Maus is a dark and horrific survivor’s tale about the author’s father, Vladek Spiegelman, and his experience throughout the Holocaust. The story is told by Vladek’s son, Art Spiegelman, but through the eyes of Vladek himself. Spiegelman depicts the characters in Maus as various animals with human bodies. The animals shown throughout in panels in Maus include pigs as the Poles, frogs as the French, dogs as the Americans, mice as the Jews, and cats as the Nazis’. The story of Maus is as detailed and horrifying as Vladek describes, so he may have left some specific details out so he wouldn’t have to relive such brutal events again. Something that he did include was when the Jewish police came and took Anja’s father in the bottom right panel on page 115. Spiegelman may have decided to depict the characters in Maus as animals because of the acts committed on human figures may be too horrific or emotionally damaging to some audiences such as other survivors.
Throughout Maus, we follow Vladek as he struggles through his life as the events of the Holocaust test him and his family. Vladek will be forced to commit illegal acts in order to get by and to protect his family the best he possibly can. Such as textile and sugar trading without Nazi issued coupons, smuggling of any kind of material or products, and even having to deal with intense physical labor at various POW camps. Many of the acts committed against Vladek and the others who suffered throughout the Holocaust were horrific and unimaginable. Many innocent people were taken from their families, even if they were to do everything they were told to do by the Germans.
In the end, the Germans never intended to have anyone survive. They never cared for the Jewish people and what they do, they only give false promises and hope, and even threaten their lives in order to exploit the Jewish people for labor and will kill them mercilessly if they didn’t comply or obeyed the laws to the German’s standards. An example of this is on the bottom right of page 115 in Maus, where Anja’s father gets taken away, even after trying to do everything the Germans instructed and trying not to get into trouble. Anja’s father was just another victim to the German’s extermination plan that the Jewish people were unaware of. In the panel where Anja’s father is being taken, he is screaming and it even described that he was tearing his hair out and crying. This further proves that the German’s have no care or sympathy for the victims. One of the speech bubbles of Vladek speaking explains that even though Anja’s father was a millionaire, it couldn’t save him from the cruelty of the Holocaust.
The panel on page 115 was a brutal scene that shows one of the many horrific events of the Holocaust and how it can ruin lives and destroy families. This could be why Spiegelman may have chosen to depict the characters as animals instead of human beings. The actions and events of the Holocaust would be better depicted and more emotionally enduring than to depict the raw events of the Holocaust on humans, especially if someone in the audience has a relative who had survived the Holocaust. This could make it very difficult to view the material of Maus if it was depicted with humans rather than animals. Spiegelman’s depiction of the characters and its meaning is supported by the quote made by Arlene Fish Wilner. Arlene Fish Wilner, Professor of English and American Studies at Rider University, “Adam Gopnik has astutely observed that the animal heads attributed to humans in this narrative reflect ‘our sense that this story is too horrible to be presented unmasked’” (109). The panel also has Vladek standing in the way taking up some of the panel’s real estate, this could mean that he very vividly remembers the event as if it happened very recently. Vladek also seems to be very upset of depressed while in the panel, I view this as him not only feeling bad about what had happened to Anja’s father but he may have wished could’ve done something to help but he was ultimately helpless to do anything given his own situation.
Overall, I believe that Spiegelman decided to depict the characters as animals because to a casual audience and for the general public as a whole the events of the Holocaust would just be too horrific and graphic to illustrate with human beings. Along with Arlene’s quote, this is why Spiegelman has illustrated his characters the way that he did in Maus. With certain scenes like the panel on page 115, it would be absolutely dreadful to see that exact same scene but depicted with humans.
Wilner, Arlene Fish. “’Happy, Happy Ever After’: Story and History in Art Spiegelman’s Maus.” Considering Maus: Approaches to Art Spiegelman’s “Survivor’s Tale” of the Holocaust, edited by Deborah R. Geis, U of Alabama P, 2003, pp. 105-21.
Spiegelman, Art. Maus I. Pantheon, 1986.