Maus: A Survivor's Tale Part I: My Father Bleeds History

Maus: A Survivor’s Tale
Part I: My Father Bleeds History (1973)
Part II: And Here My Troubles Began (1986)
Written by Art Spiegelman
Who has also done In The Shadow of No Towers and Breakdowns: Portrait
of the Artist as a Young %@&*!
Maus has simultaneously expanded the boundaries of a literary form and found a new way of
imagining the Holocaust, an event that is commonly described as unimaginable
An autobiography that recounts the struggle of Spiegelman's father to survive the Holocaust as a
Polish Jew and draws largely on his recollections of his experiences. All people are presented as
anthropomorphic animals. (For example, all Jews are depicted as mice; hence the title Maus, which
is German for "mouse".) His Jewish mice are a barbed response to Hitler's statement "The Jews are
undoubtedly a race, but they are not human." And although Vladek Spiegelman and his family
initially seem even more human than the rest of us, as the story unfolds they become more and more
like animals, driven into deeper and deeper hiding places, foraging for scarcer and scarcer scraps of
sustenance, betraying all the ties that we associate with humanity.
Since its publication, Maus has been the subject of numerous essays. Graphic novelist Alan Moore
praised Maus, saying "I have been convinced that Art Spiegelman is perhaps the single most
important comic creator working within the field and in my opinion Maus represents his most
accomplished work to date." The interconnections and complex characterizations are engrossing, as
are the vivid personal accounts of living in the camps. Maus and Maus II are two of the most
important works of comic art ever published.
Nominated twice for the National Books Critics Circle Award (1986, 1992).
Won the Religious Award: Christian Testimony & Prize for Best Comic Book: Foreign Comic
Award at the Angoulême International Comics Festival Awards in 1988.
Won both the Eisner Award and the Harvey Award for Best Graphic Album in 1992.
Won the Max & Mortiz Special Prize in 1990.
Won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Fiction in 1993.
Was placed 7th on Entertainment Weekly’s 100 Best Reads in 2008.
Awarded a Pulitzer Prize in 1992.
Maus Review by Michael Gerber
Some historical events simply beggar any attempt at description--the Holocaust is one of these.
Therefore, as it recedes and the people able to bear witness die, it becomes more and more essential
that novel, vigorous methods are used to describe the indescribable. Examined in these terms, Art
Spiegelman's Maus is a tremendous achievement, from a historical perspective as well as an artistic
one… Reading Maus, you are forced to examine the Holocaust anew.
This is neither easy nor pleasant. However, Vladek Spiegelman and his wife Anna are resourceful
heroes, and enough acts of kindness and decency appear in the tale to spur the reader onward… The
ending is stark and terrible, but the worst is yet to come--in the second volume of this Pulitzer Prizewinning set.
Maus Review by Janet Reilly
Winter 1986
The publisher of MAUS directs libraries to shelve the book under "Holocaust/Autobiography," and
indeed, although it is a comic strip featuring white mice as Jews, pigs as Poles, cats as Nazis, and
wartime Europe as a gigantic mousetrap, Maus is as restrained an exemplar of this garish genre as
can be found nowadays. For several years the tale has been appearing as specially bound
installments in the avant-garde art comic Raw, of which the artist-author Art Spiegelman is coeditor
along with his wife Francoise Mouly.
Most of the rave reviews Maus has received tiptoe uneasily round this central contradiction: that it is
one thing to portray one's parent unsentimentally, the better to serve historical truth but quite another
thing to have no sentimentality to forego. None of the reviewers has mustered the feck to address
Maus as an irruption of the Jewish repressed... In the event, Spiegelman's goal of rendering his
father's story exactly, warts and all, to make it more truthful, more recognizably human than many of
the wildly idealized self-canonizations occasioned by the "Holocaust," has the effect primarily of
reinforcing and reconfirming the son's aversion and resentment…And Maus offers no reason to
doubt that Spiegelman has accomplished just that. Vladek's irritable, unremitting rejection of his son
has driven the latter to become an artist in the first place: because "he thought it was impractical, just
a waste of time... It was an area where I wouldn't have to compete with him" (p. 97).
