7 April 2015
Maus II Analysis
The Maus series by Art Spiegelman tells the story of one man trying to recapture the story of his father’s experience during the Holocaust. Maus II details Vladek’s time spent in the concentration camps, and how he was able to survive. The narration bounces back and forth between World War II and the Holocaust and modern day, when Vladek is reflecting on his experiences and recounting them to his son. This split in narration provides an interesting twist to the story, in that the reader is given both Vladek’s personal account and memories from the Holocaust, as well as Art’s perception of how Vladek is telling the story.
Memory is an incredibly interesting thing to consider. Multiple times in the story, Art interjects while Vladek is talking to bring up some sort of secondhand account that he had read recently concerning the Holocaust. He tries to fill in gaps for his father, such as when Art claims, “I just read about the camp orchestra that played as you marched out the gate” to which Vladek replies, “I remember only marching, not any orchestras…from the gate guards took us over to the workshop. How could it be there an orchestra?” While Art insists there was an orchestra, Vladek comments, “At the gate I heard only guards shouting” (Spiegelman 54). It is easy to consider that every Holocaust victim and survivor essentially went through the same thing, but memory does not work like that. All people perceive things differently, and their stories are made that much more personal by what their memory chooses to notice and recall for them. For Vladek, whether there was an orchestra or not in the moment was not important to him as he was in the middle of fighting for his life. For Art, however, looking back on something that he did not experience directly, he can easily take this account and allow it to shape how he tells the story of the Holocaust.
Recounting the events of the Holocaust is no easy feat, especially for Art. In certain ways, perhaps it is seen as his duty since he is Jewish and his parents went through the concentration camps. However, his memory of the event is twisted by all of the different versions he has heard. It makes it increasingly difficult to make sense of a horrible event that was never meant to make sense in the first place. In this way, I think Spiegelman utilizing the form of a graphic novel and his animal metaphor is his way of trying to deal with telling a very difficult story. There are some things that are too horrible for words to describe, and sometimes drawings and visual depictions need to step in.
It is easy to allow our own perceptions of people to cloud our judgment of the stories they tell, which I think is why Spiegelman includes the parts when he was trying to record his father’s story in the 1970s. Having not actually gone through the Holocaust, Art sometimes has a lot of trouble understanding why his father is the way that he is. His frustration with his father is apparent, but in comparing the way he acts in the 70s with what he dealt with during the Holocaust, it is easier for the reader to see the bigger picture. Instead of being frustrated with this man, we instead see what the horrors of war can do to a person’s character and the lasting effects it can have on the way they live their daily life.
People affected by tragedies have these sorts of biases all the time; there are plenty of Americans who lived through 9/11 that will get very nervous if they see someone that looks like they are Middle Eastern on their flight. My father, who worked in downtown Manhattan at the time, has a very different story to tell from that day than I do. All of our stories are colored by our personal perceptions, and it seems important to share these in an effort to get a full understanding of any tragedy. The memories of people who actually experienced such things are the most important of all; secondary sources sometimes word things to make it more literary or easier to swallow for readers. Telling a story the way that someone actually experienced it, though sometimes hard to hear, is important because it could possibly help prevent atrocities in the future. Stories of tragedies shouldn’t be swept under the rug, because then people will never really appreciate the full extent of what occurred.