Maus Questions and Answers
by Art Spiegelman

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In the graphic novel The Complete Maus, what are some specific examples of how Artie and Vladek become survivors? What are they surviving against? What are some examples of how this text reflects postmodernism?

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In the graphic novel Maus, Art Spiegelman depicts his family's experiences in the Holocaust. The premise of the novel is that Artie (the character who represents Spiegelman in the novel) interviews his father, Vladek, about his experiences in Europe and the concentration camps before, during, and after the Holocaust. Vladek and his wife Anya survived the Holocaust, though with much struggle. Art/Artie was born after the Holocaust, but his parents had another son, Richieu, who died during World War II. The family he was hiding with for safekeeping committed mass suicide in order to avoid going to the camps. 

Both parts of the novel, Maus I and Maus II, portray various examples of Vladek's survival. Vladek is very savvy and is able to find advantages even in the most dire of circumstances. Before he is captured and sent to the camps, he is able to negotiate and trade for food and supplies to take care of his family. Once he is in the camps, he uses his skills to do favors for guards and earns new shoes, clothes that fit, and special foods. Art himself is not exactly a "survivor" in the way that his parents are since he never directly experienced the Holocaust. However, Artie may experience some sort of survivor's guilt because of the fact that his brother, Richieu, did not survive and Artie himself was spared the horrors of the Holocaust itself. Artie, of course, also has to live with the effects the Holocaust has on his parents. His mother commits suicide eventually, and his father is suspicious, paranoid, and sometimes a bit skittish. 

The text could be considered postmodern mostly as a result of its form and style. The form of the graphic novel alone is an odd choice for this subject matter, but Spiegelman's decision to portray the Jewish characters as mice and the Nazis and other Germans as cats is what truly puts this work into the realm of postmodernism. Some critics think that the cat and mouse metaphor cheapens the content of the novel and makes the Spiegelmans' experience seem less serious or immediate. However, others believe that the metaphor is particularly apt and conveys something essential about the relationship between Jews and Nazis during the World War II era. The novel cannot be easily categorized. It is based on factual, autobiographical accounts, but the ideas are dramatized through cartoons in which the characters are necessarily fictionalized to some extent (for example, the Spiegelmans are obviously not literally mice). The graphic novel genre is associated more with comics and superhero series than with profound historical events. This mixing of genres and the metafictional quality of the work (Spiegelman's novel is about how he gathered the ideas for his novel and put them together—then about how he felt after publishing the first volume of the work) make it a postmodern text. 

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