Maus Study Notes
Art Spiegelman's Maus: A Survivor's Tale is one of the most prominent graphic novels within the of Holocaust Studies and in relation to theories of traumatic memory. The two .. Holocaust, it emphasizes not only the survival of Vladek Spiegelman but of Art . , under Act II: A MAUSoleum of Textimonies). It is not an. It is the autobiography of Art, the son, and a biography of the father, Vladek. metaphor, and the complicated relationship between father and son, few have, family's tomb, he demonstrates both how he is “Buried by his parents' history” . How do the tensions in their contemporary father-son dynamic complicate the enterprise of recording Vladek’s historical How do the tensions in their contemporary father-son dynamic complicate the enterprise of recording Vladek’s historical experience of the Holocaust?.
What we can safely say about Maus is that the images belie the complexity of the psychological pathology that was a result of the Holocaust both for the survivors and the generation that the survivors gave birth to. What s also true in Maus is that the characters - at least Vladek and Art - are burdened with feelings that they don t always understand and are often in conflict with each other.
If there s any message in Maus it s this: In otherwise, how does Art Spiegelman use the elements of the graphic novel to tell the story of Maus in a way that s distinct from the medium of the novel or film? Below is a more detailed discussion about the effect with which Spiegelman uses some of these elements. Just as the paragraph and sentences within the paragraph are the basic way of dividing up parts of the narrative in a novel, so too is the panel and the bubbles with the panel the basic way of organising the story in a graphic novel.
In the opposite col- to bottom. This is a standard way of split- umn is a picture of the typical way Spiegel- ting panels on a page in order to develop man employs panels through Maus. However, not all panels are this page we can see that all of the panels boxed on this page - two of them are bor- are the same, that most of the panels are derless. When a panel is boxed within a boxed with a black border and that they re border it conveys the sense that these 4 5 Maus as a graphic novel - some basic vocabulary Caption A long shot A text only panel A close up A panel A gutter A speech bubble 5 6 words, or actions or feelings are happening at this exact point and no other.
When there is no border a sense of space or freedom is created - that the words, actions or feelings might link to more than just this point in time. In the example page shown, we could say that the panel where Vladek says we were happy only to be together has no border because it something he feels is always true about he and Anja and certainly something he says later on: We were both very happy and live happy, happy ever after p.
Spiegelman also changes the size of panels in order to emphasize the significance or impact of the feelings, words or events within the panel. He does this often at crisis points in the novel - such as in the example pictured in the next column which shows the arrival of Vladek at Auschwitz.
Panels can also overlap with other panels as it does in the example to the left. This shows how the words, feelings or events in that panel overlap, impact on or link to the surrounding panels. The space in between panels known as the gutter - might not initially strike us as important. It s in the gutter space that we need to infer what s happened - to almost quite literally read between the lines.
However, sometimes there is a space between panels - either in terms of place or time. In the example below, from the end of Maus, there is a leap in time between when Vladek goes to sleep and the final panel of his tomb stone. We are left to wonder what happened in between. If we were talking about film we would call this editing - how scenes can be cut, or cut from point to a next and create a particular effect.
Maus Study Notes
In Maus, Spiegelman can use his gut- In the scene above, we don t see Tosha administer the poison to the children - we re left to fill that blank in ourselves based on the image of the small, innocent children looking up.
There are many qualities about Vladek which are admirable. He is represented as both courageous and resourceful in the way he survives the Holocaust. While disguised as a Pole, for example, he rides in the section of a tram reserved for Nazi officials - put himself as close as possible to the Nazis in order to avoid detection. In Auschwitz, when he comes under the patronage of a powerful Kapo, he remembers his friend with the one shoe and the baggy pants and ensures this friend gets clothes that fit.
On other occasions he gets fellow prisoners things - such as lice free shirts and spoons - that help them survive. During his time in Auschwitz he scrapes together rations for bribes to get Anja an easier job in the women s concentration camp. Clearly Art Spiegelman is proud of this selfless, practical and heroic part of his father. But there are also many aspects of Art Spiegelman s presentation of his father that leave us thinking about Vladek in a less than positive light.
As great as his love for Anja might be, there was a calculating side to it for Vladek. When Vladek is first dating Anja he shows the pills Anja takes to a friend to ascertain her health: If she was sick, then what did I need it [her] for?
He can also be dictatorial in his relationship with her: I told her Anja, if you want me you have to go my way The resourcefulness that helped him survive during the Holocaust, is no longer such a positive quality outside of it.
Both Mala and Art himself repeatedly complain about how cheap Vladek is and how he values material things above people. Mala comments acidically at one point that it s this attitude of Vladek s that probably drove Anja to her suicide. We don t know why Anja committed suicide we re told several times that she left no notebut what we do know is that Vladek s version of their life after the war - We were both very happy and live happy, happy ever after p.
