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Maus by Art Spiegelman Explicatory Essay

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Updated: Jun 5th, 2019

There are many biographies and autobiographies that reveal the cruelty of the Holocaust and its destructive impact on a person. Art Spiegelman’s comic book Maus is probably the most unusual memoir that depicts the life of a person under the Nazi regime.

The author describes the life of his father Vladek Spiegelman before the Nazi occupation of Poland, during the Second World War, and the later influence of the Holocaust experiences on his personality.

To some degree, this book is based on Vladek’s recollection and it can be used as a primary source for historians who study the Holocaust even despite that it is a graphic novel. Maus can be studied by historians because it eloquently demonstrates the cruelty and absurdity of racial ideology as well as its dehumanizing effects on a person.

As a primary historical source this graphic book can be criticized for its use of animal images. For instance, Art Spiegelman depicts Jews as mice whereas Germans are portrayed as cats. Thus, one can argue that this book can be related to the Holocaust, but it lacks realism and objectivity that are necessary for a historical document. Nevertheless, this argument can be disputed.

The use of animal images reflects the racial ideology of the Nazi Germany. By dividing people according to their racial or ethnic differences, this ideology forced people to be hostile to one another. To a great extent, they began to act as cats and mice. Moreover, ethnicity or race became the distinctive characteristic of a person. His or her individuality was completely disregarded by the regime.

It should be noted that Art Spiegelman’s visual characters can be distinguished from one another only by their clothes. Overall, members of the same ethnic group look practically in the same way. This description reflects the principles of the Nazi ideology that emphasized nationality of a person, rather than his or her character traits.

Despite animalistic descriptions, Art Spiegelman manages to render the horrors of the Holocaust, and its dehumanizing effects on people. The author shows how characters struggled to survive the Ghetto or in the concentration camps. This graphic book shows how people hid or foraged for food in order to sustain themselves in any way.

By showing their attempts to survive, Art Spiegelman demonstrates that people can be forced to behave like animals, especially when they are driven by fear. Additionally, by describing German atrocities aimed against the Jews, the author prompts people to think about cat-and-mouse play. For instance, Vladek recollects that his father was forced to cut off his beard by German soldiers (Spiegelman, 65).

One should bear in mind that there were many Nazis who chose to entertain themselves in such a cruel way. Again, this humiliation of a person resembles cat-and mouse game. Thus, readers can see that animalistic description of characters actually reflects the changes in their personality and the way in which their experiences dehumanized them.

In the first chapters of the book, Art Spiegelman shows how Polish Jews perceived the danger coming from Nazis. In particular, one can mention their apprehension after seeing the Nazi flag and surfacing of different stories about the atrocities committed against the Jews (Spiegelman, 32).

However, at the beginning, these stories were met with some disbelief. For instance, Vladek decides that his family should stay in Bielso, even though it was under the rule of the occupiers. Again, this decision was taken not only by Vladek but by many other people who believed that such cruelty could not be possible.

Finally, this book demonstrates that the experiences of the Holocaust did not fully end after the fall of the Nazi Germany. This event left many people crippled both physically and emotionally. Vladek, who survived the Holocaust, turned into a very callous person.

For instance, he is unable to understand why his wide committed suicide or how to comfort his son who suffered from the loss of his mother. The main issue is that this lack of empathy can be the direct result of Vladek’s experiences in ghetto or in the camp. Most importantly, such psychological traumas could have been inflicted upon thousands of people.

Overall, there are different in which one can approach this book. One can certainly regard it as an artistic or literary work that gives one of the most terrifying descriptions of the Holocaust. It produces a strong impression on the person by combining such media as text and image.

Moreover, it also poses many thought-provoking questions, especially about the reasons that made ordinary people to commit atrocities against everyone whom they believed to be different.

Yet, historians can also find it useful because from it they can learn more about the experiences of Jewish people, their perceptions of the Holocaust, and their attempts to survive. One should not assume that Maus is superior or inferior to other biographies and autobiographies written about the Holocaust. Its major difference is the choice of media and the use of symbols that have to be decoded by attentive viewers and readers.

Works Cited

Spiegelman, Art. The Complete Maus: A Survivor’s Tale. New York: Pantheon, 1996. Print.

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