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Maus by Art Spiegelman

November 6, 2012

Maus is one of the most artistically ambitious novels ever written; that it is a graphic novel foes not actually heighten this ambition, as the format itself defines what Spiegelman attempts to accomplish.

Spiegelman uses a framing device of his conversations with his father, Vladek, to tell the story of his father and mother’s time in Poland leading up to WWII, then eventually in a concentration camp. Spiegelman clearly has a strained relationship with his father, and struggles to find common ground. His mother, Anja, killed herself in 1968, and her suicide haunts the book, unexplained but somehow not surprising.

Spiegelman uses his father’s words to tell the story, and, in Maus‘s most bold move, depicts the Germans as cats and the Jews as mice; Poles are pigs. When a Jew attempts to pass, they wear a mask, but their mouse tail may still stick out, depending on the circumstance. This framework makes it clear how difficult it was to pass, and also how entrenched the group identities became.

The other thing that becomes abundantly clear is how much of a role money played in survival. Vladek was fairly wealthy, and was able to buy his way into better circumstances – and out of certain death – for a long time, until even money could not save him. Though money could not outright buy survival, Maus makes it clear that one could buy a better chance.

Towards the end of Maus, Vladek recounts his fellow Hol0caust survivors, and their fates. Most have died, and it is a grim reminder of what was lost in the Holocaust, both by those who were left, and by the rest of us.


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