Major Themes Familial Guilt English Literature Essay

While on its surface Maus is the narrative of Vladek Spiegelman ‘s experiences in the Holocaust, it is besides much more. In many ways, the relationship between Vladek and his boy is the cardinal narration in the book, and this narrative trades extensively with feelings of guilt. Of peculiar relevancy in Maus is the guilt that is associated with the members of one ‘s household. The primary types of familial guilt can be divided into three separate classs: 1 ) Art ‘s feelings of guilt over non being a good boy ; 2 ) Art ‘s feelings of guilt over the decease of his female parent ; and 3 ) Art ‘s feelings of guilt sing the publication of Maus.

The simplest signifier of guilt in Maus is Art ‘s guilt over the fact that he thinks he has non been a good boy to his male parent. Right from the first panel of Book I, we are told that the two of them do non acquire along peculiarly good, and that they do non see each other frequently, though they live reasonably near by. Art is ever on border around his male parent, and when they speak it feels as if an statement could interrupt out at any minute. Indeed, statements frequently do interrupt out over, for illustration, Art ‘s dropping coffin nail ash on the rug, or Vladek ‘s disclosure that he has burned Anja ‘s journals from the war. Vladek frequently asks his boy for aid with errands around the house, and Art is ever loth to follow. One of the most outstanding illustrations of this state of affairs occurs at the beginning of Chapter 5 of Book I, in which Vladek awakens his boy early in the forenoon to inquire for aid repairing a drain on his roof. Art refuses, subsequently stating his married woman that he would instead experience guilty than travel to Queen to assist his male parent. A few hebdomads subsequently, during Art ‘s following visit to his male parent, this guilt is distressingly obvious, as he instantly asks his male parent if he needs aid with any jobs.

Art ‘s feelings of guilt over the decease of his female parent are besides comparatively straightforward. As told in the brief “ Prisoner on the Hell Planet ” interlude in Chapter 5 of Book I, Art feels responsible for his female parent ‘s self-destruction, believing it to be a merchandise of his ain disregard. His last memory of his female parent – in which she asks him if he still loves her, and he responds with a cold and dismissive “ certain ” – is a painful reminder of this neglect. Though this peculiar signifier of guilt does non play a major function in the narrative, it is notable in that Art feels slightly similar feelings of guilt towards his male parent, who is still alive.

After the first volume of Maus is published in 1986, four old ages after his male parent ‘s decease in 1982, Art is still consumed with guilt. The publication of Maus has non alleviated these feelings, and in some ways it has made them worse. “ My male parent ‘s shade still hangs over me, ” Art says before walking to his assignment with Pavel. Pavel suggests that Art may be experiencing compunction for portraying Vladek unfavourably. Pavel besides suggests, in an interesting reversal, that possibly Vladek himself felt guilty for holding survived the Holocaust. This signifier of guilt, “ subsister ‘s guilt, ” is detailed in the following subdivision.

Survivor ‘s Guilt

The 2nd signifier of guilt found in the pages of Maus is more thematically complex. This guilt, called “ subsister ‘s guilt, ” is the merchandise of both Vladek and Art ‘s relationships with the Holocaust. Much of Maus revolves around this relationship between yesteryear and nowadays, and the effects of past events on the lives of those who did non see them ( see below ) . In the instances of both work forces, this relationship frequently manifests itself as guilt.

Though Art was born in Sweden after the terminal of World War II, both of his parents were subsisters of the Holocaust, and the event has affected him profoundly. In Chapter One of Book II, as Art and Francoise are driving to the Catskills, Art reflects on this in item, and Art ‘s relationship with the yesteryear is revealed to preponderantly take the signifier of guilt: “ Somehow, I wish I had been in Auschwitz with my parents so I could truly cognize what they lived through! I guess it ‘s some signifier of guilt about holding had an easier life than they did. ”

Vladek, excessively, appears to experience a deep sense of guilt about holding survived the Holocaust. As Art ‘s guilt persists through the late 1980s, five old ages after the decease of his male parent, he visits his head-shrinker, Pavel, and the two discuss the nature of guilt and what it means to be a Holocaust “ subsister. ” Vladek ‘s endurance in the Holocaust was non the effect of any peculiar accomplishment, but the consequence of fortune, both good and bad. Pavel turns the thought of guilt on its caput by proposing that Vladek himself really felt a strong sense of guilt for holding survived the Holocaust while so many of his friends and household did non. And possibly in response, Vladek took this guilt out on Art, the “ existent subsister, ” as Pavel calls him. In kernel, Vladek ‘s guilt may hold been passed down to his boy, set uping the foundation for the volumes of guilt that Art now feels towards his household and its history.

Past and Present

Maus consists of two primary narrations: 1 that takes topographic point in World War II Poland, and the other that takes topographic point in late 1970s/early 1980s New York. The relationship between these two narrations – and more by and large between the past and present – is a cardinal subject of the narrative. The events of the Holocaust continue to act upon the life of Vladek, a Holocaust subsister, and resound through future coevalss, finally impacting his boy, Art.