So we can probably add self deception to Vladek s roll call of failings. Ulimately, as long as the list of complaints about Vladek might be, Maus is an empa- 8 9 thetic story about him. As bitter as Art Spiegelman might be about some of the attitudes Vladek has, it s impossible to judgmentally dismiss someone who has experienced what Vladek has.
Vladek s final words in the story are addressed not to Art - who he has spent the last few years telling his stories to his, but his other son who died in the Holocaust - Richieu. The only thing we can feel at this - as Art Spiegelman must - is sorrow. Art Spiegelman is a character who has been profoundly emotionally impacted by the Holocaust - not because he lived through it, but because his parents did.
This much is clear from the panels Spiegelman opens Maus with. They recount a typical childhood experience of falling over and friends not being overly sensitive about it. I fell and my friends skated away w-without me, Art complains to his father. Vladek s response to his child s sorrows is this: If you lock them together in a room with no food for a week Later on in the book Art says to Francoise that, I know this is insane, but I somehow wish I had been in Auschwitz with my parents so I could really know what they lived through!
It s instances like the one Art Spiegelman begins Maus with that leave his character in the graphic novel feeling guilt about a life that doesn t involve starving and watching everyone around you die.
Art sees his childhood as characterised not only with guilt, but also with inferiority. He feels that No matter what I accomplish, it doesn t seem like much compared to surviving Auschwitz p.
Further, he feels that Vladek made it clear as he grew up that I couldn t do anything as well as he could p. Art s pyschologist says that Vladek s need to be always right may be a reaction to feeling guilty about surviving p. Characters need to find a way to endure after the Holocaust.
Being right is Vladek s. So too does Art need to find a way to survive Vladek, which is why he chose to be an artist: One reason I became an artist was that he thought it was impractical What is it that Maus, in the end, is about for Spiegelman?
He says to Vladek that he wants to tell his story. But later on, talking to his psychologist, he says I tried to be fair and still show how angry I was p.
This second quote is getting closer to it. Maus isn t just about Vladek s story but about how Spiegelman feels about Vladek s story. The visual medium of the graphic novel becomes the perfect foundation for exploring the complex nature of Speigelman s feelings towards his father - and to counter because Vladek has destroyed Anja s diaries the fact that Vladek is the only voice in the narrative of how he and Anja survived the Holocaust. The medium of the graphic novel means that instead of just words to represent his feelings, Spiegelman can manipulate pictures.
So in the scene with the pscyhologist, Spiegelman s feelings of inferiority are visually reinforced through his illustration of himself as a child. The surreal, exaggerated style of Prisoner On The Hell Planet, captures in pictures what Spiegelman felt to be the emotional grotesqueness of the events surrounding Anja s suicide - the fact that it s in a completely different style to the rest of the book highlighting how it stands out on its own in Spiegelman s personal narrative.
Maus isn t a book in which the character of Art finally comes closer to his father or gets closure about the suicide of his mother. He doesn t stop feeling guilty or inferior or blaming his father.
But he does get to feel that he s been fair in telling their story. Sometime after Anja s suicide Vladek remarries to Mala. Their relationship is a combative one. Vladek complains that she is constantly badgering him to change his will to make it more beneficial for her, Mala s riposte is that he is cheap and miserly. He s more attached to things than people! Mala shows us that Vladek s particular emotional pathology impacts more than just Art.
Talking to Art about one of her arguments with Vladek about money, she says, I feel like I m in prison p. She feels as if Vladek manipulates her, every time she argues with him, he moans like he s going to have another heart attack p. What s interesting about this is how Vladek s dependency towards Mala the sicker he gets, the more he wants her to look after him - and the emotional manipulation he uses to get what he wants and the consequent feeling for Mala that she is a prisonermirrors Art s feeling of being a prisoner because of his mother s emotional dependency-manipulation towards him.
There s a further link provided between Mala and Anja when Mala says at 10 11 one point that she can see why Anja committed suicide. Like Vladek, Mala is a survivor of the camps, but however she has been impacted by that experience, it manifests itself in a different way to Vladek s response All our friends went through the camps.
Nobody is like him! What he means by this is unclear. Does he mean that Vladek drove Anja to her suicide so was a murderer? Or does he mean it more metaphorically - that he destroyed her story when he burned her diaries, so figuratively has murdered her? This guilt and bitterness is compounded by the absence of a suicide note - something that is commented on several times throughout the graphic novel.
