Maus By Art Spiegelman As The Graphic Novel
The graphic novel, the complete Maus by Art Spiegelman, is a novel based on Art Spiegelman’s father, Vladek and his experiences with the Holocaust. The themes shown in this novel studied include prejudice, family, privilege and survival. Not only are these themes presented in Maus but they are also shown in the article Jews are ordered to leave Munich (New York Times, 1938), as well as the song ‘Living Years’ by Mike and the Mechanics (Robertson, B.A. & Rutherford, M. 1988), and the comic ‘On a Plate’ by Toby Morris (Morris, 2015). These themes influence and effect various characters and groups throughout these texts.
One major theme explored in Maus (Spiegelman, 2003) and the article Jews are ordered to leave Munich (New York Times, 1938) is that of prejudice. In Maus (Spiegelman, 2003), prejudice is shown through Vladek on page 84, where he explains to Artie about Germans coming with orders for all Jews of Sosnowiec must be relocated into the Stara Sosnowiec quarter, while all Non-Jews will be moved into vacated premises. This means that Vladek’s family of 12 must live in 2 ½ small rooms, while other Jews got even less space. Another example of prejudice is shown through Anja’s father on page 85 when her father’s friend and son were arrested. He then mentions that ‘the Germans intend to make an example of them’, also revealing that the next day that he walked over to Modrzejowska street and saw them hung from ropes. In the article, Jewish families are ‘ordered’ to leave Munich and are forced to hand over ‘the keys to their dwellings and garages’. The article mentions that the news of Ernest Von Rath’s death was an indication for ‘a reign of terror for the Jewish community in Munich’, which started with ‘the wrecking of shops during the night and continued with incendiarism during the morning and wholesale arrest and notices of expulsions during the day’. Ernest Von Rath was a high-ranking German official who was killed by a 17-year-old Jewish boy in the French-German Embassy. The article also mentions how ‘an orthodox synagogue was set on fire’, and the Jewish school adjoining was also completely burned, as well as many other synagogues in Bemberg, Baireuth and Treutlingen being burnt as well. In these two texts they clearly show how prejudice affects the Jewish and Non-Jewish communities.
Another major theme explored in Maus (Spiegelman, 2003) and the song ‘Living Years’ (Robertson, B.A & Rutherford, M., 1988) is that of family. The characters that are affected by this theme is the father and son relationships. In Maus (Spiegelman, 2003), Artie and his father Vladek have a tense relationship. Art feels guilty that he has abandoned his father who has faced many difficulties in life for example the Holocaust, although he admires his father for surviving the Holocaust. The relationship between Art and Vladek is shown on page 14 where Art meets his father in Rego Park after not seeing him for a long time as they ‘weren’t that close’. Art also mentions that his father has ‘aged a lot’ since he had last saw him. Vladek also comments to Mala his wife that Art’s hanger for his coat should be wooden as he hasn’t seen his son in two years. In the song the message is written from the viewpoint of a son who has a conflicted relationship with his father, this is shown through the lines “I know that I’m a hostage to all his hopes and fears”, “talkin’ in defence” and “stilted conversations”. This tells us that his father disapproves of his son and that he is not living up to his father’s expectations, and that there is not a strong sense of communication. Unfortunately, his father dies and he discovers that he and his dad had a much stronger connection than he first realized, and he now regrets not saying more while he was alive. This is shown through the lines, “I just wish I could have told him in the living years” and “It’s too late when we die”.
An additional theme explored in Maus (Spiegelman, 2003) and On a Plate (Morris, 2015) is Privilege. Characters that are affected by this theme is Richard and Paula from On a Plate and the Jewish community from Maus (Spiegelman, 2003). In Maus (Spiegelman, 2003) privilege is shown through the amount of money a person has, an example of this is found on page 116 and 117. On these pages Vladek and his then wife Anja are in a building in a part of Srodula separated by wires and all they could do is sit and wait. Vladek then sees his cousin, Jakov Spiegelman, in the courtyard from a window. Vladek shouts to Jakov for help, but Jakov replies with ‘there’s nothing I can do’. Vladek then signals that he can pay Jakov for his help, Jakov then accepts to help. After Vladek tells Art about this Art questions ‘why wouldn’t they have helped if you couldn’t pay?’ Vladek replies that there was no ‘families anymore’ and that it was everybody for themselves. After paying Jakov gets Vladek, Anja and there nephew out but fail to save Anja’s parents, Vladek then quotes ‘He was a millionaire, but even this didn’t save his life’. This shows that privilege isn’t always a positive and that money cannot buy you everything, especially freedom. On a Plate (Morris, 2015) perfectly explains privilege by comparing the lives of two children and their different upbringings, showing how their circumstances at home led to very different milestones in adulthood, from education to careers. Richard’s parents are ‘doing ok’, while Paula’s parents are ‘not so much’, the comic explains how Richard’s parents ‘will do anything for their baby’. This is shown by Richard attending a great school where they are ‘well resourced’, have ‘good kids’ and their teachers ‘love their job’. Whereas Paula’s parents will also do anything for their baby and that’s why they’re working two jobs. Paula’s school is described very differently to Richard’s school as her class sizes are ‘large’, the school is ‘underfunded’ and her teachers don’t like their jobs. Privilege is shown by Richard as he thinks he is more worthy of things getting given to him like his parents paying for university and getting Richard a job. In Paula’s case, she has to work for everything to earn her living.
The last theme explored in Maus (Spiegelman, 2003) is survival and is reflected through the character Vladek. Vladek is a Holocaust survivor and his experiences of the Holocaust are awful. Before going to war he had lived a wealthy life, then he was thrown into a situation where he was simply a Jewish citizen who was trying to survive. Vladek sums up the process of the Holocaust briefly while consoling his wife after the death of his first son, Richieu. Vladek quotes that “to die, it’s easy… but you have to struggle for life”. Even though Vladek survived the Holocaust, he is still unwilling to tell Artie the stories of what he endured. An example of this can be found on page 12, when Vladek tells his son that “no one wants anyway to hear such stories.” His attitude towards telling Art his stories demonstrates that Vladek does not want to recall those painful memories as he survived and lived through them. Therefore Maus demonstrates how survival influences and effects characters, such as Vladek.
As a result of the themes presented, prejudice, family, privilege and survival, Maus (Spiegelman, 2003) and the other texts (article Jews are ordered to leave Munich (New York Times, 1938), as well as the song ‘Living Years’ by Mike and the Mechanics (Robertson, B.A. & Rutherford, M., 1988), and the comic ‘On a Plate’ by Toby Morris (Morris, 2015)), all demonstrate how they affect various characters and groups.
- Morris, T. (2015). On a plate. Retrieved from http://thewireless.co.nz/articles/the-pencilsword-on-a-plate.
- New York Times (1938, November 11) Jews are ordered to leave Munich. The New York Times. Retrieved from ProQuest Historical Newspapers.
- Robertson, B.A. & Rutherford, M. (1988). The living years. [Recorded by Mike + the Mechanics] On Living years [CD]. New York, NY: Atlantic Records.
- Spiegelman, A. (2003). The complete Maus. London: Penguin Books.