The Swastika in MAUS

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The Swastika in MAUS The image of the swastika pervades Arthur Spiegelman's graphic novel MAUS. In a work where so much of the Holocaust has been changed in some way - after all, there are no humans in this version, only cats, mice, dogs, and pigs - we must wonder why Spiegelman chooses to retain this well-known emblem. To remove it entirely or replace it with another, invented symbol would completely disorient the reader; but some might claim that this is the effect at which Spiegelman is aiming. I believe it is not. Rather, Spiegelman uses the swastika to subtly remind the reader that while the guise in which events are presented may be somewhat unfamiliar, the novel is still a narrative of the Holocaust. The swastika, it has been pointed out, has always been a powerful symbol. Before Hitler's time, it was used across the world, often with the symbolic meaning of the sun, power, life force, or other superlatives - especially as a symbol for the Buddha. The Nazis co-opted this symbol only after much deliberation, and perhaps the Nazi regime never could have come into existence without the use of ideograms such as the swastika. The Nazis perverted this symbol by rotating it into a diagonal position and making it bolder than it traditionally was, therefore giving it more aggressiveness. Given the innate power of this symbol, Spiegelman would be hard-pressed to find an "alternative" for his depiction of the Nazis that could evoke the same response. The image found on the front cover of the book is clearly a Nazi swastika - the traditional, pre-Nazi swastika uses horizontal and vertical, not diagonal lines. However, to clarify who exactly is being identified with the Nazis, we must look to the stylized, angular cat's fa... ... middle of paper ... ...entation of his father's Holocaust experience, it would be dishonest and unfair to do anything else. But then why is the swastika not only seen in places where it would have historically appeared - on Nazi flags, on the sides of Nazi vehicles - but also as a background image for a particularly gruesome event in the book and as a pattern formed by roads? It seems that this is intended to remind us that this is the Holocaust we are reading about. The blurb on the inside front flap states "Its form, the cartoon... succeeds perfectly in shocking us out of any lingering sense of familiarity with the events described." But this is not entirely true - by using the swastika, we are reminded that even though the characters are animals, this is still Holocaust history. The familiarity of the swastika still lingers in our minds and colors our perception of the entire story.
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