Representing History in “Maus”

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Today there are many mediums in our society that are used to convey information. Newspapers, such as the Washington Post or The Wall Street Journal, are great sources for information around the world. Websites such as CNN are also useful for the same purpose.

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But there exists one method of communication that society has long neglected: the comic book. Today, we regard comic books as childish, but comic books are great mediums used for spreading information, colorful panels and text combine to create an accurate understanding. Many new comics go even further to take on more intense topics, graphic novels such as Maus by Art Spiegelman offer great insights into some of the worst events to ever occur in history. Spiegelman shows that history is cruel and unusual, but it requires investigation to understand why.

History is a difficult thing to grasp, because of human blunders. So many events, the Watergate Scandal, Apartheid, the Holocaust, – all of these things happened as a result of failures of our society. Spiegelman flagrantly highlights this in Maus II. The opening quote of the book itself states Mickey Mouse is the most miserable ideal ever revealed…Healthy emotions tell every independent young man and every honorable youth that the 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!(Spiegelman 3). The quote came from a newspaper article from Pomerania, Germany, mid-1930s. Not even into the story, the reader is confronted with a quote like this; it provides the sort of ethos that thrived in the Third Reich. The amount of negative energy just from this quote is crucial to understanding how and why German society disliked Jews so much. The citation, which talks about how Mickey Mouse, the innocent, clubhouse-friendly character of our childhoods is now the worst thing to ever be introduced to someone just because it is a mouse. This connection doesn’t stray, in fact it propels us, into Maus II. The quote addresses Mickey Mouse and then closes with a radical statement of Wear the Swastika Cross! and Away with Jewish brutalization of people!. In Maus II, the Jews throughout the book are mice, as if to concur with the quote. The mice are continuously oppressed by cats, the Germans. By putting the Holocaust into a more abstract level, Spiegelman seems to make the right choice. Art does this in the effort to make everything more human, as if afraid it is too much to deal with all at once. Despite the abstractism that Spiegelman uses, that is not to deter from the main message that Spiegelman continuously transmits throughout his work; the fact that people are immoral.

The few people who do understand history all agree on one thing: history has and will forever remain cruel.

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