Analyze the relationship between Art Spiegelman and his father, Vladek. How do the tensions in their contemporary father-son dynamic complicate the enterprise of recording Vladek’s historical experience of the Holocaust?
In the book Art Spiegelman creates in order to understand his father and what he went through during the Holocaust, Art is bluntly honest about his relationship with his father. He neither understands his father nor in many areas even likes his father. When he interviews his father for his book Maus, Art is horrified at what his parents went through and begins at last to understand his father's stinginess with money, his emotional isolation with all the losses he has absorbed, and his complicated relationship with his son, Art. Trying to record his father is a trying experience as Vladek often quits because the emotion becomes too much to handle just as Artie gets to the crux of what he wants to record. Vladek is reluctant to go back to the cruelty and capriciousness of what happens to the people he loves, so he shuts down the memories Artie is trying to capture and understand. Art desperately wants to know exactly what happened to his father, mother and brother while Vladek is torn between allowing Artie to see the horror while having to relive the terrible memories. As a result, the recording takes much longer than Artie wishes as well as bringing back memories Vladek had tried to bury.
At the beginning of Maus, Art Spiegelman goes to visit his father, Vladek, a Holocaust survivor who lives in Rego Park, Queens. Spiegelman says of his father, "we weren't that close" (page 11). When Spiegelman asks Vladek to tell him his story of growing up in Poland and surviving the Holocaust, Vladek says, "No one wants anyway to hear such stories" (page 12). Vladek tells much of his story to Spiegelman, but Vladek also tells Spiegelman that he wants to keep his story private and not share it publicly.
Vladek's memories are so painful that he wants to erase them, which is at odds with Spiegelman's attempt to record the past and, in the process, make sense of it. After Spiegelman's mother, Anja, commits suicide, Vladek destroys her diaries. Vladek later says, "After Anja died, I had to make an order with everything.... These papers had too many memories, so I burned them" (page 159). Therefore, while Vladek wants to forget the painful past in an effort to simply survive, Spiegelman feels that he must unearth the past to reclaim some kind of sanity and to make sense of his mother's death. Their relationship, filled with guilt over Anja's suicide, makes it difficult for Spiegelman to document what happened to his father. Vladek makes Spiegelman feel guilty and haunted for simply wanting to know what happened to his family in the past and to understand his parents' pain.