There is an old saying that a picture says a thousand words. Art Spiegelmansseries Maus: A Survivors Tale proves this saying to a tee. Added to thedialogue, a million possibilities arise.
The series is a biographical comic bookabout his fathers experiences during the Holocaust. It uses cats, mice, andother animals to present this very delicate subject. The first book in theseries received tremendous adulation and received the National Book CriticsCircle prize in biography. However, the critics involved in this prize wereforced to ask two questions. Does a comic book represent the World Wars wellor not? and Was Spiegelman right to use the humor of a comic book toexpress the Holocaust? I will attempt to answer these questions by focusingon Maus II: And Here My Troubles Began.Order now
Using artwork combined with picturesserves many purposes. It allows the author to develop characters with a visualreference. It serves to fill in the blanks by cutting down the necessity to readbetween the lines to understand the big picture. These can be seen as pros andcons. So Spiegelman attempted to reduce the gap between the dialogue and thepictures. I didnt want people to get too interested in the drawings.
I wantedthem to be there, but the story operated somewhere else. It operates somewherebetween the words and the idea thats in the pictures, which is in essencewhat happens in a comic. This direct quote from an unknown interview done withSpiegelman shows that he meant to use the pictures only as a tool to express hisideas. If too much emphasis were put on the pictures, then whole story would notbe shown. However, if the pictures and the dialogue are read as one, then theentire story is expressed. Spiegelman says in the quote that he doesnt wantpeople to focus on the artwork, he just uses them to help the story along.
Tohelp him with keeping the focus off the drawings, you can notice an extremeuniformity in the drawings. The appearance of characters are shown the samethroughout the comic book, the facial expressions never change with emotioneither. The author uses the uniformity in the pictures to eliminate the overdescriptive nature of pictures. Instead, there are still things left to thereader’s imagination. Spiegelman needs this uniformity throughout the comic bookso that Holocaust does not come across as a creative medium for writing. Insteadof using the drawings as a medium to show expression, he uses the drawings alsohelp him to express ideas that he does not want left to the imagination.
Forexample, on page 70 in Maus II, there is a map of the crematorium buildings. This eliminates any disparity between what he wants the reader to see, and whatthe reader will actually believe. As well as eliminating this disparity, thedrawings can be used to accentuate ideas that Spiegelman has tries to express. There are pictures in Maus II that can be described as simple disturbing, butshow the atrocities of the Holocaust well. A picture of some of the unfortunatemice burning in a mass grave is present on page 72 of Maus II. You simply couldnot express the horror experienced by the unfortunate humans that were forced togo through this by using words to describe it.
Hitler once said, The Jews areundoubtedly a race, but they are not human. In essence the cartoon letsSpiegelman show a distinct metaphor. Spiegelman uses mice as the Jewish people,cats as the Germans, dogs as the Americans as well as other animals. By usingthe difference in size and visual ferocity, he is better able to express this isa highly controversial metaphor.
This displays the stratification of the entireEuropean culture as a whole. The realization of Hitlers racism, as well asthe Americans, is shown to the fullest extent. In the end of the book, theAmericans are shown as dogs, and drawn as very fierce creatures. Obviously, heis trying to show the Americans as more powerful than the Germans and theGermans more powerful than the Jewish. This shows how Spiegelman used theanalogy to express the stratification that was present during this period oftime. Spiegelman successfully used the cartoon medium to express Hitlersquote.
The Holocaust is obviously a very sullen event in world history. Justtalking about the event can be disheartening to anyone. Using the pictures andthe humor of cartoons allows Spiegelman to side step the saddening of the eventsthat occurred in the Holocaust. The small jokes that are embedded into thedialogue and the humorous misfortunes of the present day Vladek do a good job ofdistracting the reader from the sadness. An example of Spiegelmans use ofhumor to show the Holocaust in lighter way is on page 78.
In this passage,Vladek decides that he wants to return the box of Special K that is open andonly half full to the supermarket. He says that is because he learned toconserve food in anyway possible during the Holocaust. Later, he also says thathe saves matches by leaving the gas fire on all day. By using humor, Spiegelmanwas able to describe the lasting effects suffered by the survivors of theHolocaust in a lighter way. This was also probably the biggest con thatSpiegelman experienced while trying to describe the Holocaust as a comic.
Theholocaust is a very delicate topic to discuss under any form of writing. Expressing the events with humor can be a very dangerous endeavor. People mightnot like the idea of making a comic strip out of the racism towards the Jewishpopulation and the horror that their people have gone through. By presenting theevents of the Holocaust in a humorous way, the atrocities that occurred do notstand out as the major topic of the book. You can ask fairly, What givesSpiegelman the right to make jokes when talking about this topic? The answeris that no one did. The humor and the story line distract people from the horrorexperienced.
To decide whether Spiegelman has correctly shown the Holocaust andthe atrocities associated with it, you must weigh the above arguments. Can thedescriptive nature of the comic book and the creative sidestepping used bySpiegelman be a great thing, or, is the sidestepping that is used by the authora heartless attempt to make his fathers accounts of the holocaust as anenjoyable story. I do not believe that Spiegelman was right in using humorduring this book, but I do believe that it added to the enjoyable readability ofthe book. However, I think that using a comic medium that allows drawings lethim to best describe the events of his fathers life and the Holocaust ingeneral.
By having the visual medium available, he was able to show some eventsof the Holocaust without actually having to describe them. During the discussionof awarding one of Spiegelmans prizes, an argument was made, was he right inexpressing the Holocaust as a comic book. This literary medium did let him showthe Holocaust as he best as he could. With pictures, he was able to show morethan any novel ever could. However, I personally think that he was very wrong inusing humor simply because the actual victims probably dont find it funny,but that is a personal question only you can answer for yourself. BibliographySpiegelman, Art.
Maus II: A Survivors Tale. New York, NY: PantheonBooks, 1992. Brown, Joshua. Of Mice and Memory.
Rev. of Maus: A SurvivorsTale, by Art Spiegelman. Oral History Review, Spring 1988.