if to concur with the quote. The mice are continuously oppressed by cats, the Germans. By putting the Holocaust into a more abstract level, Spiegelman seems to make the right choice. Art does this in the effort to make everything more human, as if afraid it is too much to deal with all at once. Despite the abstractism that Spiegelman uses, that is not to deter from the main message that Spiegelman continuously transmits throughout his work; the fact that people are immoral.
The few people who do understand history all agree on one thing: history has and will forever remain cruel. For history to not be this, it would take a purge of the entire human race, a complete restart of civilizations. The concept of war, invented in 2700 BCE, still lives on today. The first cancer was found as early as 1600 BCE, and still continues to perish too many helpless beings. Spiegelman undoubtedly agrees with this in Maus II, as stated on page 79 Some prisoners working in the gas chambers revolted. They killed 3 S.S. men and blew up a crematorium…Yah. For this they all got killed. And the four young girls what sneaked over the ammunitions for this, they hanged them near to my workshop.(Spiegelman 79). In Auschwitz, it didn’t matter if one was young, trying to make one’s case for freedom, freedom that has been long sought after, freedom that is a right entitled to oneself. To have freedom so tantalizing close but to have it kept away is all but the worst of all tortures. God forbid the exploitation of the man who got found trying to obtain this natural possession, for the penalization was death as said above. For being an infant, unable to care for yourself, or a terminally ill person, pleading on death’s doorstep, didn’t matter. Everyone in Auschwitz either saw or experienced death. And it wasn’t through quick deaths, Auschwitz was a buffet for death. Rebel or not, it was the gas chambers, beatings, hangings, animal wounds, and more just because of a certain race/religion. Brutality in Auschwitz is unlike anything ever experienced ever before in the human race. What better example of cruelty is there to look at than Auschwitz? Auschwitz, the single location for about 1.3 million casualties – babies, elderly, sick people alike – is ostentatiously perceived as the manifestation of cruelty in Maus II.
The unusuality of history flourishes through the inundation of cruelty. The constant intertwining of these two words, as one often leads to the other, is cumulative throughout Maus II. For example, on page 71 it is averred We pulled the bodies apart with hooks. Big piles, with the strongest on top, older ones and babies crushed below. Often the skulls were smashed. Their fingers were broken from trying to climb up the walls. And sometimes their arms were as long as their bodies, pulled from the sockets. (Spiegelman 71). This is unusual because how many times, in our world, has there been a case where bodies are dragged using hooks? Where bodies, children and elderly, are put into piles, with crushed skulls? None other than Auschwitz. This is because to have one’s corpse dismantled in such a grotesque way, where the describing and comparing of deceased body parts are normal talk. To have such a situation would require one to thrive in one of the most absurd places on the face of the Earth. Another reason that justifies that history is unusual is on page 72 And those what finished in the gas chambers before they got pushed in these graves, it was the lucky ones. The others had to jump in the graves while still they were alive. Prisoners what worked there poured gasoline over the live ones and the dead ones. And the fat from the burning bodies they scooped and poured again so everyone could burn better. (Spiegelman 72). This is indubitably unusual because burning bodies is unusual, but live and dead one’s simultaneously is just outrageous. What’s more, the waste from the broiling of these bodies was then used as a way to jump start the next batch that got this treatment. Spiegelman concurs with this, he even adds that those who died in the gas chambers were the lucky ones. Dying is terrible, but to be judged by the way you die is just inhumane. As frequently as death appears in life, the way one died is what sets people apart in Auschwitz, which is bizarre in the world today.
By understanding events like Auschwitz, one can get to the deep, seldom roots of the actual event. Everyday people ask Why? and as simple as this phrase is, it carries a lot of depth behind it. Only through deep questioning and extensive research are we able to find the answers that we need in life. Art Spiegelman asked his father about his reluctance of sharing his story with us, and through persistence our world was able to receive Maus and Maus II. Spiegelman, after finishing Maus, goes back to Poland to see the things that his father went through. He visits the place where in Maus on page 83 four Jews are hung. Spiegelman misinterprets this in his book, by showing gallows where in actuality they were hung by a tree. Spiegelman even visits the stadium, the place featured on page 89 where many Jews were sent to their death. After finding the place, now a grass field with many kids playing soccer on it and having a good time, he remarks This could be another planet rather than the same piece of ground…It is another planet. Spiegelman even visits Auschwitz, where the realization of cruelty and horror there washes over him, as he cries in the very bunks that his father could have slept in. Through deep investigation, Spiegelman understood the cruelty of history and humanity.
