Racism In Art Spiegelman’s Maus Essay
Art Spiegelman’s Maus is a novel about the Vladek and his experience as a Polish Jew during the Holocaust. It narrates the reality of the Holocaust wherein millions and millions of Jews were systematically killed by the Nazi regime. One of the themes in the story is racism which is evident in the employment of animal characters and its relationship with one another.
The Jews are mice, Nazis are cats, Poles are pigs and Americans are dogs.
Holocaust and racism are two inseparable elements. This is because Holocaust was a direct result and the culmination of the Nazi German’s intolerance to the Jewish race. However, racism which includes racial anti-Semitism was an integral part of Nazism. This is evident in (1) how the author represented the relationship of the Nazis and Jews with that of a cat and a mouse and (2) Vladek’s racist perception towards African Americans.
The author illustrated his characters as different types of animals where in the Jews are represented as mice and the Germans as cats. This representation proposes how the Jews facing the Nazis are as helpless as a mouse caught by a cat. The first part for instance, is introduced by a quotation from Hitler in which he deprives the Jewish race of human qualities by reducing them to a mere vermin: “The Jews are undoubtedly a race but they are not human: (Spiegelman I, 4).
In the second part, Spiegelman further emphasized the lowly qualities of mice and associate it with the Nazi’s lowly perception of the Jewish race.
“Mickey Mouse is the most miserable ideal ever revealed… Health emotions tell every
independent young man and every honourable 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 1 Down with Mickey Mouse!
Wear the Swastika Cross!” (Spielgelman II, 3).
In both passages, it is apparent that the author’s artistic rendition, animals seem to serve as a simple, yet effective means for delineation of racism, based on biased, trivial generalizations and stereotyped constructions. Racism as an ideology is intolerant to others, a feature that is visible among animal species. In this case, the Germans who are illustrated as cats...
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The Jewish Holocaust, as is the case with events in which the human spirit has been engaged in a fight for survival, produced great works of literature. Elie Wiesel's Night and Primo Levi's Survival in Auschwitz are perhaps the best known examples of this literary tradition. Art Spiegelman's MAUS, published in the 1980s, represents a new kind of literary oeuvre inspired and/or based on the Holocaust. Written by a second generation Holocaust survivor, MAUS fuses the story of the terrible historical occurrence with a Jewish American's struggle to forge his own understanding of the brutal extermination of his people by the Nazi regime in the Second World War.
This electronic essay will cover three topics found in the novel: the methods in which second (and third) generations of Holocaust survivors struggle to come to terms with the events of the Holocaust, the unusual form of the book, and the brutal nature of humanity, ever-threatening to obliterate the human race. Links to the different sections can be accessed below.
Art is dumbfounded by this particular morsel of his father's narratives. He attempts to use logic to understand it, but finally gives up when he realizes he just does not understand. His father's final commentary on the strip, "nobody can understand" shows how difficult it is not only for the second generation, but also for the survivors themselves, to understand the events that transpired in the Holocaust.
The evil of the Holocaust is unspeakable, unexplainable, but above all, unforgettable. Art realizes that no matter how hard he wishes he had been at Auschwitz to experience the horrors first-hand, he is unable to do so. Committing his thoughts and emotions to a written narrative, the graphic novel MAUS, is the best course of action for him, especially since it allows him to combine his story with his father's.
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The graphic novel genre is one of the most fascinating in literature. While some critics censure the form citing a lack of printed text and the presence of comic-book style drawings, its positive qualities are impressive, especially when the topic is as difficult as the Holocaust. MAUS shines due to its impressive ability to "speak the unspeakable" by using the popular maxim, "a picture is worth a thousand words," to perfection.
The most important distinction between humans and the rest of the animal kingdom is man's ability to understand, reason, and think. Conscience and intelligence are perhaps the human race's greatest gifts. Since humans possess such qualities, it is often hard to try to understand the Holocaust without having been there. (This point as illustrated in the previous section, which you may access by clicking here.)
