Maus explores the consequences of a Nazi ideology that reduces Jews to the status of sub-humans, even animals, and thus subjects not worthy of ethical consideration. In the novel, the Holocaust generates many situations that show how frail morality and ethics can be when truly tested. The normal bonds that hold human beings together – friendship, family, community – disintegrate. Jews and non-Jews alike have to consider what to do in the face of enormous human suffering, whether to risk one’s own life to help a fellow human being or to do nothing in the name of self-preservation. And moral high ground doesn’t ensure survival: some who seem most deserving die, while some of the worst seem to flourish.
Questions About Morality and Ethics
Take a look at the different relationships between friends, family members, and neighbors, between Jews and non-Jews. How do these relationships change once the Germans occupy Poland?
Consider the way prisoners were treated in the concentration camps. What were some instances when ethical principles (such as helping a person in need) conflicted with self-preservation? How did conditions in the concentration camps make it difficult for people to act ethically?
Place yourself in the shoes of some of the characters: Vladek, Haskel, Mancie, or the German soldier, for example. Do you approve of their actions? What would you have done in their situation?
Chew on This
The concentration camps created situations where individuals were forced to make an impossible choice between their sense of duty to others and their need to survive.
Morality and ethics seem fragile in Maus, which brings up the question of whether there is any inherent good in human beings after all.