Essay, Research Paper: Survivors Tale And Spiegelman

Literature: World War

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There is an old saying that a picture says a thousand words. Art Spiegelman’s
series Maus: A Survivors Tale proves this saying to a tee. Added to the
dialogue, a million possibilities arise. The series is a biographical comic book
about his father’s experiences during the Holocaust. It uses cats, mice, and
other animals to present this very delicate subject. The first book in the
series received tremendous adulation and received the National Book Critics
Circle prize in biography. However, the critics involved in this prize were
forced to ask two questions. ‘Does a comic book represent the World Wars well
or not?’ and ‘Was Spiegelman right to use the humor of a comic book to
express the Holocaust?’ I will attempt to answer these questions by focusing
on Maus II: And Here My Troubles Began. Using artwork combined with pictures
serves many purposes. It allows the author to develop characters with a visual
reference. It serves to fill in the blanks by cutting down the necessity to read
between the lines to understand the big picture. These can be seen as pros and
cons. So Spiegelman attempted to reduce the gap between the dialogue and the
pictures. I didn’t want people to get too interested in the drawings. I wanted
them to be there, but the story operated somewhere else. It operates somewhere
between the words and the idea that’s in the pictures, which is in essence
what happens in a comic. This direct quote from an unknown interview done with
Spiegelman shows that he meant to use the pictures only as a tool to express his
ideas. If too much emphasis were put on the pictures, then whole story would not
be shown. However, if the pictures and the dialogue are read as one, then the
entire story is expressed. Spiegelman says in the quote that he doesn’t want
people to focus on the artwork, he just uses them to help the story along. To
help him with keeping the focus off the drawings, you can notice an extreme
uniformity in the drawings. The appearance of characters are shown the same
throughout the comic book, the facial expressions never change with emotion
either. The author uses the uniformity in the pictures to eliminate the over
descriptive nature of pictures. Instead, there are still things left to the
reader's imagination. Spiegelman needs this uniformity throughout the comic book
so that Holocaust does not come across as a creative medium for writing. Instead
of using the drawings as a medium to show expression, he uses the drawings also
help him to express ideas that he does not want left to the imagination. For
example, 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 what
the reader will actually believe. As well as eliminating this disparity, the
drawings 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, but
show the atrocities of the Holocaust well. A picture of some of the unfortunate
mice burning in a mass grave is present on page 72 of Maus II. You simply could
not express the horror experienced by the unfortunate humans that were forced to
go through this by using words to describe it. Hitler once said, “The Jews are
undoubtedly a race, but they are not human.” In essence the cartoon lets
Spiegelman 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 using
the difference in size and visual ferocity, he is better able to express this is
a highly controversial metaphor. This displays the stratification of the entire
European culture as a whole. The realization of Hitler’s racism, as well as
the Americans, is shown to the fullest extent. In the end of the book, the
Americans are shown as dogs, and drawn as very fierce creatures. Obviously, he
is trying to show the Americans as more powerful than the Germans and the
Germans more powerful than the Jewish. This shows how Spiegelman used the
analogy to express the stratification that was present during this period of
time. Spiegelman successfully used the cartoon medium to express Hitler’s
quote. The Holocaust is obviously a very sullen event in world history. Just
talking about the event can be disheartening to anyone. Using the pictures and
the humor of cartoons allows Spiegelman to side step the saddening of the events
that occurred in the Holocaust. The small jokes that are embedded into the
dialogue and the humorous misfortunes of the present day Vladek do a good job of
distracting the reader from the sadness. An example of Spiegelman’s use of
humor 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 and
only half full to the supermarket. He says that is because he learned to
conserve food in anyway possible during the Holocaust. Later, he also says that
he saves matches by leaving the gas fire on all day. By using humor, Spiegelman
was able to describe the lasting effects suffered by the survivors of the
Holocaust in a lighter way. This was also probably the biggest con that
Spiegelman experienced while trying to describe the Holocaust as a comic. The
holocaust is a very delicate topic to discuss under any form of writing.
Expressing the events with humor can be a very dangerous endeavor. People might
not like the idea of making a comic strip out of the racism towards the Jewish
population and the horror that their people have gone through. By presenting the
events of the Holocaust in a humorous way, the atrocities that occurred do not
stand out as the major topic of the book. You can ask fairly, ‘What gives
Spiegelman the right to make jokes when talking about this topic?’ The answer
is that no one did. The humor and the story line distract people from the horror
experienced. To decide whether Spiegelman has correctly shown the Holocaust and
the atrocities associated with it, you must weigh the above arguments. Can the
descriptive nature of the comic book and the creative sidestepping used by
Spiegelman be a great thing, or, is the sidestepping that is used by the author
a heartless attempt to make his fathers accounts of the holocaust as an
enjoyable story. I do not believe that Spiegelman was right in using humor
during this book, but I do believe that it added to the enjoyable readability of
the book. However, I think that using a comic medium that allows drawings let
him to best describe the events of his father’s life and the Holocaust in
general. By having the visual medium available, he was able to show some events
of the Holocaust without actually having to describe them. During the discussion
of awarding one of Spiegelman’s prizes, an argument was made, was he right in
expressing the Holocaust as a comic book. This literary medium did let him show
the Holocaust as he best as he could. With pictures, he was able to show more
than any novel ever could. However, I personally think that he was very wrong in
using humor simply because the actual victims probably don’t find it funny,
but that is a personal question only you can answer for yourself.

Spiegelman, Art. “Maus II: A Survivors Tale.” New York, NY: Pantheon
Books, 1992. Brown, Joshua. “Of Mice and Memory.” Rev. of Maus: A Survivors
Tale, by Art Spiegelman. Oral History Review, Spring 1988.
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