Maus: A Survivor's Tale Summary by Art Spiegelman - The Graphic Narrative of the Holocaust

Paper Type:  Essay
Pages:  5
Wordcount:  1316 Words
Date:  2022-12-18

As Schwarz states, graphic novels involve conventional visually and a collection of storylines that provide value, diversity, and a mode new of literacy (262). The multiple identities of graphic novels reflect from the multimodalities, and the fascinating content exists in numerous writings alongside each other, which facilitate to capture the reader's' attention (Chun 144). The combination of engaging narrative and dynamic materiality in graphic novels deeply appeal to the audience using different techniques including qualitative language, engaging narrative, and compact layout (154). Graphic novels consist of broad story genres including events, adventures, superheroes, reminiscences that breakthrough the traditional comics industry. In 1986, Pantheon Books released Maus, a reminiscence of the survivors from the Nazi Holocaust that is one of the most influential graphic novels. After publication, Maus gained an extraordinary number of rhapsodic responses from reviews and media, and eventually, Maus became the first American autobiographical novel that Pulitzer Prize in 1992 showing the significant value it brought to the literature. In the hands of Art Spiegelman, the revival of Holocaust and Nazism became "solemn and moving, absorbing and enlightening" (Doherty 70). By using the postmodern technology such as interview narrative grants the readership of accessing to the historical meanings behind this story, meanwhile, the troubled relationship between Art and his father Vladek was embodied during the interview. From a perspective of colour scheme, this book applies black and white background and lines to record the miserable fate of Jewish during the Holocaust, interweaving together to form a messy picture frame. Also, Doherty claims that Spiegelman applies "metaphor and metonymy" (72) demonstrating anthropomorphized mice, cats and pigs to enhance the involvement of readership for all age group (70). This paper will examine the aesthetics meanings of realistic and postmodern techniques used in Maus: A Survivor's Tale Summary by Art Spiegelman including interview narrative, black and white colour, and animalized characters, that generating historical impacts on from Holocaust.

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In 1972, Art started gathering the material by interviewing his father's experience during WWII, which is shown in Figure 1. When Art tells Vladek, he wants to draw a book about him, but his father says, "no one wants anyway to hear such stories". This establishes the tension and conflict between them that Art believes Vladek's experience is valuable for providing insight into the Holocaust, yet Vladek feels difficult to tell these experiences. Also, Vladek's strict father image was shown at the very beginning of the story (Figure 2), Art cries his friends skated without him and Vladek tells him "If you lock them together in a room with no food for a week, then you could see what it is, FRIENDS", besides showing their strained relation, it also reflects Vladek's painful memory during Holocaust that all the victims competed for food and shelter. In 1978, these records became the original materials for his graphic novel Maus. Hathaway stated that Vladek defies the stereotype of the Holocaust, he is neither "saintly sufferer" (257) nor guilt "ravaged witness" (257), but a self-interested and resourceful survivor. During the interview, Art's father dictates the experience in an objective and calm narrative pattern, even though that was a painful memory to the survivors. As Doherty describes in his article, interview narratives can be used to investigate how people interpret their personal experiences in a broader social and cultural context. This is because their experiences are shaped to conform to the schema accumulated through their social and cultural experiences (71). Therefore, this is more appealing than a normal story narrative to the audience.

From the perspective of aesthetics, this book relies on black lines and white background to shade the landscape. Spiegelman said, "The mouse heads are masks, virtually blank" (Pickford 194), demonstrating survivor's serious physical or mental pain from dark and tragic experience. Psychologically, colours have a strong emotional appeal that highlights the performance of characters and atmosphere. Meanwhile, removing colour from Maus helps the audience to focus on the emotion and action of the character, that art uses black and white to emphasize the mood of fear, disappointment, and sadness during the Holocaust. Black and white drawing style also presents a historical sense of reality and expresses the indifference and grief of the characters, that vividly reappears the brutality of the Nazi holocaust.

One of the most striking features of Maus is the use of different animals to represent different ethnic groups, social status and living conditions. The author applies metaphor as postmodern techniques that Jew are mice because they live in dark and dirty underground without dignity, and Nazis are cats who persecute Jew (Figure 3). In Maus, the character of the mouse is simply outlined with a mouse's head and a human's body, and face with only a pair of black dots representing the eyes with almost no facial expression. It shows they were suffering and truly portrayed as helpless, dazed and doomed that they are suffering. Comparing the image of cats, they are depicted in detail with the long beard, aggressive eyes, and sharp teeth which vividly recur the ferocity, just like the cat and mouse fighting in nature. For example, Figure 4 describes the psychological activity of a victim, when they were being deported in sealed trains to extermination camps where, if they survived the journey, they were killed in gas chambers. This animalized characters symbolically satirizes the image of Nazis to portray history. Therefore, in comparison with the conventional comic that put more effort into body narrative, Maus breaks through the limitations of conventional comics and provides an insight into history.

Although Maus provides the value on history and literature, some reviewers argue that this book does not possess the criteria the "moral seriousness and tonal restraint" (Doherty 71) for the narrative on Holocaust due to the material that Spiegelman chose are too childish and trivial. Others also claim there is critical scrutiny for the story of Holocaust or Nazi, that no matter how serious the tone of the story or how traditional the form is, any depiction of the Holocaust without that scrutiny, it will be condemned harshly. However, from a traditionalist point of view, the materiality and medium in Maus have a clear picture quality well suited to against Nazism and the Holocaust (Doherty 70).

In Art Spiegelman's graphic novel Maus: A Survivor's Tale Summary, Spiegelman views Nazism as aesthetics aspect instead of a force of history, so Spiegelman widely uses multiple realistic and postmodern techniques including interview narrative, black-and-white aesthetic and animalized characters. The interview narrative provides the readers with a sense of reality and a profound insight into history. The use of both black and white drawing style and animalized characters has given the audience a vivid and appealing reading experience on the Holocaust. Therefore, this paper mainly analyzes the thematic meanings of these techniques and historical impacts it has brought to society. The Holocaust brought painful and tragic memory to Jews, and the survivor feels difficult to recover from the psychological trauma after the Holocaust. After Vladek agrees to talk about the experience to Art, Art thinks Vladek's life is full of meaningful material, and he admires his strong personality, which makes Vladek's experience more real and more human. Pickford comments Maus is both artistic and historical due to Spiegelman avoid Maus to be a merely historical document nor a merely artwork distort the history of Holocaust (9). This demonstrates the significant value that Maus brought to the readers and literature.

Works Cited

Chun, Christian W. "Critical literacies and graphic novels for Englishlanguage learners: Teaching Maus." Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy 53.2 (2009): 144-153.

Doherty, Thomas. "Art Spiegelman's Maus: Graphic Art and the Holocaust." American Literature 68.1 (1996): 69-84.

Hathaway, Rosemary V. "Reading Art Spiegelman's Maus as Postmodern Ethnography." Journal of Folklore Research: An International Journal of Folklore and Ethnomusicology 48.3 (2011): 249-267.

Schwarz, Gretchen E. "Graphic novels for multiple literacies." Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy 46.3 (2002): 262-265.

Spiegelman, Art. The complete Maus: A survivor's tale. Vol. 1. Pantheon, 1997.

Pickford, Henry W. The Sense of Semblance: Philosophical Analyses of Holocaust Art: Philosophical Analyses of Holocaust Art. Fordham Univ Press, 2013.

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Maus: A Survivor's Tale Summary by Art Spiegelman - The Graphic Narrative of the Holocaust. (2022, Dec 18). Retrieved from

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