The Elie Wiesel school asserts that the "Holocaust" is so immense that its essence can be approached
and grasped only through the most extreme fictionalization, in other words, that nonsense alone
touches upon truth (the corollary of Wiesel's unfortunately ignored dictum that "silence alone can
speak of such things" as Auschwitz). Spiegelman, on the other hand, writes down all his father tells
him, periodically demanding more precise chronologies, dates, concrete details, names, followup. 
Allusions, References and Noteable Notes
Nazi Germany’s “racial cleansing” systematically killed approximately 6 million
Jewish people throughout Europe during WWII. They were, at first, only forced
to identify themselves publically, then, later,
to abdicate their homes and possessions and
moved to live in ghettos, then shipped to
labour/death camps or forced into hiding, all
based on their religious beliefs.
Dr. Mengele was a infamous ‘doctor’ of the
Holocaust. He conducted experiments on
humans with no concern for their well being
or the pain he inflicted upon them. His experiments included subjecting children
to pressure chambers, drug testing, castration, and being frozen to death, aside
from the horrific testing he did on adults and pregnant women. He was nicknamed
“The Angel of Death” for his work at the Auschwitz death camp with the gas
chambers and crematoria.
Zyklon B was the pesticide used to gas prisoners to death at Auschwitz. It is a
powerful insecticide which serves as a carrier for the gas Hydrocyanic acid, or HCN, which is extremely
poisonous to humans.
More information on the Holocaust can be found at:
Typhus usually seen in areas where hygiene is poor and the temperature
is cold. Endemic typhus is sometimes called "jail fever." Lice and fleas
of flying squirrels spread the bacteria. Symptoms include: abdominal
pain, aching, red rash, extreme fever, hacking cough, nausea, chills,
delirium, sensitivity to light. Without treatment, death occurs in 10-60% of patients.
The swastika is an extremely powerful symbol. The Nazis used it to murder millions of people, but for
centuries it had positive meanings. The swastika is an ancient symbol that has been used for over 3,000
years. (That even predates the ancient Egyptian symbol, the Ankh!) Artifacts such as pottery and coins
from ancient Troy show that the swastika was a commonly used symbol as far back as 1000 BCE. The
word "swastika" comes from the Sanskrit svastika - "su" meaning "good," "asti" meaning "to be," and
"ka" as a suffix. Until the Nazis used this symbol, the swastika was used by many cultures throughout
the past 3,000 years to represent life, sun, power, strength, and good luck.
In 1920, Adolf Hitler decided that the Nazi Party needed its own insignia and flag. For Hitler, the new
flag had to be "a symbol of our own struggle" as well as "highly effective as a poster." In Mein Kampf,
Hitler described the Nazis' new flag: "In red we see the social idea of the movement, in white the
nationalistic idea, in the swastika the mission of the struggle for the victory of the Aryan man, and, by
the same token, the victory of the idea of creative work, which as such always has been and always will
be anti-Semitic." (pg. 496-497) Because of the Nazis' flag, the swastika soon became a symbol of hate,
antisemitism, violence, death, and murder.
There is a great debate as to what the swastika means now. For 3,000 years, the swastika meant life and
good luck. But because of the Nazis, it has also taken on a meaning of death and hate. Can there be two
completely opposite meanings for one symbol?
Graphic Novels
Though comic books and graphic novels are earning more serious academic consideration than ever, in
relation to one of the foremost goals of twentieth century art and literature, comic books may be more
important and innovative than even the most open-minded of scholars have yet to realize. Comics,
graphic novels, and sequential art belong to a rich artistic and literary tradition due in no small part to
their ability to utilize the techniques of cubism and futurism. This is not a new assertion. Will Eisner
(Comics and Sequential Art; Graphic Storytelling and Visual Narrative) and Scott McCloud
(Understanding Comics), among many others, have examined comic art's multiple influences from
forms and movements considered "high" or fine art.
Comics studies is an academic field that focuses on comics and graphic novels. Although comics and
graphic novels have been generally dismissed as less relevant pop culture texts, scholars in fields such as
Semiotics and Composition Studies are now re-considering comics and graphic novels as complex texts
deserving of serious scholarly study.
Since the days of prehistoric man, people have been telling stories using pictures instead of prose. From
the cave paintings of the Cro-Magnon to the hieroglyphics of Ancient Egypt, graphic storytelling has
been in use as a popular means for communicating thoughts and ideas….As current media interest
continues to focus on comic books and related series, the popularity of the graphic novel will continue to
grow. The time has come for mainstream public acceptance of graphic novels to take their place as valid
Reading and Interpreting Graphic Novels
Comics vocabulary consists of many different techniques and images which a comic book
artist employs in order to convey a narrative within the medium of comics.
