Maus, a graphic novel created by Art Spiegelman, delineates the harrowing story of the artist’s father, who was a survivor of the Holocaust. The story is presented through a series of interviews, and the characters are depicted as animals: the Poles are shown as pigs, the Germans as the cats and the Jews as mice.
The serialized comic explores the father-son relationship, juxtaposed with the traumatic incidents experienced by the father and the son’s association with it. Although Vladek has managed to put his past and look forward to the future as evident by his remarriage, he nevertheless has to revisit those harrowing events because it also forms his son’s identity and defines their relationship.
The story switches between the past and the present and is told in a nonlinear manner. This technique enables the reader to draw significant differentiation between the characters, especially Arti and Vladek. Also, Arti’s mother and Vladek’s first wife has an impactful presence on both of their lives. Moreover, Vladek seems to prevaricate in most parts of the story when his son wants him to talk about his past. The interactions between the son and the father show the gaping difference between both of their generations. Vladek is easily irritated by some of Arti’s behavioral traits and often blames him for small accidents. For example, when Vladek drops the pills, he blames Arti, saying that “look now what you made me do” (Spiegelman 30). Therefore, Vladek is not the typical representation of a Holocaust. He reserves his prejudices in the new world. He is paranoid about the people and the world around him and suspects that his present wife wants him dead.
Vladek seems to focus more on his experiences than that of his wife’s. Maybe, he could be trying to forget her as she brings him back hurtful memories. Some of Vladek’s experiences depict the extremity to which the Holocaust has driven its victims. Vladek sometimes had to masquerade as a Nazi for survival. He had to stoop down to extreme conditions for survival. These experiences create a strange form of bond between the father and the son.
Nevertheless, they have ideas and perceptions of conflict against each other because of the difference in cultures both of them belong to. When Art realizes that his father had burned Anja’s diary, he gets infuriated and calls him a “murderer.” The son desperately needed the notebook as it could potentially help him connect to his mother. The father says, “After Anja died, I had to make an order with These papers had too many memories. So I burned them” (Spiegelman 159). Art angrily calls Vladek a murderer. However, at this moment, the son refuses to perceive it from the father’s side of the story. He had gone through harrowing circumstances that burning Anja’s diary symbolized his desire to bury his past. He has to relive those experiences by recounting them to his son. However, Vladek seems more focused on surviving, derived from the days when he was a victim of the Holocaust camp. It could have contributed to his frugality, and increased focus on his self.
Vladek inherited from his past experiences because, in that world, one survived through the means of money and intellect, which could not be understood by his son, who lives in a completely different generation. In all of his recounts, Vladek emphasizes his importance and his ingenious efforts to save himself from being killed. Vladek’s and Anja’s survival depended on money. They had to pay Mrs. Motonowa to keep them safe in her house. Sometimes, when her husband comes, she asks them to stay in the cellar, infested with rats. They were even afraid to breathe. The exclusivity that Vladek attributes to his own life overwhelms him in his later life. Unsurprisingly, he maintains a distance in relationships because he realizes it involves giving other things that could potentially affect the chances of his survival.
Also, Vladek maintains impassivity throughout his present life. At one point, he describes the death of his in-laws and quickly asserts when Art wanted to reconfirm the incident, “What else? Right away, they went to the gas” (Spiegelman 115). Next, he rummages through the garbage and salvages a telephone wire. It would anger Art, but Vladek merely replies, “Why you always want to buy when can find? Anyway, this wire they don’t have it in any stores” (Spiegelman 116). The incident shows how Vladek had learned the art of saving from his past. The effort only becomes foreign to his son because he belongs to a different generation that has more convenience and liberty. Art belonged to the time when economic stability reached society after World War II. The postwar generation entered a phase of economic growth (Michman, and Mazze). Baby Boomer, who represented the population born between 1946 and 1964, desired convenience. It is made evident in Art’s interactions because he could not relate to the hardships of the Holocaust days (Michman, and Mazze). For all that he cared, Art just wanted these details so that he could finish the book. He uses these accounts to make it known to the public and, additionally, to capitalize on it.
Art also inserts one of his comics that centered on the death of his mother in Maus. It was titled “Prisoner on the Hell Planet: A Case History,” and the comic recounts the incident and its aftermath. The event destabilized the family structure. Art blames himself for her death. He even states, “You put me here…shorted all my circuits…cut my never endings and crossed my wires…You murdered me, mommy, and you left me here to take the rap” (Spiegelman 103). Art does not perceive that his mother was significantly affected by her father that made it impossible to live in the new world. In another instance, Art receives a call from Mala in the middle night. She says that Vladek wants to fix the drain at that time. He tells his girlfriend that even as a kid, he hated helping him around the house. Art further accuses his father of making him neurotic about fixing stuff. Herein reflects the significant generation gap between Art and Vladek. The latter thought that Art would never make it as an artist because he lived in an extremely pragmatic world that refused to make use of imagination. Maybe the experience as a victim of the Holocaust stamped down the extent of his vision.
The readers are given a peek into the conflicting nature of culture through the means of Vladek and Art. They may not be the perfect medium to relay the Holocaust experiences. Still, their relationship communicates the extent of influence that the brutality of Nazism had on its victims and the later generations. These experiences create a domino effect of events. The former’s traumatic experience defines the relationship between Vladek and Art as it could help him to understand his father potentially. However, the difference in time only makes it a complicated process.
Michman, Ronald D, and Edward M Mazze. The Affluent Consumer: Marketing And Selling The Luxury Lifestyle. Praeger, 2006.
Spiegelman, Art. Maus. Penguin Books, 1992.