TheComplete Maus by Art Spiegelman
MausbyArt Spiegelman is set in Poland a few years preceding World War II.In the story, Vladek is a soldier when Germany invades Poland andcommences hostilities against Russia. He fights for the Poland armyand later serves a country that is under German control that exposeshim to the atrocities associated with anti-Semitic propaganda andlaws. Vladek experiences the atrocities that Jews in Germany facedbecause they were replicated by Germans in Poland. An example is arequirement for all Jews to wear badges that identify them as such.The government took over all the businesses belonging to Polish Jewsand also seized a lot of their property. They were compelled to livein ghettos under strict laws that controlled their movement andexposed them to brutal treatment. Vladek comes across in Mausasboth the hero and the villain as depicted by his characterization byArt Spiegelman through his own eyes and those of his son, and hisstrengths and weaknesses as the main character. The story ofholocaust comes out through the experiences of a single individual ina manner that invites varied judgment from the reader. AlthoughVladek’s deceptive and survival skills are apparent in the story,the reader also notices that he effortlessly assumes the position ofthe gallant male protagonist, who fits impeccably into the amusingnarrative tradition.
Artdepicts the youthful Vladek as a protagonist who experienceslife-threatening trials, separation, and adversity but gets by usinghis wits and eventually finds a contented ending in his reunion withAnya. The younger Vladek is unbelievably ingenious and in an extentlarger than life, but the older Vladek is overly real, irritable,miserly, and his faults apparent, which shows that it is well withinthe right of the reader to classify him as a hero and a villain. Artviews Vladek as a superhero in the magnitude of classic superheroesas the Iron Man. In Maus,II Vladeksays, “I remember arguing with him…. And being told that I couldnot do anything as well as he could…No matter what I accomplish, itdoes not seem like much compared to surviving Auschwitz” (II.2.34).These words depict Vladek as unique, intelligent, resourceful,ambitious, and dashing. He has the ability to fit and survive all thepredicaments inflicted by Germans in Poland. In Art’s eyes, he isthe voice of hope that trumps the wave of despair that sweeps acrossPoland during the war period. As conditions become worse for Jews inPoland, Vladek is able to shift roles as an astute businessman to anillicit trader that deals in everything that comes his way. Auschwitzis a symbol of oppression, but Vladek attitudes embody an individualwith the resilience to deal with the challenges that all Jews face inPoland. He looks for as many opportunities as possible to barter theskills he has and makes some savings in a place that literally lacksanything to live on. When Vladek’s wife, Anja, wants to commitsuicide upon learning of her son’s death, he prevails on her toface life rather than be an escapist. He sounds philosophical when hesays, “To die is easy….but you have to struggle for life”. Atno given point does Vladek exhibit, a trait that comes out as hisprominent characteristic that gives him the determination to livethrough the horror of the Holocaust.
Spiegelman’sportrayal for the survivor
Spiegelmanportrays the survivor as a symbol of resilience and determination.The most striking aspect of the portrayal is that Vladek does notmention anything about the sufferings he experienced in the camps.Art juxtaposes old Vladek with Vladek. They are a direct contrastdespite facing the same circumstances under Germans in Poland. OldVladek is physically and psychologically frail. He suffers fromvarious ailments that emanate from the inhumane treatment in thecamps. He talks about the experiences quite overly until he begins tosound neurotic with an obsession with perfection. Other survivorssuch as Vladek find it quite unusual, but it aids in portraying thesurvivor as a symbol of resilience and the determination to deal withthe challenges of the Holocaust. Vladek’s weakness is that he isreserved about sufferings he experiences. While he comes across asdetermined and resilient, it is quite difficult for the reader toknow more about his experiences through his words. Being reserved isa character weakness because the reader lacks the opportunity tolearn a lot of from the main character whose prominent role should bethe source of hope for the Jewish community. Vladek is also mean. Hehoards the things he sells during the struggle unless everything ispried out of him in one way or the other. Vladek also has somedictatorial tendencies, which are evident in his relationship withAnja. His dictatorial behavior washes away his positive qualitiesthat help him survive the Holocaust such as being resourceful. Hesays, “I told her if you want me you have to go my way….” (31).
AJewish caricature as depicted through Vladek
Artieis right to be worried that Vladek is simply a reproduction of theracist caricature of the miserly old Jew. For a person with a lifeexperience in the hands of Germans at the camps and ghettos, it isunfathomable for him to scold Artie for helping a black hitchhikerget up. It would be expected that the oppression in the hands of theGermans gave him the experiential empathy to propel him to stop anysort of oppression, especially against minorities. The fact that hekeeps hoarding things unless it is all in his favor makes himperfectly associated with the character of a miserly old Jew.Vladek’s experience during the Holocaust seems to have crippled hisemotions reducing to a “caricature of the miserly old Jew” (133).Mala also confirms this perspective about Vladek by saying that theexperiences made him become more concerned with “things thanpeople!”(133). He subconsciously wants to constantly be resourcefuland pragmatic to keep surviving even when the Holocaust is no longerthere.
Inconclusion, Vladek is both a hero and villain. He is a hero becausehe depicts the survival ideals and aspects of a war victim when theGermans invade Poland. As a young Vladek, he is ingenious and wittyand gets by decently well despite the separation, severe trials, andhardship he undergoes, but as he ages he becomes exceedingly real,prickly, and stingy. He is the villain because he fails to separatehimself from the oppressive nature of his oppressors. Spiegelmanjuxtaposition of various timelines shows that the past, the present,and future in a manner that brings out the effects of the Holocaustto the victims. Interestingly, the experiences of a single individualcan be the mirror through which to understand the plight of millionsof victims the suffered in the hands of the anti-Semitic Germanregime in Poland and Germany during World War II.
Spiegelman,Art. Thecomplete Maus.Penguin Books Limited, 2003.