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Introduction to Maus

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Anna Kinder

on 3 December 2013

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Transcript of Introduction to Maus

Background Information
Maus is a difficult piece of literature to categorize, in regards to genre.

It can be described as all of the following genres:
comic book
graphic novel
oral history
In a Nutshell
Maus is the story of the Holocaust as seen through the eyes of the artist's father, Vladek
It is the story of the tortured relationship between the artist and his father
It is the story of the relationship between the artist and his art
Spiegelman uses a unique, black and white cartoon style that thrives on simplicity, minimalism, and the power of the understatement
Mice faces are expressed simply with dots for eyes and short lines for mouths and eyebrows
Only differences in clothing distinguish one mouse from another; but despite this, characters are easily recognizable
He characterizes humans as animals, rendering the tale as allegorical in nature
About the Author: Art Spiegelman
Born in 1948 in Stockholm, Sweden to Vladek and Anja Spiegelman
The family moved to New York in 1951
He exhibited an early interest in comic books and cartooning and by adolescence, he was seriously involved in comic making
Maus first appeared in Spiegelman's indie magazine, RAW
BBC Interview with
Art Spiegelman
Comics are often referred to as
"sequential art" (each frames follows the
previous one)
Maus' use of frames is a traditional one
Few drawings break out of their borders and
the frames serve to help keep the Holocaust
separate from the present
Exceptions to this:
1. Past and present meet in the drawing of
the Auschwitz hangings presented simul-
taneously with a drive through the Catskills
2. The use of a frame within a frame
3. Varied sizes of frames and a single
image that spans multiple frames
Literary Devices
1. Flashbacks and flash forwards: Spiegelman does
this in order to tell the story in an alternating
fashion. At one point, Vladek is shown looking back
in time at his younger self.
2. Metaphor: as mentioned, it is pretty obvious that
mice are not really mice, pigs are not really pigs, and
cats are not really cats.

Let's explore these metaphors for a moment.
Firstly, let's talk about
this whole idea of race.
Hitler and the Nazis were obsessed with it...
exterminating the lesser races, creating the perfect
Aryan race, etc.
Mice= the Jewish people
Spiegelman used mice to represent the Jews because the Nazis referred to the Jews as vermin and thus, lesser than human.
The Nazis also used Zyklon B, a common pesticide, in the gas chambers to exterminate concentration camp inmates
An example of Nazi propaganda that portrayed
the Jews as vermin:

"Mickey Mouse is the most miserable ideal ever revealed. Healthy emotions tell every independent
young man and every honorable youth that dirty and filth-covered vermin, the greatest bacteria carrier in the animal kingdom, cannot be the ideal type of animal. ....Away with Jewish brutalization of the people! Down with Mickey Mouse! Wear the Swastika Cross!" (from a German newspaper article, mid-1930s, reproduced in the preface of Maus, vol. II)
...but Hitler didn't seem to think so:
"The Jews are undoubtedly a race, but they are not human."
--Adolf Hitler
Because we think of cats, pigs, dogs, and frogs as different species, readers might conclude that different nationalities such as Germans, Poles, Americans, and French are distinct RACES...
When in reality, each of these countries
is populated by people of many different
ethnic backgrounds.
Recent genetic research has questioned this whole idea of race. Findings show few genetic differences amongst people.
The artist/author Spiegelman received some criticism for his usage of this mouse metaphor, saying that it plays into this Nazi idea of the Jewish people being a race...

...but Spiegelman created the mice metaphor intentionally, knowing about the Nazi association of Jews as vermin and that their method of extermination was through a common pesticide.

He once stated, "I found that in a film called The Eternal Jew, a racist guy by the name of Hippler (weird, huh?), there's shots of old Jewish men milling around in a ghetto, cut to a swarm of rats in a sewer, and saying that the Jews are the rats of mankind, carrying disease throughout the world.
NEXT: Poles portrayed as pigs
Spiegelman portrayed the Polish people as pigs because the Nazis labeled the Poles to be "schwein" (swine).
Spiegelman's response:
"So I said, 'Yeah, and the Germans called us vermin. These aren't my metaphors. These are Hitler's.' And that gave us common ground. I pointed out that, in the book, there are Jews who act admirably- but there are many Jews in the book that don't. These are just people wearing masks. And the same is true of the Poles. There are some Poles who saved my parents' lives and were very kind, and there were some who were swine."
Some Polish people found this to be offensive.

