Maus by Art Spiegelman: Summary & Analysis

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  • 0:04 ~'Maus~' By Art Spiegelman
  • 0:49 Part One: The Present
  • 2:05 Part Two: Concentration Camp
  • 3:13 Analysis
  • 5:01 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Joseph Altnether

Joe has taught college English courses for several years, has a Bachelor's degree in Russian Studies and a Master's degree in English literature.

Art Spiegelman's ''Maus'' examines survival from two perspectives. The first looks at survival in the concentration camps, while the second is Art's struggle to live with the guilt of being the surviving son.

Maus by Art Spiegelman

The graphic novel Maus by Art Spiegelman is a rich and engaging story. It follows his own parents' story in Poland during the 1930s, and describes their experiences as the Nazis invaded and persecuted the Jewish population. Spiegelman presents his story in graphic form, portraying his characters as animals. Let's take a look at a summary and analysis.

Maus takes place during two different periods in time. The present time in Florida frames the story of the past. In the present, Art interacts with his father, Vladek. From these interactions, the story moves to the past as Vladek recounts his experiences as a Jew in German-occupied Poland. The second part of the story describes Vladek's life in the concentration camps.

Part One: The Present

The story begins with Vladek as a young man in the mid-1930s living in Poland. His friends help set him up with a girl named Anja. Anja lives in Sosnowiec, Poland, and her parents are extremely wealthy.

Vladek makes a good impression and shows that he is self-determined and not afraid of hard work. He becomes somewhat successful in his own right, and Anja's father loans Vladek money to build his own factory. Vladek and Anja soon marry, and have a son, Richieu. Life is good.

Then the threat of the Germans descends on Poland. Vladek fights for the Polish Army on the front line but is captured and becomes a prisoner of war. Vladek is able to escape and returns to his family. He acquires paperwork from his black market contacts, which, in addition to his wealth, keeps his family safe from capture. Many of their friends and some family members are captured or killed.

His son Richieu had been sent to stay with his aunt, but she poisons him along with her own children to prevent them from being sent to the concentration camps. Vladek and Anja barely manage to stay alive in the ghettos where the Germans confine the Jewish population. Eventually they resort to hiding to prevent capture by the Germans, but are betrayed by one of their own, and Vladek and Anja are captured. They are sent to separate camps at Auschwitz.

Part Two: Concentration Camp

Vladek relates the horrors of Auschwitz. His survival, and that of Anja, is due to the people who helped restore their faith and those who spared a moment to help them. Anja would not have survived if it was not for the efforts of Mancie, who befriends her and passes messages and food to her on behalf of Vladek.

Anja is also tormented by a guard who continually gives her difficult tasks, and then beats her severely when she fails to complete them. Their relationship changes for the better when Anja offers her husband's services to repair the guard's shoes. It is this quid pro quo which helps Anja and Vladek survive.

Vladek has a way of making friends and having the skills and abilities to please others. This allows him to stay away from the heavy work. Instead, Vladek enjoys comfort and food, particularly when he teaches English to his Polish guard.

Even when Vladek is sick or physically unable to work, his friends help him survive. Toward the end of the war, life devolved to survival. Helping others put yourself at risk. Only if there was some personal benefit would anyone help another. Because of this mentality, both Anja and Vladek survive Auschwitz.


Using Animals to Portray Relationships

Spiegelman's focus on relationships and how people interact is perhaps the main focus of the story, beyond that of his parents' experiences in the concentration camps. Art shows how people will stand up and care for one another, even when it means putting their own life at risk. But, he also shows the lengths people will go to harm others out of greed or malice.

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