Everything in history all ends and starts at one place: human nature. In history, there are so many relations that can stretch from one place to another, even to another place in another time period. Ever since humans have walked on the Earth, humans have dominated. History is another thing that is dominated by humans. History is human nature. Every bad thing that humans have done were only possible because humans were able to let it happen. The Holocaust was able to happen through a radicalization of society, whose goal was to eradicate one, single race; the Jews. To the non-Jews in the Third Reich, Jews were vermin, filch and things that are ultimately detrimental to society. This thought can practically be brought back 600 years ago, to 1347, where the Black Plague killed 200 million people in Europe. Rather than going with the logical reasoning, many people blamed Jews for the cause of this devastating pandemonium. Anti-Semitism began to increase exponentially, entire communities were killed by mobs. Eventually, people began to realize that the cause of Black Death was due to bacteria, fleas that hid inside of rats. The rats would then hide inside one’s house, and then the rodents would hide inside of houses and spread the disease onto people. Spiegelman seems to come in, as stated before, his Jews are portrayed as rodents. Rodents, that to most of society at that time were the cause of nearly 200 million deaths across Europe. These allegations, though false, were only made possible through human nature, something more powerful than any weapon ever created in history. Human nature, is the thing that creates barriers between people, what brings society down. Human nature is what spawned segregation and discrimination. This isn’t to say that it is our fault, because to not have human nature is to not be human; rather that our abuse of it has lead to our failures.
In conclusion, understanding why things happen, especially in history, brings out the irregularity of life. It often can lead to terrible feelings, but nothing great is achieved without tremendous sacrifices. In order for one to understand history, it is required to understand human nature, the good and the bad parts.
Guilt in Maus
There is an enigmatic quality to Art Spiegelman’s survival guilt, a guilt which presents itself subtly in Book I and much more palpably in Book II. This ambiguity, so to speak, stems from a perplexing notion. That is, how could one of the only characters in Maus not to have been in the Holocaust have survival guilt? How, out of all those portrayed throughout the work who watched their friends and families slaughtered, could Art Spiegelman be the one who is guilty for surviving? It is, ironically enough, the fact that Spiegelman was not in the Holocaust that violently facilitates his survival guilt. His assumed inability to grasp the genocide, combined with the daunting task of representing the millions of unheard victims, creates guilt within him for not being there, which is only augmented by Vladek’s burning of Anja’s diary. Of course, this guilt is also manifested prominently in the ghost of his brother. In the end, he could never be Richieu, benevolently set in stone, and he would always represent that which the father could not have back—his family.While this discourse will deal mostly within the confines of Book II, it is important to note the catalyst in Book I that not only magnifies the guilt felt by Spiegelman, but also increases the very nature of his guilt, a nature which moves undecidedly between self-pity and outward aggression towards others. This catalyst, of course, is the revelation at the end of the first part of the series—that of the diary burning.To understand the importance of the diary burning, one must first address the author’s uncertainty about approaching his topic. How can he grasp, in any way, the most tortuous and debauched display of humanity in history? This is, as one frequently sees, a predicament faced by many who have written of the Holocaust, Primo Levi perhaps being the best example. For Spiegelman, though, this uncertainty is exacerbated by his distance from the Holocaust. That is, he never experienced the camps, the stealing, the bitter cold, the smell of burning flesh. In this way, only two things can connect Spiegelman to Auschwitz—his father and his mother’s journal. The former of these sources is the more subjective, especially given the relationship Spiegelman has with Vladek. The latter, however, is an objective piece of empirical footage he can use to effectively portray his parents’ ordeal. Thus, when Vladek reveals he burned the journal, Spiegelman bellows, “You Murderer!” not only because the father murdered Anja’s memory, but because he massacred the last chance the author had to completely understand what so many say no one ever could (Maus I 159). Within the first few pages of Book II, and therefore directly after the burning of the diary is divulged, the reader is given the first clear portrayal of Spiegelman’s survival guilt. The uncertainty that is alluded to through tone within the first book is now made apparent with Spiegelman’s questioning, “How am I supposed to make any sense out of Auschwitz?” (Maus II 14). His tortuous conversation with his wife—covering anything from which parent he would have saved to how diligent, even somewhat psychotic, his parents were in their search for Richieu—is a testament to his now overwhelming guilt. The guilt, though, is now moving