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Art Spiegelman's Maus Analysis

Updated on June 27, 2012
Maus by Art Spiegelman.
Maus by Art Spiegelman. | Source

Art Spiegelman’s graphic narrative, Maus, is unique. Unlike many other graphic literature of this length, Maus uses a classic comic format with little deviation from normal frame structure. When Spiegelman chooses to use a irregular frame structure, he is making the reader pause and soak in what the storyline provokes.

For example, Spiegelman breaks from the norm of his panel arrangement on page 32. This is the moment which his father sees his first swastika. For emphasis on such a crucial moment, Spiegelman plays with the panels as our eyes move left to right. In the first row, we are shown the train.

In the second row, as the interior becomes more relevant, we see the characters in the train, their frames are drawn as windows. The last panel encompasses more than half the page for emphasis on this shocking moment. We see the flag though the train window; inside the train, the characters are much more detailed than in previous panels.

Spiegelman wants us to pause at this moment as his father did. This deviation from the regular structure of the novel is much more powerful because it is a deviation. If Spiegelman had commonly used unique panel structures, we would not have the same, slowing reaction to page 32. (A similar example is on page 83, where Spiegelman illustrates the hangings.)

What is even more unique about this narrative is the story-line and narration. Within this novel, there are multiple stories being told. First, Spiegelman talks to the reader about his visits with his father. Second, his father is telling the story of his time in Poland. We also get to see the interactions between Mala (the father’s wife) and Spiegelman.

These conversations are not accompanied by graphic art which helps to illustrate what is being said. Instead, Spiegelman only illustrates his father’s story as well as his own (while researching the story). He does not choose to illustrate Mala’s story to show separation and distance between the subject and content. He wanted to write his book about his father’s story—not Mala’s.

Spiegelman also chooses to tell us the story of how he got the information for the book, which is crucial to character development. We are not meant to trust Spiegelman over the other characters. We have to trust his father in order to desire to read his story and believe it. On page 23, his father tells Spiegelman not to write about his love affairs in the comic because it has nothing to do with the war. Spiegelman responds by saying, “but Pop—it’s great material. It makes everything more real—more human” (23). In the frame which he says this, the father is drawn with more detail than the previous pages. Spiegelman is not only telling us the love stories of his father for character development; the aspects of the novel which make him “more real” to the reader is his interactions with Art Spiegelman.

Maus attempts to tell the heartbreaking story of Vladek Spiegelman while he was in Poland before and during WWII. The author makes each race a different animal (Jewish mouse, Polish pig, and German cat) in order to show the weight that was put on race at the time. In order to illustrate the shame it was to be or look Jewish, he shows the mice wearing pig masks, attempting to hide their identities. The reader can truly see the that race, an unchangeable quality, meant so much at that time. While reading, I wondered why and how someone could hate another for being a mouse and not a cat. Although Nazi Germany is not new to me, this graphic novel provokes shock from the reader while giving them just enough “comic relief.”

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      Brittany Kennedy 6 years ago from Kailua-Kona, Hawaii

      Thank you, Derdriu. It is a little upsetting to look back, but the way that Spiegelman illustrates this story is particularly interesting. Thanks for reading and commenting.

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      Derdriu 6 years ago

      Brittany, What an educational, evocative, expressive look at the experience of Poland under the Nazis through the graphic narrative! Particularly effective is your analysis of character motivations and points of view. This is a chilling look back into history, but it is a necessary memorial.

      Thank you for sharing, etc.,

      Derdriu

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