Weekly Roundup on Maus I (March 1-3)

If you’re in group 3, you’re responsible for this week’s weekly roundup. Each student in the group will highlight one key moment from the previous week’s online and in-class discussions. To recall the syllabus:

Follow this formula for the highlights: describe the moment (provide the context and the facts about what you saw, read, or heard), interpret the meaning of the moment (what does it mean?), and evaluate its significance (in other words, why was the moment important?).

You can post your highlight in the comments below (or in a separate post).

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Professor Sample

Mark Sample is an Associate Professor in the Department of English at George Mason University, where he researches and teaches contemporary and experimental literature, electronic literature, graphic novels, and videogames.

5 thoughts on “Weekly Roundup on Maus I (March 1-3)”

  1. After thinking through the week and reading through the posts online, there are a couple aspects of this week’s discussion(s) that I would like to highlight and weight in on.

    I really like the discussion between nberry 1 and Lauren Walker on the post “Prisoners on the hell planet.” Both mention how they were exposed to Art Spiegelman’s Maus at a very young age, whether having completely read it or just flipped through it. While Maus was published even before I was born, I didn’t discover the book until I was in college, but now that I’m aware of it I seem to encounter it everywhere. When I was a child, in school we read books like The Diary of Anne Frank and Elie Wiesel’s Night, but I never once ran across Maus. I find this interesting because I feel like one of the main conversations going on in class was how the book was a chronicle of the Holocaust and the “survivor.” I would argue that Maus is just as affecting a text as Night, and I think most of the class would agree with me. So why haven’t I seen this book? Why isn’t it taught alongside The Diary of Anne Frank in schools? I think something Lauren said in her comment on this post is the answer. Lauren talks about being “afraid to read it because I thought it would be too graphic and sad. I didn’t read it until much later when I started college and was able to contextualize it as such an vital, important book.” While I would point out that Night is a pretty graphic book itself, I also understand that showing a child violence is different that allowing them to imagine what it looks like. Furthermore, I think Lauren’s “contextualize”ing of the book in college is very important as well. Would an elementary school kid be able to put the cat/mouse metaphor into the proper context and not just think Speigelman was making fun of the whole affair?

    The other oft discussed topic was that of whether the characters were more anthropomorphized animals or humans wearing “animal masks.” When I read the book I got the impression that in the reality of the book all the characters were looking at human faces, not animal faces. It’s almost as if the mouse/cat/pig/dog/frog faces are masks Spiegelman draws over the faces for the audience. The mice refer to themselves as human, and Spiegelman didn’t end up rewriting all of his father’s dialogue to include reference to mice and cats. I believe in the world of the book, everyone sees everyone in their human bodies, and it is only the reader/the audience that sees Jews as mice, Nazis as cats, Poles as pigs, and Americans as dogs. I think making only the reader a viewer of these masks helps to further the idea that this type of identity, whether it be religious, national, or ethnic, is places on people from the outside. By having the reader, who is outside the text, identify the Jews as mice and the Nazis as cats, Spiegelman has created a situation in which the reader is projecting an identity upon the characters, based on some outside mask or signifier, that the characters aren’t necessarily aware of themselves.

    1. My own answer for why Maus isn’t generally taught in high schools is, quite simply, because it’s a comic book. There is still a great prejudice against the medium, and comics are still seen as fodder for half-illiterate teenagers.

      There’s also the question of taste. The Holocaust is such serious and somber material that many would think it’s distasteful to draw “cartoons” of it. Spiegelman has his own answer to this problem though. When asked if it was in bad taste to draw pictures of the Holocaust, Spiegelman said, No, the Holocaust was in bad taste.

  2. During class this week we talked a lot about “survivors” and “surviving.” Like how Anja was a survivor of the Holocaust but she did not really “survive” because she committed suicide years later. This was something that really made me think about the trauma the Speigelman family endured during the war.

    Out of many of the terrible events that happened throughout the novel, this was the one that made me think the most. Because this is a retelling of Art’s father’s story, Anja’s suicide was not just a plot point to advance the story but rather a sad but true event that happened to and deeply effected the Speigelman family. Obviously both of the elder Speigelman’s had traumatic aftereffects from living through the war, and throughout the both the novels we see how each of them (Anja and Vladyek) handles being a survivor of the Holocaust. In Vladyek’s case, we see a bitter, stingy old man but how much of that was created by the experiences he went through in the war?

    Showing how the Speigelman’s (Anja, Vladyek, and later Mala) did or did not survive living with the events that occurred during the war is something that makes these novels very “real.” Art Speigelman could have just told his parent’s story and left out his part in it, but the meta-ness of the novel is the thing that I think really draws people in.

    1. Many of Vladek’s health issues, like the diabetes, were after affects from the war. So Raffi Paul is absolutely correct in that in a sense no one was a true survivor. Also, it appears I didn’t really do the weekly roundup assignment right. Oops.

  3. Out of all the discussions in class and on the blog, one thing that stood out to me in terms of understanding the story of “Maus” was the timeline that “ibahabib” posted. This timeline of events in “Maus” as well as in Spiegelman’s life helped me truly sort out the timeline in which things occurred in his life.

    “Abarney” brings up a good point, too, about the so-called “survivors.” Anja wasn’t really a survivor – none of them really were! In some way, shape or form, everyone involved in World War II’s innocence was taken. The worst part is that many of them didn’t even deserve it.

    Personally, I’m more excited for Part II than I was for Part I simply because it’s less back story. My relationship with my father isn’t exactly relatable to Spiegelman’s, but it definitely makes me look forward to interacting with him in later years. Overall, though, I would say that I find the father-and-son dynamic that goes on in the book far more fascinating than the World War II storytelling part of it.

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