In his graphic novel titled Maus, how does Art Spiegelman use body language and dialogue to make us believe we are reading a story about humans even though the characters are animals?

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vangoghfan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In his graphic novel titled Maus, Art Spiegelman uses a number of devices to make us think we are reading about human beings even though the characters he draws are animals (especially mice).  Among those devices are the following:

  • Presentation of common human situations, such as the son’s visit to a father he hasn’t seen for a while – the episode with which the book opens.
  • Use of simple, colloquial, credible language – the kind of language most people use and with which most people are familiar.
  • Use of distinctive dialects, as in the Yiddish-inflected speech of the father.  Thus, at one point early in the book, the father asks Artie,

“How is going the comics business?”

Instead of asking “How is the comics business going?” the father speaks English like an East European Jewish immigrant and thus seems to talk as a real human being might talk.

  • The characters express themselves using common human gestures. Thus, when the father and son first see each other, they greet each other with open “arms.” When the father introduces his son to the father’s second wife, the father clasps the son’s shoulders in an obvious expression of pride. When the father is angry that his second wife has tried to hang up the son’s coat on a wire hanger, the father’s eyebrow is heavy, dark, and furrowed.  In short, Spiegelman uses common and highly familiar human gestures and expressions to help convey the sense that he is presenting persons even though he is drawing mice.
  • By naming the son “Artie” and by making him a person working in the “comics business,” Spiegelman clearly suggests that the novel has autobiographical relevance – that he is describing his own family and its history.