For other uses see Maus (disambiguation).
Maus: A Survivor's Tale is a memoir by Art Spiegelman, presented as a graphic novel. It is part one of a two-part series. The graphic novel as a whole took thirteen years to complete. It recounts the struggle of Spiegelman's father to survive the Holocaust as a Polish Jew and draws largely on his father's recollections of his experiences. The book also follows the author's troubled relationship with his father and the way the effects of war reverberate through generations of a family. In 1992, it won a Pulitzer Prize Special Award. All people are presented as anthropomorphic animals (for example, all Jews are depicted as mice, hence the name Maus which is German for "mouse"). The New York Times described the selection of Maus for the honor: "The Pulitzer board members ... found the cartoonist's depiction of Nazi Germany hard to classify."
The book alternates the stories told by Spiegelman's father Vladek Spiegelman about life in Poland before and during the Second World War with the contemporary life of Art, Vladek and their loved ones in the Rego Park neighborhood of New York City. The book recounts the struggle of Vladek Spiegelman living with his family in Radomsko, Częstochowa, Sosnowiec and Bielsko in the late 1930s and his tragic odyssey during the war which ultimately led him to Auschwitz as prisoner 175113.
Throughout the book, Art Spiegelman confronts his complex and often conflicted relationship with his father. For example, Vladek exhibits racial prejudice against blacks despite his own experiences of anti-Semitism. He is also presented as stingy and a person who makes life very difficult for those around him, including his first wife Anja (Art's mother, who committed suicide) and his second wife Mala, themselves concentration camp survivors. The personality of the present day Vladek seems quite different from that of the man in the concentration camps, where he was resourceful and compassionate.
The author's articulation of the Holocaust is the main theme of the two graphic novels, giving the book a metabiographical aspect. Spiegelman often mentions the apprehension he feels in trying to express the inexpressible. The novel depicts the Holocaust through the perspectives of a survivor and of those who did not experience it directly, but are deeply connected to it nonetheless.
The animals are symbolic of the different nationalities and races for a number of reasons: :
With the exception of the Americans (dogs), the animal characters are all drawn alike. For instance, most of the Jewish mice resemble each other regardless of sex or age. Clothing and other details are used in order to tell them apart: Spiegelman himself, for instance, is always wearing a white shirt and a black sleeveless overshirt; his French wife, Françoise (herself portrayed as a mouse, because she converted to Judaism), wears a striped t-shirt, and Vladek's girlfriend before Anja, Lucia, has very noticeable breasts (Maus, vol. 1, p. 13). While wandering the streets of their Nazi-occupied town, the Jews wear pig masks in order to show the trouble they went through to pass themselves off as non-Jewish Poles.
The use of animals in the graphic novel may seem incongruous, but instead of creating social typecasts, Spiegelman lampoons them and shows how stupid it is to classify a human being based on nationality or ethnicity. His images are not his: they were "borrowed from the Germans... Ultimately what the book is about is the commonality of human beings. It's crazy to divide things down along nationalistic or racial or religious lines... These metaphors, which are meant to self-destruct in my book - and I think they do self-destruct - still have a residual force and still get people worked up over them."
The use of animals may also be used in order to detach the reader from real life. This may have been done to appeal to a younger generation of readers, yet still telling a story of survival and death during the Holocaust. But instead of fully detaching the reader from the book, he shows a human aspect by illustrating how his father tells his story and by showing the emotions and relationships of the characters throughout.
Maus was originally published as a three-page strip for Funny Aminals(cq), an underground comic published by Apex Novelties in 1972. In 1977, Spiegelman decided to lengthen the work, publishing most of the work serially in RAW magazine, a publication Spiegelman co-edited along with his wife Françoise Mouly. It was then published in its final form in two parts (Volume I: "My Father Bleeds History" in 1986 and Volume II: "And Here My Troubles Began" in 1991), before eventually being integrated into a single volume. A CD-ROM edition also exists.
Since its publication, Maus has been the subject of numerous essays. Deborah R. Geis published a collection of essays involving Maus titled Considering Maus: Approaches to Art Spiegelman's "Survivor's Tale" of the Holocaust, which received criticism in an Image & Narrative essay for, among other things, excluding several essays praising and even the rare essay critiquing the graphic novel.
Alan Moore praised Maus, saying "I have been convinced that Art Spiegelman is perhaps the single most important comic creator working within the field and in my opinion Maus represents his most accomplished work to date."
Maus has also been studied in schools. It is used both in courses dedicated to the study of modern English literature and Jewish culture.