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Themes and Colors
The Holocaust and the Responsibility of its Survivors Theme Icon
Family, Identity, and Jewishness Theme Icon
Grief, Memory, and Love Theme Icon
Guilt, Anger, and Redemption Theme Icon
Death, Chance, and Human Interdependence Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Maus, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Guilt, Anger, and Redemption Theme Icon

In addition to being a narrative of war and survival, Maus is, in large part, a chronicle of Artie’s efforts to understand his father despite the fractured bonds between them. Their difficult relationship bears marks of tragedies that have shaped them — the devastation wrought by the Holocaust, and the trauma of Anja’s suicide — but their troubles are also a product of their basic human shortcomings, their native selfishness and neuroticism. Artie strives to be as honest as possible about his relationship with Vladek, and about his father’s many shortcomings. He knows that Vladek, for all the strength, resourcefulness, and courage he displayed during the war, is not an uncomplicated hero, and that it would be misleading to depict him as such — especially given his own lingering feelings of resentment toward Vladek, which an unambiguously positive portrait would disguise.

Though the most difficult aspects of this relationship never resolve themselves entirely — in the second volume of Maus, written after Vladek dies from congestive heart failure, Artie confesses that “[m]y father’s ghost still hangs over me” — Artie’s interviews with Vladek help bring to light the deep love at the center of all their family’s troubles. Vladek showers Artie with warmth and affection, even as he stifles him with unsolicited advice and manipulative demands for attention. He expresses unwavering love for Anja, and on multiple occasions insists that their love for each other gave them strength to survive the most difficult moments of the war.

Artie gains some deeper understanding of his father through their interviews, but the loss of his mother’s diaries means that he cannot use the book to explore or resolve the deeply conflicted feelings he feels toward her. In his comic “Prisoner on the Hell Planet” —  which Mala, and later Vladek, finds and reads — Artie describes the overwhelming mix of anger and guilt that possessed him after his mother’s suicide: he knows that friends and neighbors blame him for Anja’s death, and admits that he has turned his back on his mother in moments when she desperately needed to feel loved, but nevertheless feels that Anja is the one who has “murdered” him, turning his life upside down and trapping him in a prison of guilt. His inability to sort through these conflicted feelings in the same way he examines his difficult relationship with Vladek leaves Artie in a state of unresolved tension, even after hundreds of pages and panels.

The final image in the book, of the gravestone that bears both Vladek and Anja’s names, suggests Artie has relinquished his anger and is ready to let his parents’ memories rest peacefully. Though his story does not have a neat or satisfying ending, Artie must release his pain before he can finish his work and move forward with his life. Yet it’s important to note that his gesture of love and forgiveness does not completely heal Artie’s suffering, or that of his parents. A difficult story like theirs cannot be redeemed easily, and given the scope and magnitude of the disasters that shaped them, may not be redeemable at all. To carry on in the face of all that has happened, Artie must settle for “good-enough” resolutions and learn to live with pain and uneasiness where he cannot overcome it.

Guilt, Anger, and Redemption ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Guilt, Anger, and Redemption appears in each chapter of Maus. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Guilt, Anger, and Redemption Quotes in Maus

Below you will find the important quotes in Maus related to the theme of Guilt, Anger, and Redemption.
Part 1, Chapter 4 Quotes

Ilzecki and his wife didn’t come out from the war. But his son remained alive; ours did not.

Related Characters: Vladek Spiegelman (speaker), Richieu , Mr. Ilzecki
Page Number: I.81
Explanation and Analysis:

Vladek and his wife, Anja, had a first son named Richieu, and when Vladek explains his experiences during the Holocaust to his son Artie, he lingers on the memory of Richieu. Here, he tells Artie that his associate, Mr. Ilzecki, had a young son who survived World War II--despite the fact that Ilzecki himself did not. By contrast, Valdek did survive the war, though his first child did not.

There is no rhyme or reason in World War II, and in fate in general--indeed, as the passage suggests, the only "rule" of the war seems to be that no family emerged unscathed. Vladek was lucky and blessed to survive the Holocaust, but he could do nothing to pass on his good fortune to his child.


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Part 1, Chapter 5 Quotes

He wants me to go help him fix his roof or something. Shit! Even as a kid I hated helping him around the house. He loved showing off how handy he was … and proving that anything I did was all wrong. He made me completely neurotic about fixing stuff. I mean, I didn’t even own a hammer until we moved into this place! One reason I became an artist was that he thought it was impractical — just a waste of time … it was an area where I wouldn’t have to compete with him.

