This paper is for a college English class. It's about the books Maus by Art Spiegelman, though I'd appreciate feedback regardless of whether you've read the books. This is the second draft of the paper, and I'm not so much worried about the technical side of it at this point. Mostly I'm just looking for feedback on content - does it make sense, flow nicely, what needs more explaining, etc. It's about 2.5 pages, so it's not terribly long. Any help would be greatly appreciated!
The Motivation and Intent Behind Maus
When considering Art Spiegelman’s books Maus: A Survivor’s Tale: My Father Bleeds History and Maus: A Survivor’s Tale: And Here My Troubles Began, a reader twice asks, “Why did Art Spiegelman write these?” That is, the reader wonders what purpose Spiegelman hoped his books would serve, and what personally drove Spiegelman to write the books in the first place. Though related, these are two different questions. These books are very personal works that not only chronicle his father’s experiences as a Jew in Poland during WWII, but also reveal “Artie’s” struggles to relate to his father. The intensely personal side of the story tells a great deal about Spiegelman’s motivations for creating these books; this aspect is about Artie. Yet clearly purpose of the books is not to tell Artie’s story, but to tell Vladek’s.
Artie’s father, mother and older brother all experienced the Holocaust. His brother died in a ghetto, and his parents both survived the horrors of Auschwitz. In his family, Artie himself is the only one that has not experienced these struggles. In And Here My Troubles Began, Artie tells his wife, “I feel so inadequate trying to reconstruct a reality that was worse than my darkest dreams” (16). Artie realizes that he is completely unable to comprehend his parents’ experiences, and yet those experiences have permeated his entire life. Bosmajian explains, “Artie has been shaped by the unspoken history of his parents. The content of that history has seeped through hints and gaps, as the epigraph to Maus I reveals” (1). The epigraph to which Bosmajian is referring is the only scene the reader sees of Artie’s childhood, where Vladek compares his young son’s hurt over being abandoned by his friends to Vladek’s own struggles to survive the Holocaust. Even as a child, Artie realizes that there is something horrific in his parents’ past of which he was not a part, and can never fully understand. His parents’ standards for life and their perceptions of reality are filtered through their experiences of persecution and concentration camps. Artie’s lack of first-hand experience of the Holocaust isolates him from his family, not only from his parents but also from the ghost of his brother. Artie images Richieu as the ideal son with whom Artie can never compete, because Richieu was able to do what Artie never can: experience the Holocaust. Artie takes this basic belief and embellishes it, creating a Richieu in his mind that would have been perfect in every way in which Artie has failed, a Richieu that fulfills everything that Artie lacks. Richieu is the standard of which Artie falls short, and Artie resents him for it. On page 15 of the second book, Artie tells his wife, “He’d have become a doctor, and married a wealthy Jewish girl…the creep.”
Artie’s inability to comprehend what his parents went through makes him feel that his entire life is inadequate. Every struggle he has overcome, every accomplishment, every piece of suffering is deemed insignificant in comparison to his parents’ experiences. Artie tells his shrink, “Mostly I remember arguing with him…and being told that I couldn’t do anything as well as he could. Not matter what I accomplish it doesn’t seem like much compared to surviving Auschwitz” (II 44). The only interaction that the reader witnesses firsthand between Artie and his family are the scenes with Vladek. Anja has already died during the time period in which Maus takes place, and the reader only sees her through Vladek’s memories and the segment in My Father Bleeds History entitled, “Prisoner on the Hell Planet: A Case History” (I 100-103). The reader only gets to see four frames of interaction between Artie and Anja. On the other hand, the interaction between Artie and Vladek provides the entire framework for the story.
Spiegelman could have easily drawn the book strictly from Vladek’s recollections. Instead, he also provides the story of how he gained the information. By putting himself into the story and allowing the reader to see Vladek years after leaving Auschwitz, the reader is able to see that Vladek never truly put the past behind him. By glimpsing the long-term effects on Vladek, and the reader is able to see how those effects in turn have affected Artie. The purpose of the story is Vladek; the motivation of the story is the relationship between Vladek and his son. Spiegelman opens the story by telling the reader that when he first began taking down his father’s story, he and his father were not very close, and hadn’t seen each other in almost two years. Bosmajian quotes an interview between Spiegelman and Lawrence Weschler in which Spiegelman said, “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” (2). In short, what we see take place between Artie and Vladek in Maus is not just a piece of their relationship, but is the entirety of it. By taking down his father’s story, Artie is finding a method by which he can connect to his father. The ‘story times’ they share in the creation of Maus not only enable father and son to spend time together, but enable them to do so in a way that addresses the primary source of their alienation from each other. Hearing his father’s story in step-by-step detail enables Artie to come closer to understanding his father, and narrows that chasm that has always existed between Vladek’s suffering and Artie’s lack of suffering.
