Use of Animals in Art Spiegelman's Maus: A Survivor's Tale

Use of Animals in Art Spiegelman's Maus: A Survivor's Tale

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The Use of Animals in Art Spiegelman's Maus: A Survivor’s Tale


The Maus series of books tell a very powerful story about one man’s experience in the Holocaust. They do not tell the story in the conventional novel fashion. Instead, the books take on an approach that uses comic windows as a method of conveying the story. One of the most controversial aspects of this method was the use of animals to portray different races of people. The use of animals as human races shows the reader the ideas of the Holocaust a lot more forcefully than simply using humans as the characters.

Art Spiegelman decided on a very interesting, and possibly offensive to some, scheme of different animals to use. The first type of animal that appears is the mouse (Maus 1 p. 5). Mice were used to represent the Jewish people during the Holocaust as well as the present day. Polish police were involved in the first arrest of Jewish persons (Maus 1 p. 27). Polish people were represented with pigs. Once the Germans appeared, the scheme of the animals began to make sense (Maus 1 p. 33). Germans were shown by the use of cats. The last animal to appear were the dogs (Maus 2 p. 12). The dogs are Americans, and were always friendly to the Jewish people.

The relationship between these animals portray the ideas of the Holocaust very well. Mice are small and scrawny creatures which are usually hunted by Cats. Cats chase mice and attempt to devour them, much like the Germans hunted down the Jews during the mass genocide. Pigs are very greedy and self centered. During the story, the Polish(Pigs) sold out the Jewish people on many occasions (Maus I p. 143). An example is when Vladek and his family were staying at Kawka’s farm. “They may come search here any minute! You’ve got to leave!” In this situation, Kawka was not telling the truth, but only trying to protect herself. Dogs chase cats, which in the book was symbolic because the Americans sympathized with the Jewish people. These are very rudimentary overviews of the animals, but they will serve for the purposes of this essay.

In the Maus series, the life of Vladek during the Holocaust was detailed. The animals were used to illustrate a point of view.

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Art tried to show how much the Jews were oppressed by not only making them appear to be scrawny while in camps and being chased, but by depicting them as mice. Ordinarily, an author would depict humans as humans rather than other species.

There are a few pros and cons to depicting humans as humans rather than animals. Depicting humans as humans would deter any controversial feelings about the way the Jews and other races were shown. Depicting humans as animals created controversy partly because it is somewhat demeaning to think of yourself as an animal. A con to showing humans as humans is that it would be hard to show how the Jews had to mask themselves at times (Maus I p. 136). The Jewish characters had to mask their identities while they were running from the Germans so that they would not be recognized as Jewish people. The biggest con to using humans as the characters is being able to tell races apart. In using the animals and masks, there was no mistaking what race a character was.

At the beginning of Maus II, there was a discussion about what type of animal Art’s girlfriend should have been drawn as. This discussion was between Art and his girlfriend (Maus II p. 11). The section begins with some drawings of different animals that could be Francoise. The most interesting drawing is of the frog, which could be used to symbolize the French. The argument came in because Francoise converted to Judaism. Franciouse said, “Okay! But if you’re a mouse, I ought to be a mouse too. I converted didn’t I?” Francoise made the point that she should be a mouse based on the fact that she converted and Art agrees with that argument. This practice is accepted in most temples and is valid so she rightfully should be a mouse.

Another device used in the books to portray different races was masks. The masks first appeared as Art was drawing up more information with all of the fake dead bodies around (Maus II p.41). In this scene, Art wears a mouse mask and other characters wear mouse, cat, and dog masks. The fact that Art is wearing a mask instead of being a mouse and that the scene comes after Vladek has died signifies that Art has a deep understanding of what happened to his people, but he never felt the belittlement that they did. By wearing a mask, he is trying to show that most people understand what happened, but can never quite feel the entire weight of the Holocaust. Although, during the story when he would talk to Vladek, he was a real mouse.

During periods in the present when Art would talk to Vladek, Art was portrayed as a real mouse. Portraying Jewish people as mice in the present day is somewhat demeaning, but there may be a reason for this choice. It seems as if Art is trying to portray the idea that even though he was not in the Holocaust, he can feel the weight of it because of his father. Other people his father has been involved with can as well. Art made some very controversial decisions when making the Maus series. His decisions were the best that could have been made though. The animals portrayed the people as they should have been portrayed and a very powerful statement was made. By using masks, Spiegleman was able to display the difference in mentalities of the characters as well as show when they were hiding. Also, Spiegleman kept the people as close to human as possible by letting them stand upright instead of crawling. Daniel Genest agrees with Spiegleman’s choice to keep the animals as human as possible while still portraying them as different animals. Through the use of animals, Spiegleman portrayed the Holocaust in an intelligent manner.

Work Cited

Spiegelman, Art. Maus: A Survivor’s Tale. New York: Pantheon , 1986.
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