Maus as One of the Best Graphic Novels


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Comics and graphic novels place a huge effect on the teachings of American literature. According to the author, Hilary Chute who studies contemporary graphic narratives, comics “present problems we’re still figuring out” by visually and verbally providing information in meta sequences and panels (Chute “Comics as Literature? Reading Graphic Narrative.” 452). Graphic novelists, such as Art Spiegelman find their own creative ways to share historical pieces of history. In Spiegelman’s nonfiction narrative, Maus, challenges the issues of representing history by using “the ability of comics to spatially juxtapose (and overlay) past and present and future moments on the page” (Chute “Comics as Literature? Reading Graphic Narrative.” 453). Presenting a Holocaust story in his ground-breaking graphic novel, Maus (1986-1991), Art Spiegelman, the survivor of Holocaust survivors, uses the contrasting of anthropomorphic and literal masking, as well as moving back and forth in time to express the complex identity of this double narrative.

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One device that author Spiegelman uses to illustrate identity as a consequence of history is anthropomorphism. Throughout Maus, Spiegelman uses anthropomorphism to identify the different ethnic groups as animals. Some of his choices are clearer than others, such as mice being stand-ins for Jews, Germans as cats, and Poles as pigs. However, some Animalia is more literal, such as the Gypsies as Gypsy moths, illustrated when Anja, Art’s mother has her fortune told by a gypsy moth in search of hope. The moth looks into the future and sees “tragedy….death!..” and that Anja had lost most of her family (Spiegelmen II: 133).

Spiegelman develops more complex ideas about masking cultural identities through intertextual visualization when animal masking meets dialogue. For instance, In Maus I, Chapter 3, Art’s father, Vladek, stuck between cities as a returning prisoner of war, puts on a pig mask over his mouse head to sneak across the border to visit his family, attempting to hide his Jewish identity. Ironically, Vladek is a Polish Jew so he is physically masking his Jewish identity to present himself fully as the other part of his identity, a Polish pig. Vladek approaches another Pole whispering, “You’re a Pole like me, so I can trust you” (Spiegelman I:64). Vladek has a pig masked tied to his face, leading the reader to question what makes up ethnicity in graphic narratives? According to Scott McCloud, masks in graphics “face outward” and are “slave to your every mental command” (34). Masking illustrates the idea of duality and that “the face you see in your mind is not the same others see” (35).

Another instance where Spiegelem uses physical masking to explain the history and importance behind the deceased is when he struggles to tell his father’s story that is not his own. In Maus II Chapter 2, Art is visually seen on his drawing board with a mouse mask tied to his face as he attempts to write his father’s story. Art must have indirectly placed this mouse mask on his face because, without the mask and the true identity, he does not feel he can tell his father’s story accurately and to the best of his ability. Art must become someone else by hiding who he is to become like his father, who was a first-hand survivor, unlike Art. According to Rosemary Hathaway, as Art attempts to “represent the unrepresentable,” he embraces an alternate persona and thus disguises his appearance (Hathaway 251).  

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