Art: a true Holocaust survivor. Though he was born in Sweden after the war and did not experience the Holocaust personally, his life is deeply affected by the event, both directly and indirectly. To begin with, Art is troubled by nightmares and fears of the Holocaust, as he fantasizes when he was a child about certain degrading happenings. Secondly, he is impacted by the intense, traumatizing toll the Holocaust had on his father, which, subsequently, was transferred onto him. As a result of the trauma of his parents, Art was raised in a strict, decent manner that demanded he treat life with the highest regard and gratitude, being he did not have to suffer the horrendous trials which the previous generations went through. And lastly he feels guilt over not being a good son to his father, being that their relationship is rocky, arguments constantly break out, and he has a reluctance to help.
Art feels deeply moved by the horrible danger of the Holocaust. For example , as a child, he would imagine that the showers in his house would pour down gas instead of water. Also, he would often ask himself which parent he would save if he could have only have saved one from Auschwitz. Most likely, he would reason, his mother would have occurred as first choice, due to the fact that he felt he had a part in her early death, because of the neglect he showed her, when he answered with a cold and dismissive “sure” to her question “do you still love me?”
Vladek’s personality and parenting style were clearly influenced by the war, as he forces his son to finish everything off his plate, advices ways to save money, and strictly refuses to agree. Therefore Art’s character traits and lifestyle choices were in turn clearly guided by his father’s personality and parenting style. In chapter 5, he complains to Francoise, “He loved showing off how handy he was… and proving that anything I did was all wrong. He made me completely neurotic about fixing stuff…One reason I became an artist was…it was an area where I wouldn’t have to compete with him.” Art experienced a guilt over not sharing his parent’s experience of the Holocaust and therefore wanted to live a life untroubled by the same trauma.
Art is full of guilt for claiming he’s not a good son to Vladek. Right from the first panel of the book, we are told that the two of them do not get along particularly well, and that they do not see each other often, though they live fairly close by. Art is always unsteady around his father, and when they speak, arguments sooner or later break out. For example, when Art drops some cigarette ash on the carpet, Vladek strongly rebukes him; or, Vladek’s revelation of the fact that he burnt Anja’s diaries from the war sends Art into a fury.
Furthermore, when Vladek asks his son for help around the house, Art is usually reluctant to do so and hesitant to give in. And, although Art, at the very beginning, tells the reader that he hasn’t seen his father in a long time, as well as the fact that they are not particularly close, he gives his father an excited greeting – a rare action, which probably results from the guilt and possible regret he feels over the neglect in which he gave his own father.
In conclusion, I believe that Art is a true Holocaust survivor as not only does he suffer from a kind of survivor’s guilt, but he also grew up with the aftermath of the other survivors’ trauma. The misery portrayed in the pages of his father’s story, and most evidently in “Prisoner on the Hell Planet”, dictates that Art not only sympathizes with the Holocaust survivors, but even feels like he was an actual member with them in their torturous trials. His choice to even publish the novel and make everyone aware of his family’s suffering shows he believes that these shocking stories should not be ignored or forgotten, since doing so would only allow for the traumas to happen all over again.
Courtney from Study Moose
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