Study Guide

Maus: A Survivor's Tale Guilt and Blame

By Art Spiegelman

Guilt and Blame

Book I, Chapter 4

“So…are you going out to Queens?” “No way – I’d rather feel guilty! Besides, I’m too busy, and he can easily afford to hire somebody.” (I.4.99)

Art feels a lot of guilt over not helping his father. But then again, his father’s expectations seem so unrealistic that Art seems bound to fail.

Book I, Chapter 5
Art Spiegelman

“Congratulations! … You’ve committed the perfect crime … You put me here … shorted all my circuits … cut my nerve endings … and crossed my wires! … You <em>murdered</em> me, Mommy, and you left me here to take the rap!!!” (I.5.105)

In “Prisoner on Hell Planet,” Art depicts himself as a prisoner jailed for “killing” his mother or contributing to her suicide. But in his last lines, he accuses his mother of murdering him and leaving him in prison to take the blame for…murdering himself. Is he saying that feeling guilty over his mother’s suicide is unrealistic, like feeling guilty over murdering himself? Is he lashing out at his mother, unable to forgive her for killing herself? Or is he taking the blame for everything – his mother’s suicide, his inability to help her is a form of murdering himself?

“Talking about your estate just makes me uncomfortable.” (I.5.128)

In a way, the whole book is about Art’s uneasiness with his father’s “estate,” beyond the material sense of the word. He’s also concerned with his father’s legacy in a broader sense, in the sense of a cultural tradition, and also in the sense of psychological or emotional baggage.

Book I, Chapter 6
Art Spiegelman

“God damn you! You – you murderer! How the hell could you do such a thing?” (I.6.161)

Art’s anger at Vladek’s destruction of his mother’s diaries is also sparked by some sense that Vladek contributed to Anja’s death by not being sensitive enough to her needs. But Vladek repeatedly mentions how he helped Anja survive through the years in his story.

Book II, Chapter 1
Art Spiegelman

“I know this is insane, but I somehow wish I had been in Auschwitz <em>with</em>  my parents so I could really know what they lived through! … I guess it’s <em>some</em> kind of guilt about having had an easier life than they did.” (II.1.6)

Art expresses here a guilt that many children of Holocaust survivors might feel.

Book II, Chapter 2
Pavel

“Maybe your father needed to show that he was always right – that he could always survive – because he felt <em>guilty</em> about surviving […] And he took his guilt out on <em>you</em>, where it was safe…on the <em>real</em> survivor.” (II.2.34)

Again, thank you, Pavel, for shining a light on Art’s relationship with his father. Pavel’s words make Vladek a far more sympathetic character. Vladek’s behavior is explained as arising out of his conflicted feelings about survival, and not necessarily from his belief in his superiority over his son.

“It sounds like you’re feeling remorse – maybe you believe you exposed your father to ridicule […] And now that you’re becoming successful, you feel bad about proving your father wrong.” (II.2.34)

Pavel, Art’s therapist, helps both Art and the reader sort out the complex emotional dynamics of his guilt.

“Yes, life always takes the side of life, and somehow the victims are blamed. But it wasn’t the <em>best</em> people who survived, nor did the best ones die. It was random!” (II.2.35)

Pavel reminds us that those who survived were not necessarily the most deserving. That can only compound the guilt of the survivors, who may not feel they had a right to survive when more deserving people died.

“I dunno…maybe everyone has to feel guilty. Everyone! Forever!” (II.2.32)

Guilt on a collective level may not be such a bad thing, especially if it can prevent another Holocaust.

Book II, Chapter 4
Art Spiegelman

“I’m – uh—sorry I made you talk so much, Pop.” “So, never mind, darling. <em>Always</em> it’s a pleasure when you visit.” (II.4.107)

Add to Art’s guilt the fact that Vladek always seems to talk himself into a heart attack whenever he has one of his recording sessions with Art.