In writing his father’s story in Maus, Spiegelman is trying to make sense of his own story. Having lived his entire life in his father’s shadow, Maus is Spiegelman’s effort to achieve something that would not be demeaned in comparison to the Holocaust, and to do something that his father had not done before him. He takes his father’s story, which cannot ever be his own story, and manages to take possession of it. Creating Maus is not the same has having lived through the experiences himself, but it does allow him to have a place in his family’s story that he was never able to find in his childhood. Elmwood writes, “The central problem of identity in Art Spiegelman’s Maus: A Survivor’s Tale is the author’s need to write himself into a family from whose founding trauma he was absent,” and that Artie’s interviews with Vladek, “allows for a relationship in which Art Spiegelman creates an identity for himself with respect to his parents’ experience of the Holocaust” (1). Through the creation of Maus, Artie is no longer an exile in his family’s Holocaust story. He has not experienced it as Richieu did, or survived it as his parents did, but he has found a way to abate the complete estrangement from the rest of his family that he had experienced all his life.
The driving force behind the creation of these books was clearly Artie’s own life and experiences, but that does not explain why he chose to share these with the world. Art Spiegelman would probably be offended at the idea that the book is truly about him and his journey, and not about his father’s tale; it was not his own tale that he set out to tell. The scene in which the reporters are harassing Artie demonstrates how uncomfortable Artie is with the attention the books have brought to him (II 42). In an interview, Spiegelman said, “But I don’t like being noticed. I like when the work is noticed. But not me” (Jones, 1). It was not Spiegelman’s aim to draw attention to himself. His goal was to accurately portray his father’s story, and to share that story with others.
His decision to share the story partly stems from his own desire for accomplishment, but another part comes from the fact that it is a story that needs to be told. Artie and his shrink, who is also a Holocaust survivor, discuss the merit of Holocaust books. Their conclusion is simply, “’Samuel Beckett once said: ‘Every word is like an unnecessary stain on silence and nothingness.’ On the other hand, he said it” (II 45). The story is a true one, and a powerful one, and Artie refuses to claim a specific message that he is trying to send out. He does not try to add or subtract from the story. The scene between Artie and the press perhaps best captures his intended message. He says, “I-I never thought of reducing it to a message. I mean, I wasn’t trying to convince anybody of anything” (II 42). The story of the Holocaust, and even just one man’s story of persecution, ghettos and death camps is too big and too sacred to be simplified into a single lesson. Artie doesn’t want to demean the entirety of his father’s life by summing it up in a few sentences. Bosmajian said about Maus’s lack of a single, direct message, “…murderous death remains murderous death; suffering remains suffering” (5). Never is the book contrived or manipulated so that the story is more or less than what it was. Rather than spoon-feed the reader a predetermined message, Spiegelman simply takes the story, just as it is, and allows the readers to pick it apart, interpret it, and learn from it themselves.
In the end, the story is what the story is. It’s ending is not the stereotypical happy ending, in which all of the characters find happiness and all the loose ends are tied. It is also not the traditional tragic ending, in which the efforts of the characters have all been proven futile, and nothing has been accomplished. Even after he and his father have shared the experience of reliving the Holocaust, Vladek’s last words to Artie in the book are, “I’m tired from talking, Richieu, and it’s enough stories for now…”(II 135). Richieu, whom the parents only had for a few short years, is still the primary child in Vladek’s mind. Artie is still not a part of that story. The final image in the book is his parents’ gravestone. His journey with his family is over, and Artie is still looking for resolution. Yet in creating Maus, he succeeded in his quest to accomplishing something worthy, and did so in a way that his father was a part of it, not the enemy or rival of it; Artie found a way to escape the pressure to compete with his father by including his father in his project. One final piece of the picture implies that Artie found some degree of peace; And Here My Troubles Began is dedicated not only to his daughter, but also to Richieu. Without the reader ever knowing, somewhere in the story Artie stopped seeing Richieu as just a symbol of Artie’s own inadequacy. Artie was able to become a part of the story, and in doing that he was able to honor his brother rather than resent him; and by telling his father’s story of survival, he was able to honor his father rather than compete with him.
1. Bosmajian, Hamida. “The Orphaned Voice in Art Spiegelman’s Maus I & II.” Literature and Psychology 44. 1-2 (January 1998);
2. Elmwood, Victoria A. “Happy, Happy Ever After: The Transformation of Trauma Between the Generations in Art Spiegelman’s Maus: A Survivor’s Tale.” Biography 27. 4 (Fall 2004): 691
3. Jones, Malcolm. “High Art. (cartoonist Art Spiegelman)(Interview). Newsweek (August 2004): 51