Study Guide

Maus: A Survivor's Tale Art and Culture

By Art Spiegelman

Art and Culture

As a graphic novel, Maus reflects on the difficulty of representing the Holocaust. Art can be an intensely personal way to preserve the memory of those who died in the Holocaust. But any representation risks trivializing the Holocaust, because it can’t hope to get across just how horrible it really was. Add to this the commercial success of Holocaust films and literature, which brings up the question of whether some are exploiting – knowingly or unknowingly – other people’s suffering. The artist figure in Maus tackles these issues by reflecting on his ambivalence toward the commercial success of his work and his uneasiness about the family crises – his parents’ Holocaust experience, his mother’s suicide, his testy relationship with his father – that inspire him to write.

Questions About Art and Culture

  1. What are some special challenges Spiegelman faces in writing about the Holocaust?
  2. Take a look at the scenes where Spiegelman reflects on his work on Maus. What are the advantages and disadvantages of using the comic art form? What can images convey that words cannot, and vice versa?
  3. Do you think Spiegelman represents his father’s story faithfully? What are some instances where it seems that Art and Vladek have conflicting views of the past?
  4. Consider the photographs in Maus. How do these photographs contribute to our understanding of the story?

Chew on This

Spiegelman uses the comic art form in order to fulfill two conflicting objectives: to make the Holocaust more accessible while at the same time respecting that there are some horrors that cannot be represented.

Spiegelman faces a quandary in Maus: he wants to remain completely faithful to his father’s account of events, but in order to do so, he must also include aspects of his father’s life that his father may not want aired in public.