It to address a sensitive issue to the reader

is understood worldwide that humans are entitled to basic human rights often
protected as legal rights under the law. However, there are many examples in
history and modern-day of people/groups unjustly prosecuted, most notably the Holocaust. This term refers to the
“large-scale destruction of human life in a manmade or natural disaster”.1 The Holocaust among other expressions before and after World War Two
represents the murder of approximately six million Jews by Nazi Germany led by
Adolf Hitler and its allies.2 There are many different
narratives and voices of the experiences of the Holocaust including Nazi elites, politicians, Jewish leaders,
Jewish survivors and even those who did not survive.3 All of these narratives
try to capture the atrocity and complexity of the mass genocide of Jews in
World War Two to portray a distinct message and demonstrate the effects of the Holocaust in the world. Specifically, Maus- A Survivor’s Tale by Art
Spiegelman is a graphic memoir that depicts Art’s father, Vladek Spiegleman’s
experiences as a holocaust survivor and Art’s complicated relationship with his
father. This paper will argue the graphic memoir medium provides an unlikely
opportunity for vivid detail and a unique perspective which aid Spiegelman’s
story. This is demonstrated through the symbolism in the title and images, the
use of two narratives to develop the theme of guilt in the relationship between
Art and Vladek, and story’s contrast to mainstream Hollywood films. By
demonstrating the significance of these factors to the format of the story, it
is unmistakeable the book provides a rich perspective into Holocaust memorial which has never been done before.   

Firstly, Spiegelman presents many
forms of symbolism throughout the book which aid the message of his story.
Immediately, the title of the book Maus can be interpreted directly for its
translation in German as “mice”. Spiegelman on the cover of his book
immediately uses the stereotype used by Nazi Germany as Jews as pests-
specifically mice. In this simplistic style, Spiegelman is able to address a
sensitive issue to the reader in a passive way. The title contains more symbols
as “a survival’s tale” can be interpreted as the story not only memorializing
Spiegelman’s mother and father’s survival of the Holocaust but other Holocaust
survivors and how the events have affected Art’s life addressed throughout the
book. The Holocaust is not an event that is clearly understood and by providing
such rich detail in subtle forms Spiegelman is able to draw attention to how
the Holocaust is narrated among many generations and how the story lives on.

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The main symbol in the book is the common metaphor used by Spiegelman of
cats and mouse. There are two different applications of the use of animals in
Maus. The first Spiegelman address’ is that Jews are parasites and less than
human. The Nazi regime prior to and during World War Two used propaganda as a
tool to convince German citizens of the Jewish problem. Joseph Goebbels’s the
Minister of Propaganda controlled campaigns, newspapers, and films which were
often presented fabricated lies about Jews.4
In particular, the largest newspaper Der Stümer constantly emphasized the
Jewish conspiracy threat in Germany and had drawings of hook-nosed,
money-grabbing, maiden-defiling, and thick-lipped Jews.5
This demonstrates how Jews were presented in German media prior and during the
Holocaust with the purpose to demonize the enemy- Jews. European Jews were
presented as less than human which Spiegelman is able to portray in his book
through the metaphor of cat and mice. This is demonstrated as Vladek stated
“They registered us in… They took from us our names. And here they put me my
number. 175113”.6 By
purging one’s name it furthered the idea that Jew’s were inferior animals which
would make it easier for Nazi’s to use them for work and other tasks. It
demonstrates the dehumanization of the European Jews, not people but rather
instruments for the Nazi’s to use. 

Spiegelman also connects animals to other nations based on national
characteristics. Germans as cats (predators) and Jews as mice (prey) was a
symbolic way to represent their relationship in World War Two. Animals are
applied to other nations as well such as, the American’s as dogs (saviors) and
the Polish as pigs which is a direct reference to the treatment of Poles in
World War Two. Despite the respective animals for nations, mice are able to
blend in with the other animals by presenting different faces, which Nazi
propaganda posed a threat to national security.

