Maus: A Survivor’s Tale is the author’s memoir of listening to his father – Vladek Spiegelman – talk about his experiences before and during the second world war as a Polish Jew. The book switches back and forth from describing Vladek’s past experiences and his/his son’s present day life.
Due to some of Spiegelman’s artistic choices that I will explain a little later under the style section, the readers of this graphic novel discern character from only a few aspects. First among these is the dialogue. Spiegelman makes terrific use of vernacular language to flesh out his characters. Also, he uses very simplistic drawing methods to illuminate expression and emotion.
Maus: A Survivor’s Tale is the author’s memoir of listening to his father – Vladek Spiegelman – talk about his experiences before and during the second world war as a Polish Jew. The book switches back and forth from describing Vladek’s past experiences and his/his son’s present day life. The change in focus oftentimes reflects instances where the past has helped to influence the present.
The story is set in Manhattan, New York in the 1980s as well as eastern Europe of the 1940s. The black and white art style is kept for both locales, but the change in setting is very noticable, and one will not become confused about where the characters are in time or space.
The art in this graphic novel is black and white, and well done. While reading it, I didn’t experience any of the confusion that is common to that medium. More interestingly, Spiegelman decided to draw people according to their nationality – German people are cats, Jewish people are mice, French people are frogs, and Polish people are pigs. In each panel, it is nearly impossible to tell one person from another (it is though, characters often address each other by name, and some wear the same clothes throughout the piece). This way of depicting people at first seemed rather offensive, but as I read on, I started to pick up the notion that it was calling attention to the absurdity of looking at a person and seeing only a nationality.
Spiegelman’s Maus: A Survivor’s Tale has a few major themes running throughout it. The most apparent of these is the absurdity of racial, national, religious, and so on, barriers that keep people from one another. But, that has been explain a bit above already. Another of the major themes within this work is the potency of the past, and learning to make sense of experiences unhad that have shaped a person. The main character could arguably be Arthur, Vladek’s son, who is in the graphic novel trying to come to terms with his father’s formative past, and the repercussions that it held. This becomes especially illuminated while Arthur is reflecting on the existence of his older brother Riechu, who died before Arthur was born. The mourning expressed by his father and mother led Arthur to deep feelings of sibling rivalry throughout his life. Yet, through the graphic novel, he comes to terms with this through gaining a better understanding of the past.
The point of view in this story is third person omniscient. However, it is told as the narrative of a Holocaust survivors son. Within that narrative is framed his father’s story of surviving the holocaust. The stories overlap very organically, showing how one event or situation in the past has helped to shape the present.