Excerpt of a press conference between a Polish press and Spiegelman: "[A Polish reporter] said, 'Do you realize that it is a terrible insult to call a Pole a pig? It is worse than it even sounds in English. Do you realize that the Germans called us schwein?'
Other portrayals:

Nazis as cats... any guesses as to why?
Americans are dogs. They are also the only "species" that look different from each other; members of all the other races look exactly the same as other members of the same race and can only be identified by their clothes. There are two reasons for this particular metaphor:
1. Dogs are higher up on the cat-mouse chase chain
2. American soldiers were sometimes referred to as "dogfaces."
French are frogs.
Swedes are reindeer.
British are fish
Gypsies are gypsy moths.
Maus uses non-standard English at times. Though the character Vladek is quite intelligent, his first language is not English. He is going to slip up. These are not errors.

Literary term to know:


It has multiple definitions, but the one we want to use in this case is:

The characteristic speech and thought patterns of a first person narrator, persona, or character.
For a story to be believable and to feel authentic,
the author must use voice effectively.

Can you think of some characters in your favorite TV shows and movies that have very distinctive voices? Phrases that they say, etc.?

An example that comes to mind when I think of voice: the Christopher Walken SNL sketch "Meet the Family":

There are two major ways of looking at characters.

Flat vs. round


Dynamic vs. static
Round vs. Flat
Round characters are characters with lots of DEPTH. They are so well-developed in a story that readers almost feel like they know these characters by the end of the movie/book.

Can you think of some round characters?
Personally, I think of Sheldon.
Those who watch the Big Bang Theory know A LOT about Sheldon. We know about all of his quirks, the effects that caffeine has on him, we know about his crazy fundamentalist Texan mother and his upbringing... we know... A LOT.
...A flat character would be more like Raj's sister, Priya.

She's so flat as a character that I didn't even remember her name at first. We don't know much about her.
...other than that she's hot.
Dynamic vs. Static
DYNAMIC characters are characters that change significantly throughout the story/series.

STATIC characters do not change much.
When I think of dynamic characters, I think of Barney from How I Met Your Mother...
He goes from a womanizing bachelor with a "play book" to
being Robin's faithful fiance'.
Kind of a big change.
Ted, however, doesn't really change all that much.
He remains desperate and pathetic throughout most of the series. Poor Ted.
From what I have seen of the series, he doesn't really change much (but I haven't seen it all). Correct me if I am wrong.
What about you? Who are some of your favorite dynamic characters? Static characters?
Back to Maus
Major Characters!!
Vladek, Daddy Spiegelman
Was once a dashing young man, resourceful and daring
The ladies loved him, especially this psycho beech (yep, she was a tree) named Lucia
In Maus, he is portrayed as aging and in poor health
He is sometimes portrayed in a negative light and at other times, more sympathetically... sounds pretty realistic, huh?
For example, he is altruistic towards several men in Auschwitz but is later prejudiced towards a black hitch hiker.
Art also portrays him as a slightly inconsiderate father, emotionally demanding and guilt inducing. He is also openly cruel and negative towards his second wife, Mala.
He is also presented as someone who hoards food, rusty nails, and tries to return opened cereal boxes to the store. Art says at one point: "In some ways, Vladek didn't survive." What might he mean by this statement?
Art, the son and the artist/author
He presents himself as sarcastic, bitter, and ambivalent towards his father

He and his father have lost contact over the years and interviewing his father gives them a reason to talk

Art is still extremely affected by his father's suffering.
throughout the Holocaust (like many children, often referred to as the "Second Generation"). This is evident in his struggles with guilt, fear, and anger.

Art is still dealing with the fact that his brother Richieu died during the Holocaust. He feels as though he had to "grow up with his ghost."
Anja, Art's mother and Vladek's wife
She is a more difficult character to assess, because she was no longer alive when the novels were written; she is created from memory.

She goes slightly mad after Art is first born but recovers.

Vladek falls for her initially due to her sweet, sensitive spirit and sharp, inquiring mind.
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