Maus: A Survivor's Tale
by Art Spiegelman
Analysis: What's Up With the Epigraph?
Epigraphs are like little appetizers to the great entrée of a story. They illuminate important aspects of the story, and they get us headed in the right direction.
Maus Part I: “The Jews are undoubtedly a race, but they are not human.”
Maus Part II: “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!”
The epigraphs for each book are both quotes from anti-Semitic texts. For Book I, we have the anti-Semite of anti-Semites, Adolf Hitler, describing the Jews as a race that isn’t human. This ideology fueled the Nazis’ systematic persecution and massacre of millions of Jews. The next image the reader sees is the cover of the first chapter, which features a couple of mice in a lover’s quarrel, cues us into the way the rest of the novel operates. The mice image is a gesture of defiance: the book uses anti-Semitic images to attack anti-Semitism.
The second epigraph, from a 1930s newspaper article from Pomerania, Germany, expresses a widespread anti-Semitic stereotype of Jews as “pests.” This quote is particularly ironic given that at one point in the novel, Vladek Spiegelman compares Art to Walt Disney, the only cartoonist that Vladek has ever heard of. The epigraph introduces the concerns that Art airs in Book II about the commercial success of his book.
Facing the epigraph is a photograph of his brother, Richieu, who died as a child during the Holocaust. The photograph and the epigraph create a tension that drives the book: it is both personally and historically important to share stories of the Holocaust, but do such stories also betray the memories of those who died and cannot tell their stories? Underneath the photograph, Spiegelman continues the dedication to his children, Nadja and Dashiell, situating his second book between an unimaginable, tragic past and an unpredictable future.