In Spiegelman's Maus, what are possible reasons for a distant relationship between Art and his father?

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tinicraw eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Spiegelman's Maus, Artie keeps his father, Vladek, at a distance because of many traumatic events they've experienced in their family. Father and son don't understand one another mostly because of the following: the effects the Holocaust had on Vladek; the loss of Anja (wife and mother) to suicide; and the differences of opinions about prejudice and racism. Because of these and many other differences, the generational gap between Artie and Vladek sometimes seems unbridgeable. 

First, one of the effects of the Holocaust on Vladek is that he becomes a hoarder. During the war, Vladek suffered from the lack of food, clothing, and shelter, which are basic necessities of life. As a result, Vladek takes nothing for granted and saves everything. This behavior bugs Artie. For example, when father and son are walking to the bank in chapter five, Vladek stoops down and picks up a piece of telephone wire. Artie becomes upset and says, "You always pick up trash! Can't you just buy wire?" (118). What Artie doesn't understand is that Vladek learned not to throw anything away in case it might be useful later. During the war, Vladek lived each day never knowing when his next meal would be. He learned to be resourceful and take advantage of anything he finds. Artie, on the other hand, believes that it is better to go buy what he needs rather than to recycle "trash." The lack of understanding between father and son on this subject adds to the distance between them in their relationship. 

Next, Vladek doesn't understand his son because Artie felt like a prisoner while living in his parents' home after being released from a mental hospital. For instance, at the beginning of chapter five, Artie shares part of his adult life from a work entitled, "Prisoner on the Hell Planet: A Case History" (102-105). This section shows Artie suffering from deep depression, but it also chronicles his mother's suicide. Artie harbors some resentment towards his father because he had to comfort Vladek during the grieving process, not the other way around. Artie says in shock, "I was expected to comfort Him!" (103). Artie does not like the fact that his father is so self-absorbed with the loss of Anja that he doesn't even consider Artie's feelings during the grieving process. Again, this creates a resentful rift from Artie towards his father.

Finally, Artie and Vladek have different opinions about other races. Vladek's opinion is different from what might be expected from someone who suffered violence in the name of prejudice under the Nazi regime. For instance, when Francoise pulls the car over to give an African American man a ride, Vladek becomes angry at her and says in Polish, "I just can't believe it! There's a shvartser sitting in here!" (259). After the man exits the car, Artie becomes angry at his father's racist behavior. He tells his father the following:

"That's outrageous! How can you, of all people, be such a racist! You talk about blacks the way the Nazis talked about the Jews" (259).

Vladek responds with the following:

"I thought really you are more smart than this, Francoise . . . It's not even to compare the shvartsers and the Jews!" (259).

Artie can see the hypocrisy between his father's actions toward an African American and how he was treated during the war. For some odd reason, though, Vladek can't see it. Vladek believes that Jews are better than African Americans even though he suffered through one of the worst atrocities in history because one group of people hated another. After this incident, Artie wants to leave his father immediately and not talk to him for a long time. Each man has had such a different life from the other that it is difficult for father and son to communicate effectively. As a result, their relationship is strained and distant. 

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Maus

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