The most common is the speech bubble. It comes in two forms for two circumstances: An
in-panel character and an off-panel character.
An in-panel character (one who is fully or mostly visible in the panel of the strip of comic
that the reader is viewing) uses a bubble with a pointer, called a tail, directed towards the
speaker…When one character has multiple balloons within a panel, often only the balloon
nearest to the speaker's head has a tail, and the others are connected to it in sequence by
narrow bands.
An off-panel character (the comic book equivalent of being "off screen") has several
options, some of them rather unconventional. The first is a standard speech bubble with a tail
pointing toward the speaker's position. The second option, which originated in manga, has
the tail pointing into the bubble, instead of out. (This tail is still pointing towards the
speaker.) The third option replaces the tail with a sort of bottleneck that connects with the
side of the panel.
In American comics, a bubble without a tail means that the speaker is not merely outside the reader's
field of view but invisible to the viewpoint character, often as an unspecified member of a crowd.
Characters distant (in space or time) from the scene of the panel can still speak, in squared bubbles
without a tail; this usage, equivalent to voice-over in film, is not uncommon in American comics for
dramatic contrast. In contrast to captions, the corners of such balloons never coincide with those of the
panel; for further distinction they often have a double outline, a different background color, or quotation
The shape of a speech balloon can be used to convey further information. Common ones include the
Scream bubbles indicate a character is screaming or shouting, usually with a jagged outline or a
thicker line which can be colored. Their lettering is usually larger or bolder than normal.
Broadcast bubbles (also known as radio bubbles) may have a jagged tail like the conventional
drawing of a lightning flash and either a squared-off or jagged outline. Letters are sometimes
italicised without also being bold. Broadcast bubbles indicate that the speaker is communicating
through an electronic device, such as a radio or television, or is robotic.
Whisper bubbles are usually portrayed with a dashed (dotted) outline, smaller font or gray
lettering, which indicates the tone is softer as most speech is printed in black. They indicate that
the speaker is whispering.
Icicle bubbles have jagged "icicles" on the lower edge, representing "cold" hostility. Similarly
the speech balloons of monsters may have an outline that suggests dripping blood or slime.
Colored bubbles convey the emotion that goes with the speech, such as red for anger or green for
envy. This style is not used very often in modern comics.
Speech bubbles are more elliptical, although those used to represent screaming or anger tend to be
spiky, and square boxes have been used to represent dialogue spoken by robots or computers.
Surprised thoughts in Japanese Manga are usually round and tend to spike out.
A speech bubble with a single big question mark (?) (often drawn by hand, not counted as part of the
lettering) denotes confusion or ignorance. An exclamation mark (!) indicates surprise or terror. This
device is broadly used in the European comic tradition
In manga, the ellipsis (i.e. three dots) is also used to express silence in a much more significant way than
the mere absence of bubbles. This is specially seen when a character is supposed to say something, to
indicate a stunned silence or when a sarcastic comment is expected by the reader.
Singing characters usually have musical notes drawn into their word balloons.
A stormy cloud with a rough lightning sticking out of it, either in a bubble or just floating above the
character's head as a modified 'cloudy' thought bubble, depicts anger, not always verbally expressed.
Light bulbs are sometimes used when the character comes up with an idea or solution to a problem.
In the Western world, it is common to replace profanity with a string of nonsense symbols (&%$@*$#),
sometimes called grawlixes.
In order for comic strip and graphic novel dialogue to make sense, it has to be read in order. Thus,
conventions have evolved in the order in which the communication bubbles are read.
Sometimes the bubbles are "stacked", with two characters having multiple bubbles, one above the other.
Such stacks are read from the top down. Poor use of speech balloons can unintentionally make the
proper reading order ambiguous, confusing the reader.
Traditionally, most mainstream comic books are lettered entirely in upper-case, with a few exceptions:
Name particles such as de and von, and the "c" in a surname of Scottish or Irish origin starting
with Mc
To indicate a frightened or quiet manner of speech
An interjection such as "er", "um", etc.