Related Characters: Arthur (Artie) Spiegelman (speaker), Vladek Spiegelman , Françoise Mouly
Page Number: I.97
Explanation and Analysis:

Artie has a tough relationship with his father. Vladek is a stern, overbearing father, intensely critical of his son. Vladek's behavior seems a little surprising, considering how much hardship he went through during the Holocaust. He attacks Artie for the smallest, most trivial of mistakes--as if constantly disapproving of Artie for having an easier life than Vladek's own.

Artie admits that he's spent a large chunk of his life quarreling with his father--indeed, he chose to become an artist because his father couldn't compete with him there. The passage is important in that it reinforces the tension between father and son, a tension that Artie is trying to alleviate by writing a book about his father's experiences. Spiegelman doesn't excuse or condone his father's behavior--being a Holocaust survivor doesn't make you a saint, or even a good father. Rather, he uses his comic book to show Vladek (and himself!) in all his strengths and weaknesses.

In 1968 my mother killed herself … she left no note!

Related Characters: Arthur (Artie) Spiegelman (speaker), Anja (Anna) Spiegelman
Page Number: I.100
Explanation and Analysis:

Artie recalls one of the saddest moments of his life--the suicide of his mother, Anja. Anja always had a difficult relationship with her son. In his last interaction with her, Anja woke Artie up in the middle of the night to ask if she loved him, and Artie sarcastically said "Sure, ma." Artie felt that his relatives blamed him for Anja's suicide--they believed that because of his own issues (he had recently been released from a mental hospital) Anja had killed herself.

Artie's description of Anja's suicide--focusing on the fact that she left no note--is interesting because it suggests Anja's pain or spitefulness, or maybe Artie's denial, or maybe neither. By refusing to leave a suicide note, it would seem, Anja was trying to cause her family as much pain as possible--or else she was in so much pain that she couldn't even write anything. But perhaps it's wrong to make assumptions about Anja's behavior, as Artie clearly does. The fact that Artie faults Anja for not leaving a note suggests that he's still trapped in his own sense of guilt and responsibility, angry at Anja because she left no way for him to resolve anything at all.

Well, Mom, if you’re listening … Congratulations! … You’ve committed the perfect crime … You put me here … shorted all my circuits … cut my nerve endings … and crossed my wires! … You murdered me, Mommy, and you left me here to take the rap!!!

Related Characters: Arthur (Artie) Spiegelman (speaker), Anja (Anna) Spiegelman
Page Number: I.103
Explanation and Analysis:

Artie creates a comic book in which he tries to come to terms with his mother's suicide. In the comic book, he depicts himself in a prison cell, yelling at Anja. Artie screams that Anja has sent him to jail for murder: she's killed herself, manipulating the rest of the family to blame Artie for the tragedy. Artie will always be "trapped" in the prison of his own guilt and shame.

The passage is important for two reasons. First, it reinforces the tense relationship between Artie and his family: Artie is an enormously complicated individual, and in many ways he's still living out the legacy of the Holocaust, in the sense that he's living in the shadow of his parents' pain and suffering. Second, the passage reinforces why Artie writes Maus in the first place: as with Anja's death, he thinks that he can use art, fiction, and even humor to move past his own pain and guilt.

Part 1, Chapter 6 Quotes

Mala: Pragmatic? Cheap!! It causes him physical pain to part with even a nickel!

Artie: Uh-huh. I used to think the war made him that way.

Mala: Fah! I went through the camps … All our friends went through the camps. Nobody is like him!

Artie: Mm … It’s something that worries me about the book I’m doing about him … In some ways he’s just like the racist caricature of the miserly old Jew.

Related Characters: Arthur (Artie) Spiegelman (speaker), Mala Spiegelman (speaker), Vladek Spiegelman
Page Number: I.131
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Artie complains about Vladek to Vladek's wife, Mala. He wonders aloud if he should forgive Vladek for his stinginess and irritability because of the fact that Vladek survived the Holocaust. Mala insists that Artie should do no such thing--Vladek turned out irritable because of his own personality, not the Holocaust.

The passage is interesting because it confronts a traditional Jewish stereotype--the miserly, greedy, "Shylock" Jew. Artie is deeply concerned with how to represent his father in print--it seems wrong to make a stereotypical Jew the protagonist of a book about the Holocaust (a tragedy that was partly caused because the Nazis used anti-Semitic propaganda that trafficked in the very stereotypes Vladek echoes).

