Maus Vols. I And II Maus: The Essay

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Maus vols. I and II

Maus: The 'cat and mouse' game of Art Spiegelman's Maus

One of the most striking aspects of the graphic novel Maus by Art Spiegelman by is the way in which it uses animal cartoon characters to illustrate one of the most tragic periods of human history. The animals create a visual expectation of playfulness that is undercut by the horrors the book chronicles. The victims of the Holocaust are mice while the Nazi perpetrators are cats. This strikingly illustrates the vulnerability of Jews: it also stresses the Nazi's perception of Jews as vermin. However, the Jewish characters, although all mice, are strikingly and powerfully drawn in very unique ways -- Artie, for example, has a very different personality than his father.

Given that the 'real' Nazis often pictured the Jews as uniformly rodent-like, the choice of the cartoon image of a mouse also suggests a certain degree of self-hatred on the part of the Jewish teller of the story. It should be noted that Artie is a character in the cartoon and very self-consciously frames the tale as a subjective recollection of his father and himself, not as factual historical narrative. The choice to portray the Jews as mice is very clearly a choice of the personal psychology of the teller, and an ambiguous one, given the polymorphous identity of cartoon mice within history.
On one hand, German cartoon propaganda portrayed the Jews as mice; yet in America, mice are often beloved as clever and resourceful underdogs. Jerry of Tom and Jerry fame is a mouse; so is the infamous Disney creation of Mickey Mouse. Both are 'survivors.' This suggests the dual nature of Jews during the Holocaust: both despised and yet also the heroes.

There is an uncomfortable subjectivity though, in the use of cats: some people are very fond of cats, and cats are not necessarily evil and repugnant beings. The reason for Spiegelman's choice of cats might partially be a reminder that before the World Wars, Germans were not universally despised as evil. In fact, Germany was often celebrated as an example of high culture, the birthplace of Beethoven and Wagner. Cats are attractive animals yet from the point-of-view of the mice, they are innately destructive.

An even more ambiguous status is accorded to the Poles: the (gentile) Polish people likewise had an ambiguous relationship with the Jewish people. On one hand,….....

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