Maus: A Survivor's Tale
What’s Up With the Ending?
Maus ends without resolving all the tensions it had set up over the course of the entire novel. Art sits with his bedridden father, who has just finished telling Art about his reunion with Anja after they both survived Auschwitz. Art stops his tape recorder, and Vladek turns to bed, addressing Art by his dead brother’s name, Richieu. Does this “accident” mean that Art will never live up to Richieu, never equal Richieu in his father’s affections? Or does it mean that Vladek has finally accepted Art by letting him share his brother’s place?
But the book doesn’t end with the last panel. The tombstone for Vladek and Anja’s grave juts up into and divides the last two panels. This tombstone, inscribed with their dates of birth and death, seems to introduce more questions. Vladek ends his story with a “happily ever after.” But the difference between Vladek’s death and Anja’s, who committed suicide in 1968, makes us wonder whether the story can possibly have a happy ending. Perhaps a story about the Holocaust can’t have a happy ending; perhaps it would be a betrayal to even suggest one. On the other hand, you could look at the tombstone as Art’s way of taking over his father’s story, giving it an ironic ending that his father didn’t intend.
Or perhaps the book really ends with Art Spiegelman’s signature at the bottom, with the dates of composition, 1978-1991. Spiegelman’s signature could be a definitive stamp of his authorship, a way of taking over Vladek’s story. The thirteen years it took to complete the Maus project could also link Spiegelman’s text to a Jewish boy’s coming of age at thirteen, when his bar mitzvah is celebrated. This sets up a chain of associations back to Vladek’s description of the significance of the parshas truma, which marked several important dates in his life, and was also read at Art’s bar mitzvah. Are we to read Maus as a kind of (very) secular parshas, a marker of a life-changing event and even perhaps an augur for the future, as it was for his father?
By leaving the ending split up into three equally ambiguous endings, Maus refuses to give us closure.