Last Updated 06 Jan 2023

A History of a Father During the Holocaust in the Novel Maus by Art Spiegelman

Category Maus
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Art Spiegelman created the graphic novel (a comic that is on the creative level of poetry) "Maus" based on the stories of his father, a survivor of the holocaust; Spiegelman heard these stories as a young boy, but had the idea to create a graphic novel after writing the three strip comic by the same name and digging deeper into the history of his father. The characters in the story are all humanoid animals and each character is symbolic for the social hierarchy in those times; the Jewish people are represented as mice, the prey, while the Nazis are portrayed as cats, the predators. Maus was also a pivotal point in the legitimacy of comics in the literature world as "Maus" of one of the first to tackle such a serious topic using such a typical comic book style; many call Spiegelman the grandfather of the graphical novel.

Spiegelman himself said that while this was a realistic recounting of a story from the holocaust, it very much an effort to connect with his father and pick his brain to understand his workings and how those times affected the way he lived/lives life. Spiegelman's mother committed suicide when he was only twenty years old and while he never had the worst relationship with his father, this action caused an immediate drift between the two; Spiegelman often felt nothing for the death of his mother and repressed it in a sense. He never made his mother's death a reality. It was in the times of writing "Maus" that he was able to open up emotionally not only to his father, but to himself; he realized that his mother was really gone and that was that. It was this emotional paradigm shift that allowed Spiegelman to really connect to the stories being told by his father.

In "Maus," every character is portrayed as some species of animal; the Nazis were cats and the Jews were mice, but the non-Jewish people were portrayed as pigs and Americans as dogs. While the obvious symbolism is there, the animal races run much deeper than good versus evil, it's a statement on how race really doesn't matter; some mice ran around as cats or pigs and vice versa through use of masks. Spiegelman's point of this was that good and evil is undefined by what you are, but who you are and that anyone can be on either side, but this is even further blurred by the situations the characters are placed in; if ratting one family out meant the survival of your own, then how could you resist the offer? Good and evil became irrelevant in these times and it was survival of the wisest and most ruthless, to every race in the story.

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Initially, the comic book medium, in America, was viewed as an immature stylistic effort because most of what was being put out at the time was superhero stories, which are generally unrelatible and only at times gritty (i.e. Batman backstory.) Spiegelman changed this all with "Maus;" it told the story of the holocaust in such a beautifully dark point of view, that the general populace was swayed in believing the it was truly a poetic piece of art (as it was appropriate to believe.) This opened the doorway to many other artists able to communicate powerful stories through the graphic medium and have it be accepted as art.

Whether it was its telling of the holocaust through powerful themes and symbolism, a personal triumph, or a social barrier crossed, "Maus" created tidal waves from its birth; Spiegelman captured the essence needed to launch his work into the atmosphere and did so with flying colors (or black and white at the very least.) It was this story the opened Art Spiegelman as a person, truly making his work hold water and it was this story that gave a look into the daily life and struggle of the people in the times of WWII. “Maus” is deserving of any award given to it and had a remarkable impact on the literary and graphic community.

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