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Maus Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Art Spiegelman's Maus. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Art Spiegelman
Spiegelman was born in Stockholm, Sweden. His parents, Wladyslaw and Andzia Spiegelman (whose names he transliterated as Vladek and Anja in Maus, to make their correct pronunciation more obvious to his readers) were Polish Jews and Holocaust survivors who had been sent to Sweden as refugees following the end of the Second World War. The Spiegelman family immigrated to the United States in 1951. They settled in the Rego Park neighborhood of Queens, in New York City. Spiegelman studied art and philosophy at Harpur College (now known as the State University of New York at Binghamton), but did not graduate because he experienced a mental health crisis that forced him to withdraw from school. In 1971, Spiegelman moved from New York to San Francisco, and began to establish himself as a comics artist. He published work in several underground magazines, and edited an anthology of small-press comics called Arcade. In 1977, he married Françoise Mouly. The couple founded Raw magazine in 1980. By this time, Spiegelman had begun to interview his father, Wladyslaw, about his experiences in the wartime Poland and Germany, and to draw comics based on their conversations. He published the first of the comics that would eventually become Maus in the second issue of Raw, in December 1980. Over the next several years, until the magazine ceased publication in 1991, he continued to publish segments of Maus in each issue. The comics were published in novel form in 1986, and a second volume, which continued Vladek and Anja’s story through Auschwitz and Dachau, was published in 1992. Both volumes met with critical and commercial success. Spiegelman spent ten years as a staff artist for The New Yorker magazine, where Mouly worked — and continues to work — as an art editor. His tenure lasted from 1992 until 2001, during which time he drew the iconic image that appeared on the magazine cover immediately after the September 11, 2001 attacks on New York’s World Trade Center. Spiegelman published his reflections on those attacks in his 2004 book, In the Shadow of No Towers. Spiegelman and Mouly have two children together, Nadja and Dashiell. He lives in New York, where continues to publish comics and other art.
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Historical Context of Maus
In 1932, in the middle of a devastating economic depression, the people of Germany elected several members of the National Socialist German Worker’s Party — known as the Nazi Party — to positions of power in the German parliament. A few months later, the Nazi Party’s leader, Adolf Hitler was appointed Chancellor of Germany, the highest position of leadership in the German government. Hitler and the Nazi Party had gained significant public support in a very small amount of time. The nation was experiencing a social crisis as well as an economic one, and the Nazis made many people hopeful with their vision of a renewed, strengthened Germany. The Nazis’ “hopeful” vision centered around the eradication of “undesirable” individuals. People they considered undesirable included ethnic, sexual, and religious minorities; people with disabilities; political dissidents; people who had committed crimes; and many others. More than anyone, though, Hitler and the Nazi Party targeted Jews. Nazi propaganda painted Jews as subhuman —more like animals than people — and blamed them for all of Germany’s many problems.
Other Books Related to Maus
Jewish-American novelists such as Saul Bellow and Philip Roth — along with countless others — have often considered the reverberations of the Second World War and the Holocaust in the lives of American Jews. Roth, in novels such as The Ghost Writer and American Pastoral, focuses on younger generations of Jewish-Americans grappling with many of the same issues that concern Spiegelman: cultural memory and a sense of inherited responsibility as they struggle to understand their Jewish identity. Graphic novels such as Persepolis, Marjane Satrapi’s autobiographical novel about the Islamic Revolution in Iran; and Fun Home, Alison Bechdel’s memoir of homosexuality and family turmoil, have also used the comics style to explore serious questions of personal and political history.
Key Facts about Maus
  • Full Title: Maus: A Survivor’s Tale
  • When Written: 1978-1991
  • Where Written: _enter text_
  • When Published: The first volume of Maus (“My Father Bleeds History”) was serialized in Raw magazine, beginning in 1980 and ending in 1991, when the magazine ceased publication. The first volume was published in book form in 1986. The second volume (“And Here My Troubles Began”) was published in 1991.
  • Literary Period: Postmodernism
  • Genre: Graphic Novel, Memoir
  • Setting: Poland and Germany (1930s and 40s); Rego Park, Queens (1970s and 80s); Catskill Mountains (1979); New York City (1987).
  • Climax: After years of moving between ghettos and hiding places, Vladek and Anja are sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau.
  • Antagonist: German soldiers and hostile Polish civilians are obvious antagonists for the Jews who are struggling to survive amidst persecution. However, the story also explores the many ways in which Jewish people — and others were who suffered alongside them in concentration camps and in war-torn Poland — harm and undermine one another in moments of desperation. Though Vladek and Anja are beneficiaries of amazing acts of kindness and humanity, and often do their best to help others in return, Maus shows clearly how danger and privation breed selfishness and callousness.
  • Point of View: First Person (Vladek and Artie); Third Person (Limited to Artie)
Extra Credit for Maus

Shoah. Some scholars and religious leaders have taken issue with the term “holocaust.” Though the word has been used for decades to refer to the genocide of European Jews, and has been used to describe other mass killings in history, it originates from a Greek word that means “a completely burnt offering to God.” Some argue that to refer to the genocide as a “holocaust” is to compare those murders to religious sacrifices — and that this comparison dignifies the violence and disrespects the victims. Many who disagree with the use of the term “holocaust” substitute “shoah,” a Hebrew term that translates as “catastrophe.”

A Controversial Metaphor. Spiegelman faced criticism, after Maus’s publication, for his use of animal heads in place of human faces. Because different animals correspond to different ethnicities, he was accused of perpetuating Nazi-like divisions between people of different races, and further dehumanizing the same people Nazis had tried to dehumanize through their violence. The book found a particularly harsh audience in Poland, where many were insulted by the depiction of Polish people as pigs.