Multiliteracies in ELA Classrooms

The Cat and the Maus

September 23rd, 2012 · 1 Comment

I’m an avid graphic novel fan and have wanted to read Maus by Art Spiegelman since I first heard about it in high school. However, getting my hands on a copy of the novel was harder than I thought and I eventually forgot about it. Now, almost five years later, I finally had the opportunity to read Maus and my whole experience shifted between laughing at Art’s father’s antics and crying at the horror that was the Holocaust.

Throughout Maus, Spiegelman uses the “cat and mouse” metaphor to portray the Nazis and Jews, respectively. As expected, the mice are victimized thtoughout the comic, paralleling the events of the Holocaust and the victimization of the Jewish people at the hands of the Nazis.

Spiegelman uses very somber black tones and heavy black shadowing all through the graphic novel, a visual for the oppressive atmosphere of the second world war itself. Along with the extensive use of black shading, is the shadowy portrayal of the cats that are the Nazis. In particular, the title page for “Prisoner of War,” the third chapter of the comic, shows the menacing figure of the cats are they stand over the body of Art’s father.

Running parallel to the story of the Holocaust recounted by Art’s father, is the story of Art’s relationship with his parents. As Art’s father, Vladek, continues to talk about his experiences, the reader notices the subtle tensions that exist between Vladek and Art. Most obvious, are the differences in their attitude towards money. Without generalizing Vladek’s experience, it is still plain for the reader to see that his opressive experience during the war has left him wary of spending money too often, while Art – who has had no such experience – is not bothered by a need to be thrifty. Spiegelman emphasizes the differences between Art and Vladek by often drawing them sitting on opposing sides of the desk or facing each other across a table, rather than showing father and son sitting side-by-side too often. Moreover, like his relationship with his father, Art’s relationship with his mother, Anja, was also strained. Halfway in Maus, Spiegelman showcases a smaller comic that features Anja. The art in this comic called “Prisoner on Hell Planet,” while the characters are drawn with more a humanoid appearance, is just as alien and dark. The four-page comic discusses the circumstances surrounding Anja’s death.

Although it took me almost five years to read Maus, I’m glad I had the opportunity to experience the first part of Spiegelman’s interpretation of the Holocaust. Maus has both historical and artistic merit as a perspective of the second world war. The graphic novel highlights the victimization, horror and opression of the war through the eyes of the one of the world’s smallest creatures – a mouse.

-Kiran Heer

(P.S: To see the specific artwork I’ve refered to in the article, click on the hyperlinks provided.)

Work Cited: Spiegelman, Art. Maus. New York: Random House, 1986. Print.

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1 response so far ↓

  • TMD // Sep 26th 2012 at 9:18 am

    This is a very thoughtful response, Kiran. I’m glad you found the novel worthwhile and hope you’ll find a place for it in your future teaching. Your discussion of the visual rhetoric is helpful — I hope we can return to that tonight in class.


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