In Why Mice, Spiegelman addresses
his motivation for selecting the mouse and cat for the drawings in his book.
Art believed the cat-mouse metaphor could have a strong relation to his
personal experiences. He stated, “I did realize that if I shifted from Ku Klux
Kats and anthropomorphized “darkies” to the terrain I was more viscerally
affected by, the Nazi’s chasing Jews as they had in my childhood nightmares I,
was onto something”.7
In this way, Spiegelman drew inspiration to use the cat-mouse metaphor from one
of his works on stereotypes of blacks as monkeys. A piece of Nazi propaganda
Spiegelman found relevant to anti-Semitism was The Eternal Jew that depicted
Jews as rats which emphasized the dehumanization was the main goal of the Nazi
regime’s mass genocide.8
How Spiegelman captured through symbolism in the title and drawings throughout
his book adds unique detail to the story. The medium he chose to write the book
allowed for him not only to address important issues, specifically the
stereotyping and treatment of Jews in the Holocaust but also Art’s own
perspective and how the Holocaust affected him.

Spiegelman’s usage of two narratives, in general, the past and present
throughout the memoir allowed for a further understanding of the theme of guilt
in the relationship between Art and his father Vladek. One narrative is
Spiegelman’s father’s terrifying story of how he survived the Holocaust, with the loss of many family
members. The other narrative is in Rego Park, New York where Art’s relationship
with his father is demonstrated to the reader. By using two different
narratives, Spiegelman was able to demonstrate how the Holocaust affected himself and his father after the war. While Art
did not experience the Holocaust
first-hand, the book shows how he was directly affected by its impact on his
father. This composite relationship between the two narratives is made possible
through the graphic images of the story. Art’s relationship with his father is
very complex which is an important part of the story and the message of the
long-lasting effects of the Holocaust.

            Specifically, a central theme for Spiegelman is guilt,
which Art feels guilty for not being a good son, the loss of his mother, and
the publication of Maus. The first
form of guilt Art is feeling is not being a good son to his father. Often when
his father asked for help, for example, to fix the drain on his roof, Art was
reluctant and stimulated feelings of anger and hostility towards his father
resulting from childhood.9 This theme is present in
many instances of the book. Art’s anger towards his father is most notably
present is when Vladek informs his son that he destroyed Anja’s notebooks from
the Holocaust. Art reacted by saying
towards his father “God DAMN You! You-You murderer! How the hell could you do
such a thing!!”.10
This is a very extreme reaction from Art to call his father a murderer but in
Art’s defense his father did destroy a crucial piece of Holocaust and family history, therefore Art was very affected by
losing his mother’s experiences. 

            This tense relationship is complex as described in the
story. Not only did Art deal with arguments between him and Vladek but also
insecurity stemming from his childhood. Art discussed the photo of his deceased
brother, Richieu, in his parents’ bedroom. Richieu to his parents was the ideal
child that never got in any trouble, which presented an unfair comparison to
Art himself.11
Art was seen as a disappointment and could not compete with this conception of
an ideal son. To help with his psychological issues, Art’s psychologist Pavel
explains “Maybe your father needed to show that he was always right- that he
could always survive- because he felt guilty about surviving. And he took his
guilt out on you, where it was safe… on the real survivor”.12 Art’s therapist Pavel
explains his father’s behaviour is a result of his survival of the Holocaust and that he among other
survivors could feel guilty because many undeserving Jews died.  

            Spiegelman’s father is an interesting character with many
negative characteristics. The most unexpected was his reaction to a black
hitchhiker in the following quotation “A hitch-hiker? And-oy-it’s a colored
guy, a shvartser! Push quick on the gas!”.13 This is interesting
because despite encountering racism first-hand in the concentration camps
during World War Two, Vladek still demonstrates racism himself towards people
of color. The ability of the graphic memoir to adjust between two narratives,
his father’s story and his relationship with his father demonstrates the
multiple components to the story which would not be possible without the use of
detailed images. These images also help the reader visualize and see the
emotional encounters between Art and Vladek. Ultimately, Art states one of the
main reasons he became an artist was because he did want to compete with his
father. This dynamic between father and son is unique.

            Lastly, it is important to demonstrate
the effectiveness of the graphic memoir in the story Maus compared to Hollywood film and television. The American
documentary Imaginary Witness demonstrates
Hollywood’s approach to Holocaust films, before and after World War Two.
Through the use of films, newsreels, and interviews with scholars, holocaust
survivors, filmmakers the documentary demonstrates how a film on the Holocaust shapes the views of society.14
In one of the interviews, it is argued film over other art forms presents truth
and authenticity- in which movies allow a person to be part of the situation.

