Maus: Memory and What it Means

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While Art sits at his drawing board, a pile of emaciated Jewish bodies lies below him, seemingly unnoticed while reporters and businessmen climb over them, (Maus II.41). These bodies represent the grave nature of Spiegelman’s subject matter, the millions of dead Jews demanding that their story be told, and that their trauma not be downplayed. And at first glance, as we see roughly drawn, animal versions of soldiers fighting in one of the most terrible wars in history, it may appear as though Spiegelman’s book does just that.

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But as we read deeper into his novel, we soon discover the depth that his medium provides in its opportunity for an enlightening perspective. Through the use of this medium Spiegelman effectively shows that the Holocaust has affected more than those who experienced it. The children and grandchildren of the survivors have their own stories to tell, the experiences of those who lived through the Holocaust didn’t simply end with emancipation, they continued in ways we can only imagine.

In certain parts of Maus, some events Spiegelman writes about are not directly his father’s. In these scenes, Vladek did not experience everything first hand; instead, he either heard rumors by general word of mouth or heard about things that happened to his friends or family. For example, when the Germans were taking children to Auschwitz, a scene in which a Gestapo officer becomes violent with a kid is drawn somewhat vaguely in the comic. The German’s action of hurting the child is mostly out of the frame; the reader cannot see the child’s face. In the last panel of page 108, the reader can again see that his memory is imperfect and vague as a text bubble is covering most of that scene. The text reads, This I didn’t see with my own eyes, but somebody the next day told me (Spiegelmen, Maus I 108). Speigelmen carefully makes the artwork of these panels less clear to remind the reader that the memories we can retrieve are only a fraction of a larger occurrence. Another example of portraying the patchiness of memory occurs in Maus II, while Vladek is in his first concentration camp. Spiegelman’s father recalls a fellow prisoner that would always complain that he is German and therefore is unjustly being held there.

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