Maus

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Maus is the Magnum Opus of Art Spiegelman, a pioneer of the Underground Comics movement of the 1960s and 1970s. The work is a memoir of Spiegelman's parents, Holocaust survivors, and is interspersed throughout with images of Spiegelman and the strained relationship he has with his father in the present day. The interviews Spiegelman conducted with his father during this time make up the bulk of the book.

The work has all the basic underpinnings of a Holocaust memoir, portrayed in the comic book style. If you had seen it before, you would have recognized it: World War II-era nationalities and people are all portrayed as Funny Animals. Except they're not funny. At all.

Maus is in two parts, both released to heavy critical acclaim: "Part I (My Father Bleeds History)" in 1986 and "Part II (And Here My Troubles Began)" in 1991. It is probably the best argument currently in existence that comic books could be a legitimate art form, and was treated as such when it was first released. In 1992, it received a special Pulitzer prize as an acknowledgment of all this.

Anyone who thinks comics don't get no respect simply must read this. This is the kind of thing you would read for your literature class, if it wasn't a comic book -- and, indeed, some literature classes have started using it anyway. So has the German government's bpb or Federal Agency for Civic Education.

Maus provides examples of (many of them Truth in Television as it is Based on a True Story):
  • Abusive Parents: Vladek is emotionally abusive to Art, frequently using guilt to get Art to do things for him, making decisions for Art without consulting him, and not taking Art's feelings into account.
  • All Jews Are Cheapskates: See Stop Being Stereotypical below.
  • Animal Stereotypes:
    • Combined with National Stereotypes, Every shown nationality was given its own animal, except for the Jews which are mice no matter what nation they came from. Art discusses the concept with his wife, describing a small comic strip where he tells his father he's going to marry a 'frog' (French), then takes her to the rabbi who says some magic words that turn the frog into a beautiful mouse. Francoise is less than thrilled. To list them all:
    • Jews are mice.
    • Poles are pigs.
    • Germans are cats.
    • Americans are dogs. They are also the only "species" that look different from each other; members of all the other races look exactly the same as other members of the same race and can only be identified by their clothes.
    • French are frogs.
    • Swedes are reindeer.
    • British are fish.
    • Gypsies are gypsy moths.
      • Note that there are Poles and Germans who are portrayed sympathetically throughout the story and Jews, such as Yidl, who are not. As for the Poles, Spiegelman's reasons are complicated—he's ambivalent towards Poland because of his upbringing, so he wanted an ambivalent animal; pigs are not part of the cat-mouse food chain (but cats will eat pork), and are thus neutral towards mice (though mice will eat pork too); pigs are simply not as negative in American culture (his example being Porky Pig); the Nazis called the Poles "swine," which makes pigs a logical choice, given that the Jews, who were called "vermin," are mice; the metaphor works because pigs are not exterminated like mice, but still exploited; and so forth.
    • One notable panel depicts a married Jew and (non-Jewish) German. Their children are cat/mouse hybrids -- essentially, mice with tabby stripes.
    • At one point there's a prisoner that Vladek sees at one of the concentration camps, who's trying to convince the guards to let him out ("My son is in the army, I fought in WWI and got medals from the Kaiser"). Vladek sees him as a cat, but the guards see him as a mouse (or at least the panel indicates Vladek was questioning the fellow's identity).
    • The Americans are portrayed as dogs, perhaps because dogs are the next step up on the cartoon animal chain of command: the cat chases the mouse, the dog chases the cat. And if it's a Tom and Jerry cartoon, the dog frequently rescues the mouse. (Also US soldiers in WWII were nicknamed 'dogfaces'.)
      • Fridge Brilliance: Americans emigrated from many different parts of the world, so logically they are depicted by many different breeds of dog.
    • The English are (or at least were) associated with fish in Eastern Europe, partly because they live on an island and consequently eat a lot of fish, but also because to many Eastern Europeans they look like fish - sharp, narrow noses, strong upper lips, and weak chins are more common among the English than among Poles or Ukrainians. Their well-known and previously massive navy probably had something to do with it as well, or possibly their stereotypical coldness and lack of open emotion.
