Historical Events in Maus Comics

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“A reader might get the impression that the conversations in the narrative were just one small part, a facet of my relationship with my father. In fact, however, they were my relationship with my father. I was doing them to have a relationship with my father”. (Art Spiegelman) The relationships between Art Spiegelman and his parents, as depicted in Maus I and Maus II are simple, yet complex. Art is anguished by the suicide of his mother and has a weak relationship with his father. The books do a great job of connecting between the history and post-emotional distress that the Holocaust caused towards the Spiegelman family.

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From the start of Chapter 1 (Maus I), you are introduced to Vladek, who you can tell is antsy off the bat. He does not get along with his new wife Mala and was rude to her when she told Art and Vladek that dinner was ready. He then got annoyed when Mala gave Art a metal coat hanger rather than a wooden one (Page 11). “You should know it’s impossible to argue with your father”, said Mala (Page 43). Throughout the book, Vladek tends to put everyone down and blame his own issues on them. For example, on page 52 Vladek starts yelling at Art for dropping cigarette ashes on the floor which was only a small mistake. From pages 67-69, Vladek gets distracted from his storytelling and begins to complain about his marriage. He states that “We were happy to be together…not so like it is now with me and Mala” (Page 67). Vladek still kept a picture of Anja (ex-wife) on his desk because of how much he missed her. And while Anja may have been a better choice rather than Mala, it still doesn’t excuse how he treats Mala. The fact that Vladek occasionally compares Mala to Anja just shows how he lacks empathy in his relationships.

Within the two Maus books, there is an overwhelming feeling of guilt on Art’s behalf. It ranges from the fact he never fixed his dad’s leaking roof in time (Page 73). All the way up to feeling guilty for the portrayal of his dad within the book writing (Page 45 Book II). At the beginning of Maus II, Art speaks to Francoise about how he sometimes fantasized about “Zyklon B coming out of our shower instead of water.” and how “I wished I had been in Auschwitz with my parents so I could really know what they lived through! …I guess it’s some kind of guilt about having had an easier life than they did.” (Page 16). And in Maus I we briefly see a comic strip Art worked on (Page 100). Art expresses how he felt like the “Prisoner on the Hell Planet”, and how he “Felt nauseous” and how “The guilt was overwhelming” towards the death of his mother (Page 102). He remembered the last time he saw Anja and how she questioned “You…still…love…me…don’t you?….” as Art bitterly replied with “Sure ma!” to which Anja walked out and closed the door. You then see Art in “Prison” as he metaphorically states, “…You murdered me mommy, and you left me here to take the rap!!!” (Page 103).

Further on into Maus II from pages 41-47 (Book II) Art has a complete mental breakdown. He is stressed over the fact that he is about to become a father and doesn’t want to treat his son how his father was treated. He was being bombarded with criticism from publishers, shrinking smaller and smaller, and when asked “So, whaddya want a bigger percentage? Hey, we can talk.”, Art finally broke down. He exclaimed, “I want…absolution. No…No…I want…I want…my mommy!” (Page 42 Book II). Albeit having feelings of hatred and anger towards Anja’s suicide, he just desired her love and affection. This section allows you to see the toll it took on Art, from having lost a mother who cared greatly about him and the contrast between his father who did not seem to share those feelings of love, while also revealing the feelings of guilt for all of the resentment towards his mother.

The cause of how Vladek acts and treats other people is left up to the interpretation of the reader. Whether it be the loss of his favored son Richeu, the loss of his beloved wife Anja, surviving the Holocaust, or the mere fact that he outlived all of those events, getting to the root of this problem is what best describes why he acts the way he does towards Art. During Art’s therapy session with Dr. Pavel in Book II (Page 43) Art says “ My fathers’ ghost still hangs over me”. To which Dr. Pavel later replies, “Maybe your father needed to show that he was always right- that he could always survive- because he felt guilty about surviving. And he took his guilt out on you, where it was safe… on the real survivor.” Art then replied with a hurried “Maybe” (Page 44). But it was too late to change his relationship due to the fact his father was gone.

The death of the younger sibling, Richieu, played a huge factor in reasoning why his mother and father were not the ideal parents that Art anticipated. In Maus II, Art evaluates the relationship between him and his “ghost-brother”. Although Vladek and Anja rarely spoke about Richieu as Art grew up, they kept a large photograph in their bedroom. The photograph symbolizes what “could’ve” been if Richeu had survived. “They didn’t talk about Richieu, but that photo was a kind of reproach he’d have become a doctor, and married a wealthy Jewish girl…the creep.” (Page 15). While Art may have some needless anger towards a brother he never even met, it makes sense. Vladek had to forcibly give away Richieu to hide which did not sit well with Anja who said, “I’ll never give up my baby. Never!” (Page 81). This unconditional love seemed to resonate between Art’s parents and Richieu, but when it came to Art, Anja took her life which she had contemplated but never went through while Richieu was alive and Vladek treats Art very poorly in comparison to his favoritism towards Richelieu. Finally, at the end of Book II Vladek says, “I’m tired from talking, Richelieu, and it’s enough stories for now…” (Page 136). This could be interpreted with the older age/fatigue, but it could also be the fact that Vladek wished Art was someone that he will never be.

After reading the two books for the first time it allowed me to learn a lot about the Holocaust, but to be honest the unsolved relationship between Art and his parents went straight over my head. After thoroughly analyzing the books for a second time it was very saddening to get into the depths of the weak relationship, primarily with Vladek. The angry and uncertain emotions between Vladek and Art were just based upon multiple misunderstandings. And the worst of all is that Vladek really cared about Art and Art would’ve really loved his father if he had only realized that his father was never trying to torment him, but just acted the way he did because of his post-traumatic experiences from his losses and the Holocaust. 

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