Quite possibly as a method to deal with his own inability to comprehend the events of the Holocaust, Spiegelman uses animal characters instead of humans. The most important two, Germans and Jews, are represented by cats and mice, respectively. Natural sworn enemies, both cat and mice lack reason and conscience. As a result, the Nazi cats find no fault in the systematic killing of Jewish mice. The image is also based on historical quotes, since Jews were called the "vermin of society" by the Nazis. Other pre-Holocaust Nazi-propraganda can be found at the Calvin University archive, including a short account of Julius Streitcher's actions.
The graphical novel format, in conjunction with the depiction of Nazis as cat and Jews as mice, permits Spiegelman to force the reader to abandon any preconceived notions of human nature. Such an effect would have been quite hard to create if he had written a standard text, attesting to the incredible value of the novel's format.
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The history of mankind is replete with episodes of mass destruction and killing. This century produced perhaps the greatest example of such atrocities, the Second World War. It was during this period of unexplainable brutality that both the Jewish Holocaust and the Nagasaki Bombing occurred. These awful events, discussed and regarded in a much different light half a century ago, are analyzed quite divergently now that mankind has had fifty years to ponder on its errors.
The Nagasaki Bombing was one of the United States' last actions during the Second World War. Although enacted on Japan instead of Germany, it symbolized much of the anger and desire to finish a long, bloody war. The initial joy that followed the devastating detonation of the bomb disappeared in time with the public's realization of the grave mistake that had been committed.
Not only did millions of people perish during the Holocaust and immediately after the Nagasaki episode, but many more lost their lives some time afterwards, victims of physical deterioration, mental illness created by the tragic events, and depression brought upon by memories of the horrors. Anja Spiegelman is one such case. She found her demise twenty years after surviving the death camps, a victim of their memories. In a sense, she did not survive. The estimate of six million Jews is ever-increasing, so the memories continue.
Ironically, these two events, executed by opposite sides of the war, are linked by more than an inmeasurable amount of deaths. Many of the people alive during this time period are in possession of vivid recollections fo the historical occurrences, reflecting a near-unanimous disgust towards the brutalities occurred. Some of the Nagasaki accounts can be accessed at the Remembering Nagasaki web site, while the Jewish ones can be read in reviews of Holocaust literature.
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While the Holocaust is one of the most horrible episodes of history, it is not one that could or should be forgotten. Its literary offspring is widely acclaimed, especially the subject of this essay, Art Spiegelman's MAUS. Not only does the book narrate the horrors of the concentration camps located in Poland, it also displays the enormous difficulties of second generation Holocaust survivors to find a way to come to terms with the horrendous plight of their ancestors. Its graphical novel format plays an essential role in making the story come alive, as does the troubled relationship between Vladek and Art. In closing, it must be reiterated that MAUS is not merely a narrative of the Holocaust, but also a story of human suffering and struggle, not just after a devastating experience like the concentration camps, but also afterwards; not just of one generation, but also of succeeding ones.
- The United States Holocaust Museum. While the web site pales in comparison to the amount of information and exhibits in this downtown Washington museum, it is an excellent starting point for Holocaust reference, information, and narratives.
- The Cybrary of the Holocaust. One of the first sites devoted in its entirety to the remembrance of the Holocaust, this site not only provides educational and historical resources, but also a search engine dedicated to Holocaust sites.
- The Holocaust-The World Must Remember. The title says its all. Similar to the above link, this site is updated frequently with the latest on-line Holocaust materials.
- Yahoo Search Engine-"Holocaust". This link lists every site with the word "Holocaust" in its title.
"Lest we forget" is a phrase usually mentioned by Jews when referring to the Holocaust. Today's technology and the wonders of the Internet make it easier to maintain a vivid recollection of the Holocaust thanks to its many sites. Some can be accessed through the above documents, while others can be reached here: