Art Spiegelman’s “Maus” – New Voice of the Holocaust Victims

Maus by Art Spiegelman is a graphic novel, which gives personal account of the Holocaust tragedy.  The novel uses animals to present different categories of people. Symbolic depiction helps the author create original framing and use animals as symbols and generalizations. Complex symbolism and personal narration style make Maus an outstanding account of  the Holocaust tragedy.

The choice of  narration style let Art Spiegelman  avoid clichés, while speaking about the Holocaust. His narration became lively and appealing to different people. In addition, animals gave him the chance to use symbolism, making it an artistic mean.  Despite the fact the tragedy of the Holocaust is one of the most discussed tragedies in the world, some critics note that memories about Holocaust are replaced with formal information with the flow of time (Huyssen —–).  Great scale of tragedy makes it difficult for ordinary people to realize all terrible facts about the tragedy. Live witnesses and survivors give people the chance to get realistic information about Holocaust. Since there is fewer and fewer witnesses left, information about the Holocaust becomes formal collection of facts and data. New approaches to brining information about the tragedy of the Holocaust to wide publicity become especially valuable, because they give people a unique chance to get true understanding of the tragedy.  Art Spiegelman speaks about the tragedy using comic methods.  His approach does not diminish the meaning of the tragedy, but helps to reduce to distance between the participants of the tragedy and readers.

Spiegelman presents nations as animals, giving deep symbolism to this artistic method. Dehumanization, as a direct result of the Nazi rule is a basic idea behind this choice. Jews become helpless facing Nazi genocide, same as mice are helpless in front of a cat. They have no way to escape their persecutors, who play with them like a cat with a mouse. Spiegelman uses the motto to illustrate his choice. He uses Hitler’s quotation in the beginning of his first book. Hitler’s statement that: “The Jews are undoubtedly a race, but they are not human” becomes the basic reason he chooses animals to represent different categories of people in his book (Spiegelman I 1986, 4). Spiegelman turns to literary and graphic realization of ideas, expressed by Hitler. At the same time, he underlines that through dehumanization of one nation or race, other races and nations also become dehumanized. At this point, other people in the book are also presented as animals.  The saying, which starts the second part of the book also quote Nazi source.  Quote from Nazi newspaper states: “Mickey Mouse is the most miserable ideal ever revealed […] Healthy emotions tell every independent young man and every honorable youth that the dirty and filth-covered vermin, the greatest bacteria carrier in the animal kingdom, cannot be the ideal type of animal. […] Away with Jewish brutalization of the people! Down with Mickey Mouse! Wear the Swastika Cross!” (Spiegelman II 1991, 3).  Here again mice are depicted in negative meaning and direct parallels between Jews and mice are made. The reader can see primitive methods of Nazi propaganda. At the same time, the reader will not be able to get rid of the idea that this instruments and methods made millions of people share mottos and ideas of Fascism. Spiegelman uses characters and style, which can be understandable for the contemporary society of mass production. Using mice in his novel, Spiegelman also makes a parallel with popular Disney character -Mickey Mouse.  “Moreover, in addition to being seen as Spiegelman’s reaction to primitive Nazi propaganda equating mice with Jews, Maus may also be understood as the cartoonist’s unconventional, alternative comics response to Disney’s comic character of Mickey Mouse and all cartoons embraced by popular culture” (Kolar 90).  Spiegelman creates his personal response to popular culture and brings the most burning issues to public attention. At this point, animal characters are used to make a vivid illustration of different kinds of discrimination and segregation, presented in the contemporary society.  Animals are also used as bright example of racist ideology, which is usually based on stereotypes about races and ethnicities. Spiegelman’s characters possess little individual features. They are created like generalized characters, aiming to illustrate Nazi theory of racism, which treats the entire nations as anonymous mass, deprived of individual characteristics. This attitude to entire nations and races let Nazi ideologists persuade people in their ideas. The author warns about the threat of dehumanization and sweeping individualities. According to the ideas, expressed in his book, such kinds of attitude become the first step to discrimination and further repressions. “Accordingly Spiegelman reflected the essence of the Nazi racist theory that reduced the whole nation to one anonymous mass (deprived of   features) destined for annihilation. In the name of the master race the rich diversity of a nation was reduced to an inferior oneness without the right to exist” (Kolar 91).  Spiegelman skillfully uses animals, as a reflection of basic stereotypes, which influence people’s perceptions.

The novel presents personal experience of the author’s father, who came through atrocities of Holocaust.  What is notable, Art presents not only his father’s account, but also his personal vision of the tragedy and attitude to it .The novel illustrate so called “trauma of the second generation”, which describes experiences of children of those, who went through terrible tragedies, such as wars, genocides and disasters. Switches between past and present help the author illustrate how tragedy of the past influences lives of people in the present. Tragedy of the Holocaust has  influenced the entire humankind. At the same time, Spiegelman   shows how global tragedies are reflected in lives of ordinary people, who became the part of it. The author makes parallels to show how past influences present, and how human memory influences this process. He also depicts how tragedies influence individuals and their lives. The novel illustrates how the Holocaust deprived people of lives. Even those, who were lucky to stay alive, were left forever with terrible trauma of caused by  the Nazi repressive machine. All their further life, their families and even their children, who became happy enough not to become the victims of repressive machine, suffer and share the pain of the past.

Works Cited

Spiegelman, Art, Maus I—A Survivor’s Tale: My Father Bleeds History, New York: Pantheon Books, 1986.  

Spiegelman, Art Maus II—A Survivor’s Tale: And Here My Troubles Began, New York: Pantheon Books,  1991.

Ma, Sheng-mei (1997) ‘Mourning with the (as a) Jew: Metaphor, Ethnicity, and the Holocaust in Art Spiegelman’s Maus’ Studies in American Jewish Literature, 16: 115-129.

Kolář, Stanislav. Seven responses to the Holocaust in American fiction. Ostravská univerzita: Nakladatelstv Tilia, 2004.

Huyssen, Andreas “Monument and Memory in a Postmodern Age” The Yale Journal of Criticism; New Haven, Conn. Vol. 6,  Jan 1, 1993.

The terms offer and acceptance. (2016, May 17). Retrieved from

[Accessed: June 30, 2022]

"The terms offer and acceptance.", 17 May 2016.

[Accessed: June 30, 2022] (2016) The terms offer and acceptance [Online].
Available at:

[Accessed: June 30, 2022]

"The terms offer and acceptance.", 17 May 2016

[Accessed: June 30, 2022]

"The terms offer and acceptance.", 17 May 2016

[Accessed: June 30, 2022]

"The terms offer and acceptance.", 17 May 2016

[Accessed: June 30, 2022]

"The terms offer and acceptance.", 17 May 2016

[Accessed: June 30, 2022]
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