Study Guide

Maus: A Survivor's Tale Race

By Art Spiegelman

Race

Book I, Chapter 3

“Well, Jew, don’t worry. We’ll find work for you!” (I.3.53)

The Nazi soldier draws on the racial stereotype of Jews as wealthy financiers who can’t work with their hands.

Book I, Chapter 6
Vladek Spiegelman

“The Germans paid no attention of me …In the <em>Polish</em> car they could <em>smell</em> if a Polish Jew came in.” (I.6.142)

Vladek can exploit racial stereotypes in this situation. The soldiers are thinking in a racist way: according to the stereotype, Jews should be easily identifiable by their features alone, and they should exhibit cowardly behavior. Vladek can pass undetected because he breaks these stereotypes.

“The mothers always told so: ‘Be careful! A Jew will catch you to a bag and eat you!’ So they taught to their children.” (I.6.151)

Four words: racism begins at home.

Art Spiegelman

“In some ways he’s just like the racist caricature of the miserly old Jew.” (I.6.133)

Art expresses his concern that he is turning his father into a stereotype. By placing this comment within the text, he is alerting the reader to avoid racial stereotypes themselves.

Mala Spiegelman

 “<em>All</em> our friends went through the camps. <em>Nobody</em> is like him!” (I.6.133)

Mala’s statement is an important reminder that Vladek’s experience doesn’t represent the experience of all Jews. It reminds us that there are no simple explanations for Vladek’s behavior. Spiegelman includes other Jewish survivors in the book to make this point.

Book II, Chapter 1
Françoise

“But if you’re a mouse, I ought to be a mouse, too. I <em>converted</em>, didn’t I?” (II.1.1)

The question of what animal to assign Françoise playfully references the limitations of Art’s animal imagery. Françoise is French, and she wasn’t born a Jew; she converted. Is she a frog or a mouse?

Book II, Chapter 2
Vladek Spiegelman

“Zyklon B, a pesticide, dropped into hollow columns.” (II.2.61)

To the Nazis, the Jews weren’t just <em>like</em> vermin; they <em>were</em> vermin. A pesticide is used in the gas chambers.

Art Spiegelman

“His place is overrun with stray dogs and cats. […] Can I mention this, or does it completely louse up my metaphor?” (II.2.33)

Like Quote #6, a playful poke at the limits of the animal metaphor. This isn’t the only area where a character has animal pets; the German cats use dogs to track down Jews in hiding, but according to the animal metaphor, dogs should be Americans.

Book II, Chapter 5
Vladek Spiegelman

“The Poles went in. They beat him and hanged him … For <em>this</em> he survived.” (II.5.122)

It wasn’t just the German Nazis who were racist. These unscrupulous Poles see in the Nazi persecution of the Jews an opportunity to get their hands on Jewish property, and they refuse to return the property once the Jews return.

Vladek Spiegelman

“A hitch-hiker? And – <em>oy</em> – it’s a <em>colored</em>  guy, a <em>Shvartser</em>! Push quick the gas! […] It’s not even to compare, the <em>Shvartsers</em> and the Jews!”

Vladek’s own experience with racism doesn’t, unfortunately, translate into racial tolerance.