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Breaking Frames

Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory

“I’m literally giving a form to my father’s words and narrative,” Spiegelman commented in an interview, “and that form for me has to do with panel size, panel rhythms, and visual structures of the page, so that a page is a very specific and significant unit, it’s not just a stream of panels one after another” (Considering Maus, 2-3).

In Maus, the frames of the panels are often stretched or fractured at key moments in the text. Their images spill out into the gutters, the space between panels. Sometimes the frames break apart in order to show how events in the past “bleed” into the present. For example, Vladek’s pills fall outside the frame when he gets distracted by imitating the arm twitch Art had as a baby. Also, think of the moment when the image of an elderly Vladek, displaying his prisoner number on his arm, is superimposed on the scenes relating Vladek’s entry into the concentration camps.

Other cells serve as backdrops to show how widespread and inescapable the Holocaust was, as when a map of Auschwitz and Birkenau serves as a backdrop for the smaller cells describing Anja’s life in Birkenau. Another way that Maus breaks the frame is when it places actual photographs on the page, photographs of the deceased: Anja, Richieu, and Vladek. The juxtaposition of the real, human figures and their animal counterparts is jarring and a little uncanny. It’s as if the book refuses to let its readers escape into a fictional, fantasy world: the real world, where real people suffer and die, constantly bleeds onto the page.

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