What is the book Maus by Art Spiegelman about? Who is the hero in the book?

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tinicraw eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Maus is about Vladek Spiegelman's life and survival of the Holocaust. Since the story is mostly about Vladek, he is the protagonist. The story is told in the format of a graphic novel, which is written and illustrated by Vladek's son, Artie. It chronicles Vladek's journey from bachelorhood to marrying into a wealthy Jewish family, and then through the horrors of World War II and concentration camps. Vladek and his wife Anja have a son named Richieu who doesn't make it through the war because the woman they send him to for protection eventually poisons him in order to avoid going to a concentration camp.

Artie writes himself into the tale and shows how difficult it was for him growing up with Holocaust survivors for parents. The traumatic effects of the way Jews were treated during World War II never leave his parents, even after they arrive in the United States. Unfortunately, Artie's mother commits suicide in 1968 because she was never able to fully recover from her experiences and adapt to life after the Holocaust. Even worse, Vladek destroys his wife's diaries after her death, so Artie does not have his mother's perspective to draw from when writing the book.

The most unique quality of Maus is that Spiegelman draws Jews as mice, Nazis as cats, Poles as pigs, and Americans as dogs. The animal images symbolize the different roles all of these nations take during the war. For the most part the images of Jews drawn as mice help to drive home the message about how they were treated and how they felt in relation to their Nazi enemies. Not only did anti-Jewish propaganda depicting Jews as rats surface before the war, but these people were treated like rats. Jews had to survive by hiding, running, and rummaging for scraps due to the Nazi anti-Jewish agenda, just like mice or rats.