Using examples from Maus I and Maus II by Art Spiegelman, what is the significance of the author's decision to portray people of different races and nationalities as different animals? What effect does this have on the understanding and impact of the story?
(Give specific examples from both MAUS I and MAUS II)
I have to write a five paragraph essay about this question and I am struggling to write three body paragraphs on this. I find it hard to write long paragraphs on this topic when it seems there is not much to say.
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A compelling reason for depicting people as animals and for using different animals for different races and nationalities is to remove or reduce some of the pain and impact of the reality which, as Spiegelman says through his mouse character in Maus II, is "worse than my darkest dreams." The holocaust is such a prominent event in history that, in order to remain somewhat removed and to accept that the "real" horror can never be explained, representation, such as Spiegelman uses in his caricatures, is a technique which allows people to draw conclusions without overtly offending anyone, although there can be no misunderstanding the depiction of Poles (excepting Polish Jews) as pigs, for example. The graphic images are also quite dramatic. Although this is a personal story, the personal feelings do not dominate the reader's understanding which allows for subjectivity without being held accountable.
Having introduced the concept of representation (which animal represents which nationality and the possible reasons), discuss Spiegelman's awareness of his inability or inadequacy, despite both his parents having survived Aushcwitz, to give a reasonable account. The initial interview with his father reveals deep-seated resentments but does not automatically transfer these feelings to the reader. The reader, instead, can take a far more personal journey. Have you ever stopped to consider:
"Friends? Your friends? If you lock them together in a room with no food for a week, then you could see what it is, friends!
In keeping with a universal appeal, in Maus I, Spiegelman tries to show his impartiality whilst describing his father as, "like the racist caricature of the miserly old Jew." Stereotyping is undesirable but seemingly unavoidable and Speigelman is pointing this out. Using animals somehow avoids a direct comparison. The reader is allowed to forget for a while what he is really reading about. This makes the impact so much stronger by the end as the reader considers the real scope of the story.
Using a literary device (anthropomorphism) ensures that his work serves a purpose and exposes some of the horror whilst also having the capacity to introduce people to the holocaust in a far less threatening way than any real-life accounts. It is human nature to avoid certain realities and this allows readers some insight without them having to consider any of the real suffering. So with the concept of representation to discuss, this flows into a need to expose people- and not just historians - to the damaging effects of the holocaust whilst at the same time protecting them from it. Spielgelman knows only too well how devastating the after effects are; his own mother committed suicide.
Another important point is that there is no need to know any historical facts. This gives it a far broader audience and a universal appeal. The animal imagery also allows for interpretation and exposes the ridiculous rationale behind racism in general, such as Francoise's confusion in wondering which animal should represent her (as a French woman who converted to Judaism): "But if you’re a mouse, I ought to be a mouse, too. I converted, didn't I?" Racism is a universal theme and the story's message then is not restricted in time or place. The challenge is for the reader to see, not only the shortcomings of others and the destructive nature of, for example, racism, but to also recognize his own failings and inadequacies that may otherwise be lost in a personal account.
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