Spiegelman is frank about his guilt throughout Maus. It was an ideal kid, and I was a pain in the ass. Auschwitz with my parents so I could really know what they lived through! Maus is a story about stories. Story telling has a number of purposes in Maus.
For Art, it can be a way of responding to the fact that: How am I supposed to make any sense out of Auschwitz? Story telling is a sense making activity. But it can also be a way of creating a version of how we would have liked things to be.
Even though Anja commits suicide, Vladek says about their life after the war: The eyes of the Jewish mice are nearly always visible The eyes of the Nazis, on the other hand, are often not visible: When their eyes can be seen, they are typically portrayed as sinister looking slits of light.
One way we see them as human characters is through their eyes. Both images show that the Holocaust is enduring and overwhelming in its impact. Spiegelman represents how overwhelming the Holocaust was and is in the lives of those who experienced it or survived it through his visual representations of Holocaust symbols dominating the lanscape within panels or being the dominant background behind panels.
The swastika dominates each image, symbolising how their lives were dominated by the Nazi Holocaust. There are a number of layers to this imagery.
The first layer is the idea we immediately associate with mice - innocent and small; coupled with cats - big and predators of mice.
In other words, the Jews were innocent victims, the Nazis predatory killers. At the start of Book II left no note.
Because of the success of the Mouse is the most miserable ideal ever novel Spiegelman is being bombarded revealed Away with Jewish brutalization of deals. Down with Mickey Mouse! The mask represents confusion: Before Vladek and Anja were captured and sent to Auschwitz, they were able to avoid being caught in Srodula did my mother commit suicide? Was it my fault?
Holocaust Lit | Eiger, Mönch & Jungfrau
Why do I feel guilty? How can I move on? Dying faces, dead faces, hanging and dead bodies: Masks at this point are a functional graphic representations of the dead and way to avoid detection by pretending to be dying.
Hanging bodies are used at a num- someone else. At the start of the second ber of points with particular haunting ef- chapter of Book II Speigelman draws him- fect. They evoke within us feelings about self as a human character wearing a the dehumanisation of Jews their bodies 17 were left to hang like carcasses and their desperation.
The image evokes within the powerlessness. If you lock them together in a room Art: I oughta get with no food for a week Such an old shabby coat. The Jews are undoubtedly a shame my son would wear such a coat! If she was sick, then what did I Vladek: Such a paper could be useful to need it [her] for? Of course I old said I got half what really happened.
In this way, the animal metaphor is ironized and destabilized, made to seem the relics of a past way of thinking about identity—though, tellingly, they are not abandoned altogether. After all, in Maus the past never lets go. I told the class I had three topics I wanted us to consider: I started by referring to a line quoted by the brilliant scholar Sara Horowitz in an influential essay on gender and Holocaust literature.
Artie asks his father what his mother experienced when they were separated from each other upon arriving at Auschwitz. I reminded the class that the first thing Artie says to his father when he asks him to tell his story is: We soon concluded her character is quite complex.
She is both mentally and physically frail, relying on Vladek to jolly, even bully her into health. Yet she is also strong: Vladek explains how he discovered shortly after their marriage that Anja had for some time been translating secret documents into German for a Communist group, a clandestine and illegal activity that she narrowly escaped being arrested for.
The point, I suggested, is that Vladek seeks to make her life conform to his, just as he does retrospectively when he tells Artie that her experiences at Auschwitz were the same as is. Maybe his depiction of how much she relied on him is just another instance of his seemingly insatiable need to be in control, to be the consummate fixer, a trait that saved his life on more than one occasion in the camps.
Seeing how important it is for Vladek to control his portrayal of Anja, we might wonder if Artie does something similar. But earlier, in the wake of her suicide, he describes her as needy and smothering, in fact, as having murdered him. Is it really, as Vladek repeats over and over, that she wants his money? Mala seems particularly hard done by in the book, and not just by Vladek.
I pointed to a scene in which Artie, leaving his father winded after another long session on the exercise bike, comes across Mala in the kitchen. He mentions the round up in Sosnowiecz that Vladek has just been telling him about. Mala, who had experienced it as well, begins to tell the story of her family, including what sounds like an extraordinary feat of her own, in which she managed to smuggle her mother out of the ghetto.
I think this response is really surprising given how much Artie and Mala have in common. To recognize Mala might have required Artie to recognize the strange way in which he and his father attempt to control and even efface women by subordinating them to their various quests. After all, in their own ways, Artie and Vladek are equally controlling.
I took the opportunity to segue to the topic of photographs, both actual and imagined. How many real photographs are reproduced in the book, I asked. Who are they of? Why are these photos included? Yes, though a family photograph, that is, of all of them together, is naturally impossible. So the book performs a double movement: But why include the photos? Why reproduce them in the text?