            The medium of Maus is very effective and unique in its way of expressing its
story, which had never been done before and in its independent way, provides a
stronger representation of the Holocaust than
film depictions. It is emphasized in Imaginary
Witness that the Holocaust is
very difficult to make into a film as it is only truly understood by those who
survived it. This is connected to Vladek’s quote in the start of the book when
he said, “It would take many books, my life, and no one wants anyway to hear
such stories”.15
This describes the number of significant events that occurred throughout the Holocaust with every detail of
importance. Understanding these events is not simple, as Art states “I mean, I
can’t even make any sense out of my relationship with my father… how am I
supposed to make any sense out of Auschwitz?… Of the Holocaust?…”.16
This demonstrates how making his father’s story into a graphic memoir was not
simple for Art because the Holocaust is
not easy to memorialize.

            The documentary raises the question
“Should the movie industry even undertake making films on the Holocaust?” as representations are often
trivializing, diluting, distorting, or simply false.17
This is echoed by Art who states “There’s so much I’ll never be able to
understand or visualize. I mean, reality is too complex for comics… So much has
to be left out or distorted”.18
In representing his father’s story, Art demonstrated the Holocaust is such a horrifying event that any representation is a
failure. The perspectives of the victims of the Holocaust can never be heard, therefore the story is lacking some
Despite offers to make the graphic memoir of his father’s story into a
television series or movie, Spiegelman declined because he could not exploit
his father’s story or the Holocaust
Among these complex issues, it is evident that Spiegelman through the graphic
memoir medium is able to capture a story like no other, which is not only
unique because of his father’s story (the perspective of a Holocaust survivor) but the medium which is able to incorporate
images and aspects from film onto paper to entice readers into the story and a
greater understanding of the atrocities of the Holocaust while still maintaining the legitimacy to his father’s

In conclusion, the Holocaust is one of the darkest events
in modern history through the wrongful persecution of Jews, discrimination, and
anti-Semitism. There are many different narratives and voices of the
experiences of the Holocaust which
are often dominated by Hollywood films shaping our perception of the events.
While these narratives attempt to capture the full extent of the Holocaust, it is perhaps too large of an
event to cover and is often one-sided. Through the analysis of Maus- A Survivor’s Tale  by Art Spiegelman this paper has proven
the graphic memoir medium used by the author provided an opportunity for vivid
detail and a unique perspective on the remembrance of the Holocaust. Ultimately, this aids the depiction of his story.
Through symbolism, themes, and its relationship to Hollywood films, its
apparent the value of the graphic memoir provides a rich perspective into Holocaust history that was not done

1 Goda,
Norman, The Holocaust: Europe, The World, and the Jews 1918-1945 (Boston: Pearson, 2013), vii.

2 Ibid.

3 Goda,

4 Goda, 62.

5 Goda, 63.

6 Spiegelman,
Art, Maus II: A Survivor’s Tale (New
York, NY: Pantheon Books, 1991): 26.

7 Spiegelman,
Art. “Why Mice,” NYR Daily, October
20, 2011,

8 Ibid.

9 Spiegelman,
Art, Maus I: A Survivor’s Tale (New
York, NY: Pantheon Books, 1986): 97.


10 Spiegelman, 159.

11 Spiegelman,
Art, Maus II: A Survivor’s Tale (New
York, NY: Pantheon Books, 1991): 15.

12 Spiegelman, 44.

13 Spiegelman, 98.

14 Daniel
Anker, Imaginary Witness: Hollywood and
the Holocaust, directed by Daniel
Anker (2004; New York, NY; Anker Productions, Inc., 2005).

15 Spiegelman,
Art, Maus I: A Survivor’s Tale (New
York, NY: Pantheon Books, 1986): 12.

16 Spiegelman,
Art, Maus II: A Survivor’s Tale (New
York, NY: Pantheon Books, 1991): 14.

17 Daniel
Anker, Imaginary Witness: Hollywood and
the Holocaust, directed by Daniel
Anker (2004; New York, NY; Anker Productions, Inc., 2005).

18 Spiegelman,
Art, Maus II: A Survivor’s Tale (New
York, NY: Pantheon Books, 1991): 16.

19 Spiegelman,

20 Spiegelman, 42.