The title, the German word for “mouse,” is a reference to the Jewish characters, who are all depicted as mice. By using German (or the language of the cats as the novel likes to call it), Maus plays on the anti-Semitic stereotyping of Jews as pests. If the cover picture of the two mice huddled underneath a massive skull cross-hatched by a Nazi swastika doesn’t drive the point home for you, take a look at the epigraphs (see “What’s Up With the Epigraph?”).
As a German word that sounds like an English word, the novel is also referring to another anti-Semitic stereotype: that Jews have a tough time speaking German or any language fluently. The German verb mauscheln was used to stereotype the way Jews allegedly spoke. Ironically, it is Vladek’s fluency in languages, including English, which is an important key to his survival.
On the other side of the colon, we have the subtitle “A Survivor’s Tale.” Imagine how different the effect would have been if Spiegelman had written “Vladek Spiegelman’s Biography” instead. By referring to “a survivor,” the novel places an emphasis on the numerous survivors in the story: Vladek, certainly, but also Anja, Mala, and the other Holocaust survivors, as well as Art himself, as someone who survives the deaths of his parents. The title as a whole draws our attention to the way the Holocaust is transmitted as a story across generations.