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Themes

Maus tackles questions of guilt and blame on two levels: the individual and the collective. On an individual level, Holocaust survivors must come to terms with survivor’s guilt, their guilt over surviving those who died in the camps. Their children experience a similar kind of guilt, over not sharing their parents’ experience of the Holocaust and living a life untroubled by the same trauma. Collectively, Maus turns to the question of whether the responsibility for the Holocaust extends beyond Nazi Germany. What, on an international level, could have been done to destroy the concentration camps? What could communities within German-controlled territories have done to save the Jews? Are the concentration camps really just a nightmarish fluke of history or the product of racial prejudices that persist in the world today?

Questions About Guilt and Blame

  1. Look at some instances where Art feels guilt toward his father. Why does he feel guilty? How does his father contribute to his feelings of guilt?
  2. In conversation with his therapist, Art keeps returning to the topic of survivor’s guilt. What is survivor’s guilt? How does survivor’s guilt help to explain Vladek’s behavior toward his son?
  3. Art brings up the idea that the blame for the Holocaust extends beyond the Germans, that everyone is and always should feel guilt over the Holocaust. How does he come to this conclusion? Why does he feel this way?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

In Maus, guilt is viewed as an emotion that compels us to consider our responsibility toward others.

Vladek projects his survivor’s guilt onto Art: he puts demands on Art that Art will never be able to fulfill, and thus will always feel guilt over his failure.

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