  • Art Shift: Spiegelman reprints, in its entirety, Prisoner on a Hell Planet - a comic he drew in college and appeared in his famed comix magazine Raw - on the subject of his mother's death, about which he felt considerable angst at the time (not to mention uncontrollable blind hostility). Everyone is depicted as human, although the author draws himself wearing his father's concentration-camp uniform.
    • The subject comes up because Art's father and stepmother have both read and been shocked by the comic; Mala, though, empathizes with the confusion he depicted, and Vladek says it's "good that you got it out of your system".
    • There's another one - though not as drastic - in the chapter where Art draws himself in the present and goes to talk with his psychiatrist. Everyone has a human body but is wearing animal masks. Later we see the psychatrist's mantle, with a picture of a cat on it. In recognition of our mental gear-shift, there's a note saying "Framed photo of pet cat - really!"
    • A more shocking one when Anja is presented of a photo of Vladek for the first time since exiting the camps, proving he's alive. When the photo is shown to the reader, it's the actual (human) Vladek (who was right: he was pretty handsome). The photo was taken at a place that had gotten hold of some concentration camp uniforms, and offered souvenir photos from the person's time in the camps.
      • The fact that the only photo of Vladek from the camps is a staged facsimile also ties in with Art's repeatedly expressed difficulties in trying to represent the Holocaust.
  • Art Style Dissonance: Deliberate.
  • Ass in a Lion Skin: The mice wear pig masks to pass among the general population of pigs.
    • And when Vladek mentions that Anja had difficultly disguising herself as a Pole, we see her mouse tail sticking out from under her coat.
  • Better to Die Than Be Killed: In fear of having the children be forced into the gas chambers, Anja's sister Tosha poisoned herself, Anja's son Richieu, and her own daughter and niece.
  • Bilingual Backfire: Vladek's cousin and Anja talk about him in front of him in English, not knowing that he studied English before he dropped out of school. He calls Anja out on it later.
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: At the end of a long monologue to Francoise, Art admits that the whole conversation never happened the way he's shown it -- "See, in real life, you would never have let me talk this long without interrupting."
  • Cats Are Mean: They're Nazis. You don't get much more mean than that.
  • Deconstruction: And by applying the stereotypes, Art leaves us to judge character, not the appearance.
  • Determinator: Vladek. Though luck comes to play frequently in his survival of the Holocaust, Art admits that he admires his resourcefulness and determination to survive. Even when he gets older, he refuses to let heart attacks get in the way of his life; in Volume One, he nearly faints off the roof of his house and then throws his wife into hysterics when he says he wants to go back up there and finish his work!
  • Deus Ex Machina: Arguably, one of the more disturbing elements of the Holocaust that the book depicts is how often Vladek managed to survive by sheer luck.
  • Dirty Communists: Anja and her friends from her student days, before she got married to Vladek. Also, Yidl, the chief tinman: he's unpleasant to Vladek personally for being rich, but isn't remarkably immoral. Nonetheless, Vladek says he's always shunned reds.
  • Driven to Suicide: Anya, but years after the holocaust, and not only because of it.
  • Everybody's Dead, Dave: Lolek was the only member of the Spiegelman clan besides Anja and Vladek to come out of Auschwitz alive.
  • Framing Device: Vladek telling the story to Art.
  • Freudian Excuse: Vladek blames his stingy nature on the Holocaust. Subverted by the fact that most of the adults featured in the story are also Holocaust survivors who aren't as cheap as Vladek and even say that there's no real reason why Vladek is so cheap.
  • Funny Background Event: In Chapter 4 of Part I, while Anja's family is having a conversation with Vladek during dinner, little Richieu makes a mess by spilling the food on the table, angering his mother Anja, who scolds him and cleans the table with a napkin while he cries, and she has to hug him. Awww...
    • In the same panels, their nephew Lolek (who is about 10 or 11 at the time) is reading a book at the table; his grandmother snatches it away from him, and he pouts indignantly over his dinner.
    • And then horribly subverted later, where a panel shows Richieu playing happily with another child. They're playing with a train...