Panels and Gutters
A panel consists of one drawing that depicts a single moment. Artists
will choose a grid (3 rows and 3 columns per page, for example) in
which to tell their story, and any variances to that grid are to
emphasize specific acts or points in the narrative.
The border or edges of a panel, when drawn, are called frames. These
are normally rectangular in shape, but this shape can be altered to
convey information to the reader. A cloud shaped panel can indicate a
flashback or a dream sequence, whilst one with a jagged edge can be
used to convey anger or shock.
A panel without a frame is used to convey space. The frame itself can
be formed by the image. For example, a scene can be framed by a
door frame or by binoculars.
Full bleed is usually used on a comic book cover, and is when the art
is allowed to run to the edge of each page, rather than having a white border around it. Bleeds are
sometimes used on internal panels to create the illusion of space or emphasize action. This is more
common in manga and modern comics.
Gutter is the space between borders. Scott McCloud identified the gutter as one of the most important
narrative tools in comics, invoking as it does a procedure McCloud defined as closure
Notable Quotes
The Jews are undoubtedly a race, but they are not human. – Adolf Hitler (I:p 4)
Vladek: For my condition I must fight to save myself. Doctors they only give me ‘junk food.’ (I: p 26)
Vladek: And I said to myself: ‘Well, at least I did something.’ (I: p 50)
Artie: Well, Mom, if you’re listening… Congratulations!... You’ve committed the perfect crime… you
put me here…shorted all my circuits… cut my nerve endings… and crossed my wires!... You murdered
me Mommy, and you left me here to take the rap!!! (I: p 103)
Vladek: So when it came Thursday, I went in the direction to take a streetcar to see Kawka in
Child: Look!
Vladek: I had to pass where some children were playing.
Children: A JEW! A JEW!
Vladek: They ran screaming home.
Children: HELP! MOMMY! A JEW!! A JEW!
Vladek: Quick, the mothers came outside to see what was! The mothers always told so: ‘Be careful! A
Jew will catch you to a bag and eat you!’… so they taught to their children. I approached over to
them… “Heil Hitler.” If I ran they would see: ‘Yes, it is a Jew here.’ “Don’t be afraid, Little Ones. I’m
not a Jew. I won’t hurt you.”
Mother: Sorry, mister. You know how kids are… heil Hitler.
Vladek: So I came out well from this… but the experience cost me really a lot of hairs. (I:p 149)
Artie: I wonder if Richieu and I would get along if he was still alive.
Francoise: Your brother?
Artie: My ghost-brother, since he got killed before I was born. He was only five or six. After the war
my parents traced down the vaguest rumors, and went to orphanages all over Europe. They couldn’t
believe he was dead. I didn’t think about him much when I was growing up… He was mainly a large,
blurry photograph hanging in my parents’ bedroom.
Francoise: Uh-huh. I thought that was a picture of you, though it didn’t look like you.
Artie: That’s the point. They didn’t need photos of me in their room… I was alive. The photo never
threw tantrums or got in any kind of trouble… it was an ideal kid, and I was a pain in the ass. I couldn’t
compete. They didn’t talk about Richieu, but that photo was a kind of reproach, he’d have become a
doctor, and married a wealthy Jewish girl… the creep. But at least we could’ve made him go deal with
Vladek. It’s spooky having sibling rivalry with a snapshot. (II:p 15)
Mandelbaum: I hold onto my bowl and my shoe falls down. I puck upt he shoe and my pants fall
down… but what can I do? I only have two hands! My God, PLEASE God… Help me find a piece of
string and a shoe that fits!
Vladek: But here God didn’t come, we were all on our own. (II:p 29)
Pavel: …Every boy when he’s little, looks up to his father.
Artie: That sounds true, but it’s hard for me to remember…Mainly I remember arguing with him… and
being told that I couldn’t do anything as well as he could.
Pavel: And now that you’re becoming successful, you feel bad about proving your father wrong.
Artie: No matter what I accomplish, it doesn’t seem like much compared to surviving Auschwitz.
Pavel: But you weren’t in Auschwitz… you were in Rego Part. Maybe your father needed os how that
he was always right – that he could always survive – because he felt guilty about surviving.
Artie: maybe.
Pavel: And he took his guilt out on you where it was safe… on the real survivor.
Artie: um… Tell me, do you feel any guilt about surviving the camps?