Many of Vladek ‘s curious personality traits can be linked to his experiences in the Holocaust. In 1978, Vladek is stubborn, cranky, and about comically ungenerous with his money. His relationship with his 2nd married woman, Mala, is strained and apparently devoid of love. Prior to World War II, nevertheless, he exhibits none of these features. He is sort, wealthy, and uncommonly resourceful, and his matrimony to Anja is filled with compassion and familiarity. His experiences in the Holocaust doubtless played a function in these dramatic personality alterations.

Once comparatively affluent, Vladek ‘s endurance in German-occupied Poland depended on his ability to stash and salvage even the smallest of points, such as the paper negligee from a piece of cheese, or the coffin nails from his hebdomadal rations. These little points took on tremendous importance to Vladek, and even many old ages subsequently, he feels unable to throw anything off. His obstinacy in 1978 can be explained by the fact that he survived the Holocaust mostly because he possessed a singular intelligence and resourcefulness that enabled him to get the necessary nutrient, supplies, shelter, and protection. Now he is much older, but he still thinks of himself as the same immature adult male who could make everything on his ain. He still wants to move consequently, traveling to such extremes as mounting onto the roof to repair a leaky drain. Still, as Art notes on a few separate occasions, the Holocaust can non explicate everything about his male parent: “ I used to believe the war made him this manner, ” Art reflects to Mala, in Chapter Six of Book I, to which she responds that “ all our friends went through the cantonments ; cipher is like him! ” Vladek has clearly ne’er to the full recovered from the horrors of the Holocaust. This fact is affectingly illustrated by his concluding words of the narrative, when he erroneously calls Art by the name of his first kid, who died during the war.

Though Art was born in Sweden after the war and did non see the Holocaust firsthand, his life has besides been profoundly affected by these indefinable events. To get down with, Art is straight affected by secondary “ aftershocks ” of the Holocaust, in that Vladek ‘s personality and rearing manner were clearly influenced by these events, and Art ‘s personality and lifestyle picks were in bend clearly guided by his male parent ‘s personality and parenting manner. Art describes a specific case of this transmittal to his married woman:

[ Vladek ] loved demoing off how ready to hand he was… and turn outing that anything I did was all incorrect. He made me wholly neurotic about repairing material… One ground I became an creative person was… it was an country where I would n’t hold to vie with him.

Art is besides affected by the yesteryear in less direct ways. To get down with, he feels about wholly consumed by the atrocious ghost of the Holocaust. As a kid, he sometimes fantasized that the showers in his house would spit gas alternatively of H2O, and he would frequently inquire himself which parent he would salvage if he could hold merely saved one from Auschwitz ( he normally picked his female parent ) . In many ways, he feels guilty about the fact that his parents were forced to populate through Auschwitz, whereas he was born after it ended, into a far more comfy and easy life.

The relationships between past and present are frequently illustrated diagrammatically within the context of the narrative. The most graphic representation of this construct occurs at the beginning of Chapter Two of Book II, in which Art is sitting at his pulling board above a sprawling heap of dead and bony Judaic mice.


The primary motive amongst Jews in the Holocaust is survival. Vladek sums up the procedure compactly while comforting his married woman after the decease of his first boy, Richieu: “ to decease, it ‘s easy… but you have to fight for life. ” Vladek ‘s experiences in the Holocaust stand for a changeless battle to last, foremost as his mill and income are taken off, so as the Jews are sent into the ghettos, and finally in the incubus of Auschwitz. And as the battle intensifies, the will to last Begins to interrupt the strong bonds of household, friendly relationship, and a common Judaic individuality.

In the initial phases of German business, these steps are comparatively little – purchasing nutrient on the black market, for illustration – and strengthened by strong household ties, a incorporate Judaic individuality, and even selflessness. When Vladek arrives place from the captive of war cantonment, for illustration, an old concern familiarity, Mr. Ilzecki, helps him gain money and get the proper work documents that will let him to walk the streets in comparative safety. As the state of affairs continues to deteriorate, nevertheless, Vladek, his household, and his friends are forced to fall back to progressively utmost steps in order to last. Here, the bonds of Judaic individuality begin to interrupt under the pressing inherent aptitude to last. The first mark of this comes in the signifier of Jews functioning on a Judaic Police force, like the 1s who came to Vladek ‘s flat to escort his married woman ‘s grandparents to the concentration cantonments. Harmonizing to Vladek, these Jews thought that by assisting the Nazis in taking some of the Jews, possibly they could assist salvage others – and of class they could besides salvage themselves. Soon after, the bonds of household besides begin to interrupt, as illustrated by Vladek ‘s cousin Haskel ‘s refusal to salvage them from conveyance to Auschwitz without some signifier of payment. Though Haskel finally does assist Vladek and Anja flight, he finally decides non to assist Anja ‘s parents, and they are sent off to their deceases.