  • Furry Confusion: At one point, Vladek and Anja are hiding in a cellar, and Anja panics when a (non-anthropomorphic) rat runs over her hand. Vladek tries to comfort her by telling her it was just a mouse. Later, Art (drawing himself as a man in a mouse-mask) says that his shrink's apartment is overrun with stray dogs and cats, and muses "Can I mention this, or does it completely louse up my metaphor?"
    • And shortly after that, and shortly after hearing his father talk about gas chambers for a whole day, making sure to notice that Zyklon-B is an insecticide, Art himself sprays a bunch of mosquitoes without thinking twice about it. Yeah.
    • And while visiting the shrink's apartment, there's a panel with a picture of a cat, and there's a box saying, "Framed picture of a pet cat--really!"
  • Gold Digger: Likely a factor in Vladek leaving Lucia Greenberg for Anja Zylberberg -- although they probably do truly fall in love later.
  • Goomba Stomp: The prisoner who claimed he was German was dispatched by a guard jumping on his neck.
  • I Was Quite a Looker: Vladek said that he used to be compared to Rudolph Valentino in his youth. From the one photograph we see of him as a human, he really wasn't that bad-looking, and he actualy looked somewhat like Valentino.
  • Jerkass: Vladek. In addition to being extraordinarily stingy with money, he nearly has a stroke when his daughter-in-law picks up a black hitchhiker.
  • Jewish Complaining
  • Jump Scare: Art's psychiatrist says Auschwitz was like this, only ALL the time.
  • Mature Animal Story
  • Nice Mice: The persecuted Jews are depicted as mice.
  • No Accounting for Taste: The marriage of Vladek and Mala.
  • Petting Zoo People: Aside from a re-published comic from real-life and a chapter from part two where everyone just wears animal masks, this is how the characters are represented.
  • Punch Clock Villain: One of the guards at Auschwitz.
  • Released to Elsewhere
  • School Study Media: Now a legitimate component of high school and university reading lists.
  • Shaggy Dog Story: The sub-plot about Anja's diaries in the first book.
  • Shoot the Shaggy Dog: Some Holocaust survivors returned to their homeland just to be killed by their compatriots.
    • Anja's suicide many years after the Holocaust may also count, depending on what exactly triggered it.
    • There is a story told, near the end, about a Holocaust survivor who returns home to Poland, only to find it occupied by violently racist Poles, who later beat him to death for no reason at all.
  • Spell My Name with an "S": So is it Anja, Anna, or Anya?
    • Anya is the phonetic version of Anja which is a form of Anna.
    • In Polish the name is spelled "Andzia" and pronounced "Anja". Probably makes sense to most English speakers who may not be familiar with "j" being read as "y" in Polish, but as a Polish speaker, I couldn't figure out if her name was suppose to be pronounced "Ahn-ya" like it's read in Polish or "Ahn-ja", like it's read in English. Both are legitimate Polish names.
    • Richieu's name in Polish was Risiyo. Word of God says he changed it to the French spelling so American readers wouldn't wonder why he had a Japanese name.
  • Stop Being Stereotypical: Spiegelman's character laments that his father has all of the hallmarks of a nasty, miserly old Jew and fits the stereotype very well. When challenged, his father says he's tight-fisted only because of the Holocaust itself, and he clearly wasn't when he was younger. He's also an exceptional dealmaker, but of course his family were notable bourgeoisie (which fellow Jew Yidl hates).
    • And Mala argues that she and all of the other Holocaust survivors she knows besides Vladek, haven't ended up being miserly.
    • Also, Vladek has many of the characteristics of a Jewish parent--how's that for a stereotype?
  • Supporting Protagonist: Art himself may count, given that the book follows him but it is actually telling Vladek's story.
  • The Unfavourite: Art is forever compared to his brother, who died in the war. The penultimate panel of the book leaves him with more reason to think this.
  • Who Would Want to Watch Us?: Invoked when Vladek tells Art not to tell the story of Lucia Greenberg because it would add nothing to the overall story of survival and Art promises that he will not... right at the end of the chapter that features it.
  • World of Not-So-Funny Animals
  • Yandere: Lucia Greenberg, Vladek's ex from before he met Anja, is a minor example - the worst she does is attempt to sabotage his new relationship with Anja by telling her disgusting rumors, but fails. When Vladek leaves her, she leaps to his feet and begs him not to go. This may be a case of Alternative Character Interpretation, and this is how Vladek perceived her many years later.
  • You Should Have Died Instead: Implied to be Vladek's (and maybe Anja's) attitude about Richieu dying instead of Art.