from one of passive self-consciousness to one of violence and blame. His father “drives [him] crazy,” and it is this strained relationship which causes him to think so aggressively. Naturally, this strain is stretched to a precarious length by his father’s burning of the diary. His reaction, thus, is certainly one controlled more by emotion than by true culpability (the culpability of his father that is), and he could have, or rather should have taken the burning as a sign of his father’s own pain, rather than selfishly seeing how it affected his own guilt and even writing. Moving on, Spiegelman’s guilt in relation to his brother is perhaps the most telling and yet ambiguous feelings the reader sees in the writer. Spiegelman is, in the end, Richieu’s doppelganger, and yet he is also his foil, at least in the father’s eyes. Vladeck sees Spiegelman as the physical representation of his first born, but never the emotional or familial representation. In fact, regarding the latter, Spiegelman is the antithesis of Richieu. If the implementation of smoking throughout the books shows anything, it is that Vladeck, whether intentionally or not, tells his son he would never have survived the camps. Constantly cigarettes save Vladeck’s life as bartering tools, which apparently implies, given Spiegelman’s habitual smoking, that the writer would not have lasted if put in the position of his father. Spiegelman’s prodigality, too, is something Vladeck comments constantly about, most notably in his son’s poor purchase of a tape recorder (Maus I 73). All of these shortcomings, shortcomings that make Spiegelman human, never existed within Richieu. For this, the writer feels Vladeck is more Richieu’s father than his own. This unsettling feeling culminates in Spiegelman’s most clear and literal admission of survival guilt. As his wife relates and stresses that “[Vladeck]’s your father,” the author is brought to a climactic release, yelling “Stop! I feel guilty enough already!” (Maus II 120). Spiegelman’s guilt is, in the end, ineffable and undefinable. Throughout his story he is constantly faced with the unquantifiable pressure of telling humanity’s most regrettable story. All the while, he is tormented by his dead mother, neurotic father, and ghost of a brother. These coalesce on a psychological level to effect a daunting and alarming survival guilt, a guilt that the writer, one could assume, will never truly be free from. Works CitedSpiegelman, Art. Maus I My Father Bleeds History. New York: Pantheon, 1986.Spiegelman, Art. Maus II And Here My Troubles Began. New York: Pantheon, 1986.
Artie’s Impressions of the Holocaust in Maus II
In “Maus II” by Art Spiegelman a series of three panels helps to encapsulate a continuous theme throughout the two part story. In these panels Artie and Francoise are in the car driving to assist Artie’s father who has just been left by his second wife. In the car Artie claims that “I never felt guilty about Richieu. But I did have nightmares about S.S. Men coming into my class…I wish I had been in Auschwitz with my parents so I could really know what they lived through” (16). Artie struggles with his relationship with his father, the death of his mother, his ghost-brother, and his attempt to recreate the Holocaust in a comic strip. All of these struggles connect back to his lack of common experience. He knows that due to the difference in their pasts, the difference in their upbringing, in many ways he is distanced from his family, people he cannot seem to fully understand. The series of panel mentioned before, along with the highlighted dialogue, capture Artie’s inability to connect with his family and their story due to a significant difference in their lack of shared history.The Holocaust, to Artie, was something horrible and unfathomable that his parents experienced and lived through. This part of his family history is not an element of life that makes him connected to his parents through lineage, but creates a gap in their relationship. He often worries that he does not understand fully their experiences, as he did in the car with his wife. Artie in asking his father for his story is attempting to understand, he wants to be able to capture the survival of his father, the survival of his family, and subsequently himself, in his art. However, many times throughout the graphic novel Artie reveals his despair in failing at his task. Even after the publication of his first graphic novel on his father’s story Artie worries that he has inappropriately captured his father and that the work can never do the experience justice. Additionally, Artie blames his father’s personality on the Holocaust. His father is stingy with money, willing to live on next to nothing. He is demanding, coarse, and judgmental. As a reason behind his personality Artie claims that his father’s past has shaped this character in him. That the Holocaust is the reason he will throw away nothing, and do nothing with money but save it. He believes that the Holocaust is the reason that his father is so surly, that surely his attitude is a product of his rough life. His father lived through a death trap, Artie can never measure up to that, and can never be as accomplished as his father. This is what Artie believes, what he thinks, what keeps him at arm’s length from his father. His lack of shared history, his inability to experience the Holocausts drives him into creating a world where his father and he cannot coexist in mutual