The bond between Vladek and Anja remains solid throughout most of the narrative, as they foremost conceal together in the barns and back suites of Sosnowiec and are finally sent to neighbouring concentration cantonments. In the cantonments, Vladek and Anja are both preoccupied with their ain endurance, but Vladek is besides able to assist his married woman by giving her excess nutrient and emotional support. Soon, though, the Russians progress upon Auschwitz and Birkenau, and the twosome is inescapably separated. Vladek is hurried on a long, forced March through snow-clad forests to packed railroad autos where there is no nutrient or H2O for yearss. In stating this narrative to his boy, Vladek does non advert Anja once more until right before their eventual reunion in Sosnowiec. Unable to assist those around him, and unable to assist his married woman, he is left merely with his ain stubborn will to last.


The importance of fortune is closely related to treatments of endurance and guilt ( see above ) . Vladek is blessed with many accomplishments and qualities – including the ability to talk multiple linguistic communications – that provide him with chances to last within the confines of Auschwitz. Ultimately, nevertheless, Vladek ‘s endurance and the endurance of all other Holocaust subsisters hinges upon fortune. On infinite occasions throughout Vladek ‘s Holocaust ordeals, his life is spared merely by the narrowest of borders: the near-miss slug at the prisoner-of-war cantonment in Lublin ; the quarrel with the Gestapo while transporting 10 kgs of illegal sugar ; the dark Mrs. Motonowa forces him and Anja out of her house ; the instance of typhus at Dachau ; and many, many other incidents. No affair how resourceful Vladek is, no affair how many linguistic communications he knows or occupations he can execute, he can non finally salvage himself from the horrors of the Holocaust. Rather, the affair of his life and decease finally depends upon a long line of opportunity results, most of which go on to fall his manner. The remainder of his household, including his parents and five siblings, are non so lucky. Pavel, Art ‘s head-shrinker, suggests that this thought may hold contributed to a strong sense of guilt in Vladek for holding survived the Holocaust while so many of his friends and household did non.

Race and Class

Unsurprisingly, given the capable affair, issues of race and category figure to a great extent in the secret plan, subjects, and construction of Maus. At the most basic degree, issues of race play themselves out on the expansive graduated table of the Holocaust, a awful apogee of mindless racism that is drawn and described in all its ferociousness and efficiency. But Maus besides deals with these issues in other, more elusive ways, through the usage of different carnal faces to portray different races.

In Maus, Jews are portrayed as mice, while Germans are portrayed as cats. The metaphor of Jews as mice is taken straight from Nazi propaganda, which portrayed the Jews as a sort of varmint to be exterminated. The cat/mouse relationship is besides an disposed metaphor for the relationship between the Nazis and Jews: the Nazis toyed with the Jews before finally killing them.

The determination to portray different races as different sorts of animate beings has been criticized as over-simplistic and for advancing cultural stereotypes. Beneath the simple metaphor, nevertheless, is an sincere effort to exemplify the dogged stratification by category and race that was really much a portion of life in World War II-era Poland. Within the pages of Vladek ‘s narrative, the Jews are seldom seen socialising with the non-Jewish Poles, except in instances where the Poles service as janitors, governesses, or other family helpers. The thought of stratification and categorization is best illustrated by the adult male in the concentration cantonment who claims that he is German, non Judaic, and who is finally taken aside and killed. When Art asks his male parent whether the adult male was truly a German, Vladek replies, “ who knows… it was German captives in there besides… But for the Germans this cat was Judaic. ” There were no sunglassess of grey within the German system of racial categorization. Indeed, this in-between land is so rare within the pages of Maus that the lone case of assorted matrimony ( Shivek ‘s brother, who married a German adult female ) comes as rather a daze, particularly when we see their kids, who are drawn as cat/mouse loanblends.

This, nevertheless, is non the lone signifier of racism that exists within the pages of Maus. One of the most interesting facets of the narrative is the fact that Vladek, who survived the horrors of the Holocaust, is himself a racialist. When Francoise picks up an Afro-american hitchhiker on their manner back from the food market shop, Vladek can barely incorporate his choler that she has allow a “ shvartser ” into the auto and spends the whole drive place watching his food markets to do certain they are n’t stolen. This episode serves as a reminder that the racism of the Holocaust survives in other signifiers to this twenty-four hours.

Merely as the animate being metaphor is an effort to explicate an bing societal stratification, other facets of the narrative seem to propose that this stratification is a manufactured semblance. This is most clearly illustrated in opening pages of Chapter Two of Book II, which take topographic point after the publication of the first book of Maus. In this narrative, Art Spiegelman is clearly holding uncertainties about the carnal metaphors that form the anchor of the narrative. Here, people are still characterized by animate beings based on race, but these word pictures are now clearly merely masks that have been tied to their caputs with a spot of twine. Thus the thought of race is merely an ruse, Spiegelman suggests, and underneath the masks we are all basically the same.