Maus and Maus II are both very powerful and moving graphic novels. Both of which discuss one of the worst tragedies known to mankind. Spielgelman used the graphic novel form because it came natural to him, however he probably also used it as a way to get a larger audience and to make the subject matter a little less intimidating. However, Spielgelman’s use of animals to represent the different races helps the reader better understand the situation in a somewhat entertaining and a somewhat easier way.
Maus even encapsulates the adage, “a picture is worth a thousand words” to a tee. The title of the book Maus comes from the German word mauscheln. Mauscheln when translated to English means “to talk Yiddish” or “to cheat,” in terms of playing cards. The Germans laid the blame for Germany’s economic distress on the Jewish people. During this time frame, all the propaganda posters were portraying the Jewish community as mice. Maus, was a more than appropriate title considering how the Jewish were viewed and treated during this point.
There are approximately eight different animals used to represent the different cultures represented in the novels. The three main animals used are mice, which represent the Jewish people; cats, which represent the German people and pigs, representing the Polish people. It seems obvious as to why the Germans and Jews were represented as they were. Germans believed they were superior to everyone else, and in the animal kingdom, the “king” is a lion, which is considered an overgrown cat.
With the Germans are represented as cats, it would be more than obvious to portray the Jewish as an animal that would be the victim of a cat, a mouse. The Jewish eventually ended up having to live like mice whilst they were in hiding. The artistic portrayal allows the reader to visualize it in an easier manner than if it had been a point blank worded novel. The other main animal the reader sees representing a group of people is pigs. The Polish are represented as pigs due to the fact that, stereotypically, the Poles are considered greedy and brutal.
But if one looks at it from a different perspective, they could say that the reason the Polish are represented as pigs is because of the kielbasa, the Polish delicacy. The only time that the reader actually sees any differences between the ethnicity of a “character” and their religion is in one occasion in Maus. The child of a German and a Jewish person is represented as a mouse with the cat stripes. Other than that one occasion, anytime you see an animal, it is obvious as to whether it is a Pole, a German, a Jew or an American.
Aside from the Jewish representation, the other countries being represented, the animal is done as a national identity. The images in Maus offer the reader an understanding that word just would not be able to get across in the same way. For example, on page 31 of Maus, we can tell that Anja is distressed by the way the panel is angled. If this had been a worded novel, the reader would not fully be able to understand the emotions going through the mind of Anja, or even in a way, Vladek. Another example that demonstrates this is in the mini comic- “Prisoner of Planet Hell.
” On page 103, after Artie was discharged from the psychiatric hospital, the reader can see how Artie is feeling suffocated by his mother. Anja is overshadowing Artie, who is curled up in the fetal position- almost as if it is re-creating the image of being in Anja’s womb. The most prominent example, one that communicates the fear of being a Jew in hiding during this period is when Anja and Valdek are traveling to a new “safe house. ” The road they are walking on is depicted as a swastika. This is a perfect depiction for how dangerous it really was for a Jew to be wandering around in the open.
Even later on, when they are in hiding and cannot receive food regularly, they eat like mice and live like mice. With the novels being depicted with animals, it allows the reader to understand the mindset of a German Nazi. Yes, people learn about World War II in history but they do not actually seem to care. They take the class and do the minimum it takes to pass. People who were born farther away from the aftermath period of WWII do not seem to really understand the emotional damage from the Holocaust events. Valdek even says that “nobody can understand.
” The Holocaust is extremely hard to comprehend unless one had been there. Anyone could read Diary of Anne Frank or Night, but what do they really take away from it? The Germans held hatred toward anyone they deemed ‘inhuman. ’ Let it have been the Jews, the Poles or the Slavs; the Germans depicted them in the propaganda posters that would turn others against them. In the end, using animals and the graphic novel to depict the events was probably one of the smartest things to do. It gives a first hand, one sided account that allows the reader to see the truth.
Truth that has not been tainted by the media, truth shows real pain from a survivor. Maus really encapsulates the truth of the Holocaust. It shows how brutal humanity can be. It also demonstrates how weak minded some people can be, going against what they may think is morally wrong in order to keep themselves and their families safe. When someone writes a novel in graphic form, it makes the subject more approachable. However, when an author uses animals as the characters it brings a whole new dimension to a book. It allows to reader to view the subject manner in a whole new way.
Courtney from Study Moose
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