A Focus on the Protagonist Artie in the Graphic Novel The Complete Maus
The Complete Maus is a graphic novel in which the story’s protagonist, Artie Spiegelman, portrays his aging father’s tale of a Holocaust survivor. Spiegelman, wanting to familiarize with his Polish Jew identity especially after his mother’s abrupt suicide in 1968, sets out to record his father’s family story with his girlfriend, Francoise, in the latter half of the graphic- of the Holocaust and transforms it into a riveting graphic representation. The graphic begins with Vladek’s, the father of Artie, events just before the war, in which he meets a girl Lucia, but the two grow apart once he meets Art’s mother, Anja Zylberberg.
The two meet and wed in Sosnowiec, Poland in 1937, and on that same year their first son is born, Richieu. A year later in 1938, Anja had a mental breakdown and spent three months in a sanitarium within Czechoslovakia. It was upon her return from the sanitarium that the Spiegelman family noticed the heightened anti-Semitism with the Nazi flag hanging from their hometown’s square. The family does not feel the reality of the war until Vladek is drafted into the Polish army in 1939, and participates in a skirmish with German soldiers near the border. It is here that he kills a soldier, Jan, and is eventually captured as a prisoner of war with weeks of hard labor.
He eventually returns by an international accordance for prisoners of war, but soon realizes his rights are becoming limited as a Jew in rising anti-Semitism. He returned to live by comfortable means with the Zylberberg family, but by 1942 the family of twelve is moved into a two and half bedroom shelter in the ghetto. It is here where the family survives through Vladek’s cunning use of trade and alliances until growing animosity by the Nazi regiment is enough to free the camp, though Richieu is killed by poison in attempt to “protect” him from officials by his aunt. They make it to live with a local farmer, Motonowa, until they attempt to flee to Hungary only to be turned into officials by their crooked smugglers. They are forced into the notorious death camp, Auschwitz, in which once again is Vladek able to save himself and his wife through cunning acts.
The camp is eventually liberated and he able to finally reunite with Anja with a few other surviving family members. The family then relocated to Sweden, where in the year of 1948, Artie is born. It is in Rego Park, New York that the family eventually settles in that much of the recording takes place with Vladek and his second wife, Mala. The graphic novel ends with Vladek stating he is too tired to continue with these stories, even addressing Artie as Richieu that further instills the fact that this is still constantly in the mind of Vladek in contrast to the avoidance he posed throughout the novel.
Throughout the novel, there is the created impression that all of World War II had been caused by minority groups, especially that of the Jewish communities. Many passages explicitly states these ill sentiments towards the Jewish population at the start of the war, in which one passage directly places fault on the Jewish community as a German officer blames the Jewish soldiers for the entirety of the war. (Spiegelman 53). These sentiments are continued through the passages by the dialogues of Nazi officials and Polish residents with the only true blame the novel may broadly hint towards is the corrupt ideologies that are held by some instigators through their animal representations such as the predatory cats and the negative connation of the pig.
The move to exterminate Jewish communities was a gradual one, in part to alleviate mass panic and realization by those who were hesitate if there was a problem at all. In the days close to the war when Vladak and his family saw the Nazi flag hanging from the town center, his father-in-law merely referred to the anti-Semitic events in Germany as a “program,’ thus reiterating the lack of realization of its severity, (Spiegelman 35). The Nazis would slowly eat away at the Jewish resources, their businesses, furniture, money, until upon realizing the severity of the sweeping anti-Semitic notions, they lacked any resourcing to remove themselves from the danger.
The Nazi officials, realizing they have been stripped of necessities, allured the Jewish diaspora on the premise of housing (the ghettos) and work (labor camps), in which they now had complete autonomy over their daily lives in order to discretely move them ever so close to extermination camps. There is one caption that is an accurate portrayal to the tactics Nazi officials applied, where it is mentioned that the luxuries held by the Zylberberg family were not all at once destroyed and that their lives at that moment were relatively comfortable because of this slow transition, (Spiegelman 76).
The Nazi regime kept many of their victims and opposing forces at bay through systemizing the withdraw of necessities towards various groups in order to keep an ever-increasing level of uncertainty that was not too drastic to question and revolt. It is through this system that many communities were too overwhelmed with daily issues, like that of food security, to react to the broader social problems before it was too late.
The rules of the Auschwitz camp were largely based on the self-reliance of prisoners. The command structure of the camp seems simple, with basic rules of attending designated work zones, attendance round-ups, and not leaving camp grounds. The complexity of the camp comes from the social stratification of the prisoners, virtually creating a society within a society. The prisoners had to develop new skills and create inter-personal relations to receive necessary commodities, mostly in the form of food. It was this drive of hunger, and thus the acquisition of food that created a complex social system of alliances, a form of the black market, and bribery. The Nazis applied a system of near starvation to keep the prisoners weak enough from revolting and hungry enough not to even have time to think of escaping as one caption puts it that the food portions given to them were only enough to prolong their death, (Spiegelman 209).
Vladek was able to slow starvation until the camp’s liberation from this complex system of insider trading to the point that the camp basically held a form of currency rates such as one day’s worth of bread equaling three cigarettes, in which two-hundred of these cigarettes amounted to one bottle of vodka, (Spiegelman 224). All things considered, the simple system of starvation implemented by camp officials are in no way as complex as the social rules creating by the prisoners themselves. Spiegelman’s use of animal representation is most likely done to show the absurdity of racial classification and division, especially in the masks that some characters are able to use in order to hide their identity, which displays how superficial racial cataloging is.
This idea is really engrained as the author attends his therapy session as both him and his therapist are in human form wearing mouse masks; this scene shows how the animal allusion within his novel has greatly become a part of his perceived identity while still having some portrayal of a social construct by the strings shown on the back of these masks. The portrayal of how racial “superiority” is so easily constructed reaches a pinnacle point in the novel as a German prisoner of war is perceived as a mouse-only to later to be portrayed as a cat by Vladek- because of the official’s own definition of race, (Spiegelman 210).
Towards the end of the novel, the absurdity is reiterated by Francoise as she points out the hypocrisy done by Vladek as he is bothered by an African American hitchhiker that is picked up by Francoise, (Spiegelman 259). In a broad aspect, these masks create a sense of anonymity by partly disassociating the war from any one nation or person, but still adhering to the horrors that were placed upon certain groups based on their given identity.
The comic-like formatting Art Spiegelman used to display this harrowing story is both innovative and intriguing to the audience. It desensitizes the readers enough that they are able to actively continue to be intrigued by the events of the Holocaust without too much of a regretful sorrow, but not too much that they forget these notorieties are very real to the many that were involved. This format is different from typical representations for the same information that could certainly reach out to a larger audience, especially that of the younger generation. There are more sentiments being felt while viewing upon the author’s illustrations that brings the readers closer to the reality that was the Holocaust rather than print that could not do it justification.