In his graphic memoir of his parents' experiences during the Holocaust, Maus, how effective is Art Spiegelman's portrayal of people of different races and nationalities as different animals?
In conceptualizing his graphic depiction of his parents' experiences during the Holocaust, Maus, Art Spiegelman was very deliberative in his choices of animals to represent different categories of humanity. The most obvious example of this was his use of mice to depict the Jewish victims of German and Polish anti-Semitism, and the use of cats to portray the German soldiers and concentration camp guards who were instrumental in executing Adolf Hitler's Final Solution. The natural relationship between cats and mice easily lends itself to a depiction of murderous bullies and their weaker victims. Cats not only pursue mice with the intention of devouring them, they are also well-known to toy with or mentally torture their intended victims before they move in for the final kill. That is about as appropriate an analogy to Germany's treatment of Europe's Jewish population, within the confines of the use of the animal kingdom as a parable for human conduct, as one can hope to identify.
Other of Spiegelman’s selections within the animal kingdom are equally obvious in their application to human subjects. Polish police officers are depicted as pigs, in keeping with the derogatory designation of law enforcement officers as pigs among the more liberal members of American society, especially during the 1960s and 1970s (Spiegelman’s biography, including his work for liberal and sometimes anti-establishment publications, is consistent with this explanation). British soldiers are depicted as fish, consistent with, in Spiegelman’s own words, “an island culture separate from Europe, fish-and-chips, cold blooded . . .” In short, the author of the Maus “tales” devoted time and energy to ensuring that the people depicted in his stories were represented by those animals most closely identified with these peoples’ conduct.
How effective was Spiegelman in his use of animals in Maus? The answer is very subjective. Different readers will respond in different ways. To this educator, however, the author’s use of animals was very effective. Spiegelman succeeded in emphasizing the nature of his subjects, especially with respect to the German cats and the Jewish mice, the most important element of these volumes. The larger, domineering cats and their intense hatred for and ridicule of the small, weak minority of mice in their midst serve as a powerful parable for the most horrific event in human history.