The Impact Of Survivor’s Guilt In Art Spiegelman’s Maus

874 words - 3 pages

Art Spiegelman’s graphic novel Maus unfolds the story about his father Vladek Spiegleman, and his life during the WWII. Since Vladek and Art are both the narrators of the story, the story not only focuses on Vladek's survival, but also the writing process and the organization of the book itself. Through these two narrators, the book explores various themes such as identity, perspective, survival and guilt. More specifically, Maus suggests that surviving an atrocity results in survivor’s guilt, which wrecks one’s everyday life and their relationships with those around them. It accomplishes this through symbolism and through characterization of Vladek and Anja.
The comic implies that surviving the holocaust affects Vladek’s life and wrecks his relationship with his son and his wife. In some parts of the story, Vladek rides a stationary bike while narrating his story (I, 81, panel 7-9). Given the fact that it is a stationary bike, it stays immobile: no matter how hard Vladek pedals, he cannot move forward. The immobility of the bike symbolizes how survivor’s guilt will never let him escape his past. Vladek can never really move past the holocaust: he cannot even fall asleep without shouting from the nightmares (II, 74, panel 4-5). Moreover, throughout the story, the two narrators depict Vladek before, during and after the war. Before the war, Vladek is characterized as a pragmatic and resourceful man. He is resourceful as he is able to continue his black business and make money even under the strengthened control of the Nazi right before the war (I, 77 panel 1-7). However, after surviving the holocaust, Vladek feels an obligation to prove to himself and to others that his survival was not simply by mere luck, but because he had what it took to survive. The comic illustrates many passages where Vladek presents himself in a competitive manner: he says he is the best at counting his pills (II, 30 panel 10) and doing his taxes (II, 23 panel 7), and he is the only one who can do the aerobics while his neighbors just watch (II, 18 panel 2-3). Vladek’s constant impulse to compete with others in order to prove himself tires those around him, especially his son Art, to the point that it drives Art away from Vladek. Art even confesses that the reason he became a comic artist was because it was an area where Vladek could not compete with Art nor prove him wrong (I, 97 panel 1-4). The war also changes Vladek from being pragmatic to extremely cheap. When his new wife Mala needs new clothes, instead of giving her money, he...

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