One Book One Bucks

Teaching Resources for Art Spiegelman's Maus: A Survivor's Tale

One Book / One Bucks County 2005

Bucks County Free Library

Bucks County Free Library

Themes/Issues

Maus is a complex work with multiple levels of meaning. It can be read as a fable with a moral for the future, as a personal account of the Holocaust, and as a story in which the tensions and conflicts of a family parallel those in the public world. The animal characters are metaphors for the racial and political conflicts of Germany and Poland in the 1930s and 1940s,

  • Family conflict (between Art and Vladek, between Vladek and Mala, between Art and his dead brother Richlieu)
  • Racism (German racism, Vladek's racism, Art's possible racism in portraying races and nationalities as animals))
  • Guilt (Art's - about surviving when his brother did not; about not being worthy as the child of parents who went through so much; about putting Vladek's personal stories in print when Vladek had asked him not to; about not treating his father as well as he should; about how he treated his mother when she turned to him for love just before committing suicide)
  • Survival (Vladek's, Anja's, Mala's, Art's)
  • Dominance, racial and personal (Vladek is as dominant to Mala and Art as the Germans were to him; dominance of favored prisoners over those less fortunate; dominance of cats over mice)
  • Depression, suicide (Art's, Vladek's, Anja's)
  • Prisons and prisoners (including POW camp, concentration camp, and more figurative experiences in which characters feel like prisoners)
  • Artistic process (Art's various struggles with telling this story both in words and pictures)
  • Irony (Anja survives the Holocaust only to commit suicide; Vladek dominates everyone just as the Germans dominated him; Richieu is sent to a relative to be safe, but the relative poisons him so he won't be taken by the Germans; Vladek makes racial comments about an African-American though he was the victim of racism; the success of Maus makes Art feel guilty)

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