Pavel: No… just sadness. So, do you admire your father for surviving?
Artie: Well.. sure, I know there was a lot of luck involved, but he was amazingly present-minded and
Pavel: Then you think it’s admirable to survive. Does that mean it’s not admirable to not survive?
Artie: whoosh. I-I thnk I see what you mean. It’s as if life equals winning, so death equals losing.
Pavel: Yes, life always takes the side of life, and somehow the victims are blamed. But it wasn’t the
best people who survived nor did the best ones die. It was random. (II:pp44-45)
Vladek: If you want to life, then it’s good to be friendly. (II:p 62)
Vladek: Somebody is jumping, turning, rolling 25 or 35 times around. And stops. “Oh,” I said, “They
maybe killed there a dog.” When I was a boy our neighbor had a dog what got mad and was biting.
Then neighbor came out with a rifle and shot. The dog was rolling around and around, kicking, before
he lay quiet. And now I thought: ‘How amazing it is that a human being reacts the same like this
neighbor’s dog.’ (II:p82)
Artie: Sigh. I’d rather kill myself than live through all that…
Francoise: What? Returning groceries?
Artie: No. Everything Vladek went thought. It’s a miracle he survived.
Francoise: Uh-huh. But in some ways he didn’t survive. (II:p 90)
Vladek: There! I’m starting to feel human again! (II:p 111)
Vladek: One of the sons survived and came back home…
Pole: What do you want?
Son: This is my family’s house. I’m Gelber!
Pole: We thought Hitler finished you off! Go away, Jew! This is OUR bakery now!
Vladek: He didn’t know what to do. He spent the night in the shed behind his house… The Poles went
in. They beat him and hanged him. For this he survived. (II:p 132)
Vladek: More, I don’t need to tell you. We were both very happy, and lived happy, happy ever after.
So… let’s stop, please, your tape recorder… I’m tired from talking, Richieu, and it’s enough stories for
now… (II:p 136)
Discussion Questions
Text as Story
 Vladek’s obsession with saving and wasting; value of resourcefulness
 There are a few times throughout the series where Vladek demonstrates racism/prejudice; Artie has a
hard time reconciling his father’s closed-mindedness with his experience being at the receiving end of
such hatred. How do you reconcile this paradox? What are its implications?
 Vladek’s prophetic dream in the POW camp
 Symbolism of Vladek throwing out Artie’s coat – how does this effect the characters, the readers
 Both Vladek and Artie are haunted by Anja’s death. How is this represented in Artie’s strip
“Prisoner on the Hell Planet”?
 Why is Artie so ready to condemn his father for destroying the diaries? What was Vladek’s
motivation for doing so? What is the interplay between his obsessive saving and this wanton
destruction? Powerlessness and inability to know answers
 Artie’s competitiveness (with his father with Richieu); that he needs to prove himself worthy – of
what? why?
What methods of dehumanization did the Nazis use on Jewish people? How did faith, community etc.
counteract these attempts?
 II: Chapter Two Auschwitch (Time Flies)
 Senselessness (unpredictability), uncertainty and its effects
 Instances of kindness (or absence of outright cruelty); how does this increase uncertainty; make
things more dangerous?
 Insecticide (p74)
 Why on Earth would Vladek say his troubles didn’t begin until Dachau (II:p 91) – clearly he’s
already been through so much
 Vladek’s hand injury – sacrifice
Text as Technique
 Anthropomorphism: why animals? why these animals? How does the existence of real animals play
 Shifts in paneling (when do the panels change? why?) – esp. panels with no frames (supposed to
represent freedom)
 Symbolic use of the swastika outside the expected context (so not uniforms & flags, but ways in
which Spiegelman works the image into his drawings)
 Sometimes the characters wear masks – what is this significance (esp. when, in II, Artie is wearing a
mouse mask)
 Variation in speech bubbles – purpose, effects. Some written in CAPS some is not – purpose, effects.
Panels with no speech
 Use of narration (Vladek’s reflections), Artie’s voiceovers, fourth-wall breakdown (notes to reader,
 How does Vladek’s story begin to effect Artie’s real life?
 Artie’s powerlessness/feelings of confusion represented by him ‘shrinking’ into a child.
 Insertion of image of crematorium/chimney without narrative reference
Key Quotes/Selections