understanding. In the car with his wife, Artie speaks of his ghost-brother and the impact that has had on his life. Richieu was the first son, the boy that knew the Holocaust, the boy that did not survive the Holocaust. His parents cherish the picture of this son. They recall the memory their son as the perfect boy he was. This perfection plagues Arties. He feels that he is constantly competing with a ghost to gain the approval of his parents. His brother was a mere five or six when he died, allowing him to be the picture of perfection to his parents. Richieu would not have chosen the life Artie had chosen, he would have “married a rich Jew,” and known the suffering that his parents knew. Richieu is the missing generational link from Artie to his parents. He, as a son, would be able to relate to Artie and his existence before the Holocaust creates a shared history. However, his death pushes Artie further from his parents, because now Artie must face a brother he never met in order to prove himself a worthy son in the eyes of his parents. As he sees it, he can never measure up to the perfection of his ghost brother – a person who symbolizes the happiness his parents knew before the war even began. The Holocaust is a part of Artie’s family history. That fact will always remain, but it is a part of their history that Artie cannot truly relate to. His interpretations, as he views them, are inadequate renderings of horror he will never know. Due to this view on the Holocaust, and his parents’ life experience Artie continually feels inept and disconnected from his family. His is plagued by inadequacy in his work, compared to his ghost-brother, and in his comparative life accomplishments in relation to the survival of his parents. Artie attempts to understand the event, the history, that has shaped his life, but this understanding may be something out of his reach.
Pen, Ink, and Gas: The Use of Comics in MAUS
While Art sits at his drawing board, a pile of emaciated Jewish bodies lies below him, seemingly unnoticed while reporters and businessmen climb over them (II.41). These bodies represent the grave nature of Art’s subject matter, the millions of dead Jews demanding that their story be told accurately, that their murderers’ atrocity not be trivialized. And at first glance, as we see roughly drawn, animal versions of soldiers fighting in one of the most terrible wars in history, it may appear as though Art’s book epitomizes this trivialization. But as we delve deeper into his world, we soon discover the rich depth that his medium provides in its opportunity for vivid metaphor and enlightening perspective.Maus chronicles not only the harrowing story of Vladek’s survival, but also the story of Artie’s coming to terms with his father’s experiences. These two worlds and the cultural contexts associated with them are constantly juxtaposed as the narrative seamlessly alternates between them, the characters and background instantly providing the context for any given panel. For example, inserted into the myriad of examples of how Vladek was a victim of anti-Semitic Nazi treatment is a scene in which we learn that he himself is just as racist toward black people, or “shvartsers,” as he calls them, as the Nazis were toward him (II.98-100). Vladek doesn’t even believe it makes sense to compare blacks and Jews. This stark contrast between what we read and what we would at first expect exists because the two stories are so interwoven; we can’t help but compare Vladek and the Nazis, and the similarities we find are disturbing.Art’s choice to include without modification his previous work, Prisoner on the Hell Planet, is an interesting one (I.100-103). The brief segment is chronologically halfway between the two main narratives, and it helps to tie them together. We gain an idea of how the Holocaust affected Art’s parents and how they in turn affected him, their emotional instability mixing up his emotions so that he ends up blaming them, the Holocaust, and everything else that enters his mind. By including the main autobiographical narrative, we can glimpse both Art’s difficulty in understanding his parent’s experiences as well as his father’s difficulty in understanding that his son is living in a new era, one far removed from the Holocaust. We can take the familiar place of Art and, like him, see his father’s story through his father’s eyes.Some memories are so important to us, so fiercely horrifying or intensely pleasant, that the sight becomes burned into our mind, every minute detail of the scene unforgettably captured. No representation, be it words, a picture, or a movie, can do these moments the justice they deserve, but Art’s expressive drawings come close. We get a glimpse of what it might have been like for Vladek, looking down on the burning bodies, watching the gasoline and human fat being poured to accelerate the blaze (II.72). Art depicts these intense memories of Vladek’s experience with subtly different drawings, using heavy lines and dark, intense shading so that the emotion bleeds off the page. There are no speech bubbles to represent a passage of time; the memory is condensed to a single instant, frozen, captured on the page just as it was captured in Vladek’s memory. These evocative panels transport us directly into Vladek’s point of view, and they could never exist in any other medium.The comic form also allows Spiegelman to utilize symbols to express mood and feeling. When Vladek and Anja leave the ghetto and begin