In short, the passage raises profound artistic and ethical questions--who should be the protagonist of a book about the Holocaust? Who is the "representative" figure of such a book? And what is the "correct" way to represent Jews in the post-Holocaust world? Of course, Spiegelman suggests, there is no such thing as a representative Holocaust victim--the Holocaust killed without any regard to people's personalities. By the same token, Artie chooses to present Vladek as he really is--despite the fact that in some ways he seems like a Jewish stereotype. Just because miserliness is a stereotype doesn't mean Vladek isn't really a stingy person. Artie's commitment to truth and accuracy is so great that he's venturing into dubious ethical ground.

Vladek: These notebooks, and other really nice things of mother … one time I had a very bad day … and all of these things I destroyed.

Artie: You what?

Vladek: After Anja died I had to make an order with everything … These papers had too many memories, so I burned them.

Related Characters: Arthur (Artie) Spiegelman (speaker), Vladek Spiegelman (speaker), Anja (Anna) Spiegelman
Page Number: I.158
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Vladek tells Artie about Anja’s notebooks. Anja kept journals and diaries for many years—included in these diaries, it’s implied, were discussions of her time in the Holocaust, her feelings for Vladek and Artie, and many other important pieces of information. To Artie’s genuine shock, Vladek hasn’t preserved his wife’s papers—after she committed suicide he destroyed them in order to escape from “the memories.”

The passage illustrates a basic difference between Vladek and Artie: Artie wants to remember, Vladek wants to forget. Artie is writing a book on the Holocaust, but seems not to consider the ethical implications of what he’s doing; by interviewing his father, he’s asking him to relive the worst moments of his life. By the same token, Artie can’t understand why Vladek would burn Anja’s diaries—he’s so hungry for information (information that could potentially absolve him of some of the responsibility for Anja’s suicide) that he can’t conceive of anyone who wouldn’t want it.

God damn you! You — you murderer!

Related Characters: Arthur (Artie) Spiegelman (speaker), Vladek Spiegelman , Anja (Anna) Spiegelman
Page Number: I.159
Explanation and Analysis:

Immediately after Artie learns that Vladek burned Anja’s papers, he lashes out at his father. Artie is furious that Vladek destroyed Anja’s writing, in part because he believes that the writing could have relieved some of his intense guilt, or at least given him a sense of resolution (Artie partly blames himself for his mother’s suicide years before). His hunger for knowledge—and forgiveness, which he associates with information—means that he’s furious with his father for denying him the chance for this forgiveness. Artie even calls his father a murderer--by burning Anja's papers, it's as if Vladek has killed Anja all over again.

In essence, Artie is making his father a scapegoat for his own lack of closure with regard to Anja’s death. There’s no guarantee that Anja’s papers and diaries would have brought Artie any peace or comfort—so it’s easier for him to get angry with Vladek than it is for him to face the facts: he’ll never be truly at peace with his mother's death. Artie still feels that he caused his Anja's suicide—and so by yelling at his father, he deflects some of the guilt he (Artie) feels.

Part 2, Chapter 1 Quotes

I never felt guilty about Richieu. But I did have nightmares about S.S. men coming into my class and dragging all us Jewish kids away. Don’t get me wrong. I wasn’t obsessed with this stuff … It’s just that sometimes I’d fantasize Zyklon B coming out of our shower instead of water. I know this is insane, but I somehow wish I had been in Auschwitz with my parents so I could really know what they lived through! … I guess it’s some kind of guilt about having had an easier life than they did.

Related Characters: Arthur (Artie) Spiegelman (speaker), Anja (Anna) Spiegelman , Françoise Mouly , Richieu
Page Number: II.16
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Artie tries to come to terms with his own guilt concerning the Holocaust. He tells his wife, Francoise, that he sometimes wishes he’d been a part of the Holocaust. Furthermore, he continues to think about his dead brother, Richieu—although he claims not to feel any survivor’s guilt, it’s clear enough that he does.

In short, Artie feels guilty that he's alive and his brother, Richieu, is dead: growing up, Artie sometimes felt that he was competing with Richieu (who died long before Artie was born) for his parents' love. Artie senses that there's always going to be a gap between himself and his parents: because his parents went through the horrors of the Holocaust, they'll never be able to understand Artie's "normal," trivial life.

Spiegelman doesn't reveal if Artie is right to point to a gap between his own life and those of his parents. Of course Anja and Vladek have had hard lives--but that doesn't necessarily mean that they're unable to love Artie fully (although this does help explain some of Artie's troubles with Vladek and his constant criticisms). Spiegelman implies that Artie is just burdened with guilt--even though his parents really do seem to love him, he feels a perverse desire to go through the Holocaust so that he can be truly close to them.