ENGL 300: The Graphic Novel George Mason University (Spring 2011)


Pathemata Mathemata

I found it incredibly interesting that during our class discussion today most people who spoke were interpreting the animal imagery of this piece as being an artistic means to segregate different groups of people.  I personally looked at the imagery more as a means to mask individuality in order to give this story more of a potent influence.  The way that these characters were drawn, with animal heads and human bodies, made it seem to me as if everyone was wearing a mask.  It has a permeable effect that allows the reader to feel as if he could have been part of the Holocaust.  It personally left me feeling as if this could be the story of my Grandfather, Father, or even my own.

I want to expound further on nberry1's post specifically focusing on how surviving trauma has influenced both Vladek and Art Spiegelman.  I disagree with nberry1's opinion that "[Vladek] pessimistically mocks the bond [of friendship]" during the first scene of this book.  I feel as if Vladek is actually doing his best to teach his son how to survive and what friendship truly means.  By saying, "Your friends? You lock them together in a room with no food for a week...THEN you could see what it is, friends!" I interpreted Vladek's words as a lesson that a horrific instance can bond people together in the strongest way possible; by revealing a person's true character.  In no way am I saying that there were no instances of betrayal, desperation, or selfish panic during the Holocaust but different people survive horrible traumas in diverse ways, including committing some acts of altruism.  This is a lesson of a father to his son, a survivor to one who struggles to overcome, that while you must take care of yourself in order to survive, one cannot simply survive on his own.

"Then I slowly realized that your greatest art is the art of survival." -Line from Death and the King's Horseman.

Posted by lsanfiel

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  1. I think there are many ways in which to see the choice of animals instead of people in Maus. For me, it was reminiscent of Aesop’s Fables, or other like stories I read as a little kid. The use of animals to tell a story with somewhat of a moral is very frequently found in children’s literature. It may be there for the story to be seen metaphorically, or perhaps to provide a division between the audience and the characters.

    The use of animals does “mask individuality,” you are correct, but it also begs to question, what IS individuality? Who gets to be an individual an why? To which I answer: individuality is a privilege, and at desperate times-such as a war- the “mask” you wear could be the difference between survival and perishing.

    You mention that “everyone is wearing a mask” because the figures are drawn human-like with animal heads, and that this allows us to relate better to the characters. But I actually think that because the characters are portrayed as a whole other species it makes it harder to relate. However, it is easier to critique their actions. After all, they’re not people. They resemble people, but they’re mice. This creates a sort of barrier that allows us to analyze their actions from a subjective point of view because we feel some distance from the characters.

    After all, I find it very difficult to say I can relate to the experience of surviving the Holocaust. Understanding is the most we can do.

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