walking to Sosnowiec, they feel lost, not knowing what will come next as they search for some place to stay and hide (I.125). Art encapsulates this feeling of nervous suspense with a casual inclusion of swastika-shaped crossroads, and this subtle symbolism immediately conveys a torrent of information. Even though they are near their home, they feel as though they are in a foreign world. They realize they have no choice but to walk the Nazi path, knowing they could run into trouble at any moment. And what looks to be a crematorium in the background suggests that, if they chose the wrong path, they will end up like their many relatives and friends, snuffed out by the Nazis. All this information and emotion is communicated through the powerful illustration of a single panel, a testament to the suitability of the comic medium for Art’s subject matter.One of the most apparent instances of symbolism in Maus is the animal-headed characters. Anthropomorphic animals are, of course, nothing new to the world of comics; we don’t think twice about the absurdity of talking rodents and we easily accept the almost cliché relationship between cats and mice that we find in Maus. But unlike Tom and Jerry, whose roles as animals are portrayed only literally, Art’s animal heads are used to represent the stereotypes associated with the different groups in the social arena of the time. The Germans are represented by cats, instinctive hunters of Jewish mice, who in turn are seen as as vermin to be exterminated; this association of mice with Jews may be based on the German anti-Semitic propaganda film, The Eternal Jew, in which a pack of rats emerging from a sewer is juxtaposed with Jews in a crowded street of a Polish ghetto1. The mouse metaphor also captures the resourcefulness and scavenging nature of mice as well as their inability to ever be wiped out entirely. And just as cats don’t view mice as bitter enemies so much as instinctive food, many Germans were not fully conscious of their antagonism toward Jews, instead simply swallowing propaganda and obeying orders.The separation of characters into distinct species may seem at first to be trivializing and unnecessary, but it does effectively capture the stark stratification that existed during the World War II era. Adolf Hitler’s quote, “the Jews are undoubtedly a race, but they are not human,” epitomizes the viewpoint held by many Nazis who truly viewed the Jews as a separate species. At one point, a mouse claims that he is in fact German and should be relieved from the harsh treatment given to the Jews. Spiegelman drew the character twice, once as a mouse and once as a cat; to the Germans, there was no middle ground, and their identification of the man as a Jew ensured his untimely death (II.50).Yet individual characters are given the choice of living up to or breaking away from those stereotypes. We see Jewish police forcefully sending Vladek’s grandparents – fellow mice – to Auschwitz to be killed with millions of other Jews (II.87). We hear of a German officer’s girlfriend convincing him to spare hundreds of Jews (II.108). And we meet both a Pole who informs the Gestapo of hiding Jews (I.113) as well a Pole who accepts Jews into her household to hide them from Nazi patrols (I.141). What shines through is not how each character conforms to the stereotypes associated with their species, but how, fundamentally, there is no difference between mice, cats and pigs; how, truly, there are both cruel and compassionate, ruthless and merciful, malicious and benevolent members of every nationality, every ethnicity, every religion.Characters in Maus are frequently shown to wear masks representing a confusion of identity, intentional or otherwise. In Maus I, these masks are visible when characters pretend to be of another species, such as when Vladek identifies himself as a Pole to a train man so that he might let him board in secret (I.64). The ease by which Vladek can assume the part of another race, represented by the donning of a simple mask, demonstrates how quickly the supposed differences between species melt away when the racial divide is eliminated.In Maus II, these masks take on a more complicated role during the meta-narrative at the beginning of chapter two, where several characters, including Art himself, are seen as humans sporting only masks instead of actual animal heads. The temporary lapse of metaphor allows us to understand that the identity provided by our race and nationality – our species – is really just a mask that we wear. That underneath our masks, we’re all just people.By assigning specific animals to broad groups of diverse people, Art highlights the absurdity of making such generalizations. Just as Art can’t decide what animal his wife should be drawn as – a mouse, a frog, or something else entirely? (II.11) – so too is it senseless to attempt, like Hitler, to assign simple categorizations to the deep, complex psyche that makes us human. It is the very artificiality of Art’s metaphor that allows him to so evocatively capture the reality of the Holocaust.This personal touch, this intimacy, is what makes Maus so powerful. We can not only see but experience the toll Hitler took on Vladek, on his family, and on the world. We can experience, through Art’s brilliant metaphor, the social mindset of the war’s participants. And by the time we finish the last page, we have experienced more than just what Vladek survived. We have experienced what it was to have survived it.