Maus plays on the Nazi’s racist idea that Jews are less than human, “vermin,” by rendering the Jewish characters into mice. Germans, on the other hand, are represented as cats, Americans as dogs, and Poles as pigs. Maus doesn’t use these animal figures to present a simplistic moral tableau where all the Germans are evil and all the Jews are good. Instead, the novel uses these animal figures to show how race is not reducible to one characteristic or another. There are good mice and bad mice, good pigs and bad pigs, good cats and evil cats, and so forth. In fact, just as the Jews “passed” as Poles or Germans as a way to survive, the novel plays with its own animal allegory, presenting human beings wearing mouse masks or mice wearing pig masks. The novel also considers how racial stereotypes still operate in society today, bringing up the troubling question of whether we as a society have learned anything from the experience of the Holocaust.
Questions About Race
What is the Nazi attitude toward the Jews? How is it shown in their policies toward Jewish people?
Take a look at all the different animals that appear in Maus. How does Maus use different animals to differentiate between races and nationalities? How effective is this animal metaphor, and when does it break down?
Apart from the Nazis, what are other instances of racism in the book? Why is it important for Maus to show how characters who are not German Nazis can also be racist?
Chew on This
Spiegelman represents his characters as different types of animals in order to challenge racial stereotypes.
The use of animal types gives Maus an allegorical quality that prods the reader to consider how the experience of anti-Semitism in the Holocaust has parallels to other types of racism.