Writing Techniques in Art Spiegelman's Maus and Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five

Writing Techniques in Art Spiegelman's Maus and Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five

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Writing Techniques in Art Spiegelman's Maus and Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five


What images do these words bring to mind? For many people, they illicit scenes of Batman and his sidekick Robin, fighting their way through a legion of bad guys while arriving only seconds after their arch-villain has escaped. From these short, succinct, nonsense words, images of battles are painted over a much larger canvas; the delicate balance and constant struggle between good and evil is illustrated in black and white terms. Unlike comics or television, life does not fit within these binary opposites. In a war there are good guys, bad guys, and everything imaginable in-between. ZONK! POW! Did a bad guy get thrown into a pile of crates or did our hero get knocked out from behind? These simple words are not enough for us to distinguish the difference between good and bad or right and wrong. At the same time, no artist or writer or illustrator could ever hope to present a situation in its entirety. How would a sentence like, ‘the hero, who although he treats his wife in a derogatory manner, punched a bad guy to save a damsel in distress’ serve as a gauge of morals or justice? It is not the creator’s job to portray an entire event, but rather, to present the event in a way that the audience can understand and draw their own conclusions from.

In Maus, Art Spiegelman does not make any apologies about what he includes or leaves out from his story. Maus is not meant to be a story that encompasses World War II or the Holocaust, but rather, a story about the life of his father, Vladek Spiegelman:
I still want to draw the book about you…/The one I used to talk to you about…/About your life in Po...

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... but rather, that it was humanity itself which suffered.

It is interesting that we cannot definitively say that either Maus or Slaughterhouse Five was intended to be an anti-war book. For an author to have taken a side would have opened their book to more criticism and opposition than they already harbor. Instead, both Vonnegut and Spiegelman chose to mask their true meaning behind subtle hints and allusions. We cannot put either book into the black or white category of pro or anti-war. Even Vonnegut by his own admission states that, “all I would have to do would be to report what I had seen” (Vonnegut 2). Maus and Slaughterhouse Five are not about proving a point or pushing an agenda. Instead, they present the absolutes of good and evil in a simple and concise way so that we may be able to distinguish all of the many gradients that lie in-between.

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