Study Guide

Maus: A Survivor's Tale Memory and the Past

By Art Spiegelman

Memory and the Past

Book I, Chapter 1
Art Spiegelman

“But POP – It’s great material. It makes everything more REAL – more human. I want to tell YOUR story, the way it really happened.” (I.1.25)

Taking down his father’s memories and recreating them on the page may not just be a concern with artistic realism, but Art’s own attempt to connect with his father on a deeper level.

Vladek Spiegelman

“It would take <em>many</em> books, my life, and no one wants anyway to hear such stories.” (I.1.14)

Vladek is reluctant at first to participate in Art’s project, and as the rest of the book continues, a kind of rivalry develops between them over how to tell Vladek’s and Anja’s story.

“… I can tell you OTHER stories, but such PRIVATE things, I don’t want you should mention.”
“Okay, okay – I promise.” (I.1.25)

This is, of course, a promise that Art breaks because we get all the “private things” in <em>Maus.</em> 

Book I, Chapter 4
Vladek Spiegelman

“But, below my closet I find these snapshots, some still from Poland.” (II.4.103)

Photographs provide another instance where the novel breaks with its animal metaphor. In this case, Spiegelman recreates the photographs using animal figures. But see Quote #10 below.

Art Spiegelman

“WAIT! <em>Please,</em> Dad, if you don’t keep your story chronological, I’ll never get it straight.” (I.4.84)

By editing his father in this way, we lose some of the “real”-ness that Art wanted in Quote #2. We lose his father’s unique perspective, his unique way of dealing with his past.

Book I, Chapter 5
Art Spiegelman

“You <em>always</em> pick up trash! Can’t you just <em>buy</em> wire” (I.5.118)

Vladek’s obsessive hoarding is similar in some ways to the work of recovering his memories and, more generally, the work of collecting Holocaust testimony. Vladek’s story is just one individual’s story, easily overlooked when history deals with the “great men” – Churchill, Roosevelt, Stalin, Hitler. But collecting these individual stories are critical to our understanding of the Holocaust.

Vladek Spiegelman

“But these things we learned only much later. In our bunkers, we heard only rumors.” (I.5.112)

Vladek can only make sense of some of the events after the fact, with knowledge he gains after the events. The story is often interrupted by such remarks when Vladek talks about other characters; when he introduces a character, he often tells us quite soon after whether the character survived the camps or not.

Book I, Chapter 6
Vladek Spiegelman

“These notebooks, and other really nice things of mother … one time I had a very bad day … and all of these things I <em>destroyed.</em>” (I.6.160)

It is a little extreme of Art to call Vladek a “murderer” for destroying his mother’s notebooks, but you can kind of see why. If memories are one crucial way for Holocaust survivors to preserve the lives of those who perished, Vladek has destroyed Anja’s memories, and thus she dies a second death.

Book II, Chapter 2
Vladek Spiegelman

“The Germans didn’t want to leave anywhere a sign of all what they did. You <em>heard</em> about the gas, but I’m telling not <em>rumors,</em> but only what really I <em>saw.</em> For this I was an <em>eyewitness.</em>” (II.2.59)

Vladek provides important testimony here; as a tin worker, he was one of the workers who took apart the gas chambers and thus has an intimate knowledge of how the gas chambers worked.

Book II, Chapter 5
Vladek Spiegelman

“I passed once a photo place what had a <em>camp</em> uniform – a new and clean one – to make <em>souvenir</em> photos.” (II.5.124)

Spiegelman actually includes this photograph in the book. It’s grimly funny: to take a picture in a camp uniform as a <em>souvenir</em>? Where does he think he is, Disneyland? The photograph also brings up the question of realism again. We usually view photographs as the most realistic of mediums, but here we have a photograph that is clearly staged.