Memory of the Holocaust in Maus
It is considered a sacred Jewish practice for kids to listen to and conserve their parents’ stories because it is a way to understand and relate to their history. But what happens when most of your family and relatives are suddenly marked for death? What happens when they are confronted with the horrific reality of the massive structured and organized extermination of countless numbers of Jews known as the Holocaust? For the second generation survivors, how can one even find any means to relate to their parent’s miraculous experience of surviving in a place that could be called hell on earth? Art Spiegelman’s Maus: A Survivor’s Tale confronts this issue, by revealing the psychological and physical damage which one Holocaust survivor, Vladek went through as he fought his way to live and to tell his story to his son. Vladek’s experience in Auschwitz renders him almost as a ghost, devoid of any emotion which puts a strain on his relationship with his son, Art, who in turn is living his parents’ shadows of their survival. In Maus, the narrative of the tragedy and tribulation the Holocaust survivors experienced reveals how memories can have a negative and damaging impact on the present for the survivors and later generations, suggesting that it is best to avoid the recollection of the traumatic past.
Vladek Spiegelman appears a brave, valiant figure in his account of the time he endured in Auschwitz. From his interpretation, the reader gets this perception of him as an indestructible hero, similar to the Superman. We see him as a clever, bright, and determined man as he negotiates and barters his way in the camp to win a better chance of surviving. Although he constantly asserts it was due to good fortune, the majority of it came through his personal undertaking. However, in contrast to the fearless Vladek we are told about, the aged one who shares his memories is only a white ghost. The severe physical torture he has undergone has weakened his body and mind to the point where he becomes a neurotic who’s obsessed with the littlest details, such as counting pills and money. When Art asks him if everything is okay as he’s sorting his nails, Vladek replies “Nu? with my life now, you know It can’t be everything okay.” (I.5.98) All the massive strength he used to endure the pain has turned him into an paranoid and temperamental old man. His strange obsession to keep everything fine stems from the constant need to continue fighting for his life after the events of Auschwitz. It reveals how difficult it is for a survivor to let go and move on from the past since his obsessive sorting of his things in a way represents his sorting of his painful memories. As Vladek narrates his story to Art, he always stressed the importance of surviving, such as the time where he persuades a depressed Anja to not commit suicide once she learns the death of their son, Richieu. Vladek tells her “No, darling! To die, it’s easy...But you have to struggle for life!” (I.5.122). This hopeful young Vladek seems false since the reader and Art never get to know what his feelings were at that time. Vladek’s difficulty with communicating his emotions to his son demonstrate the damaging psychological effect that Auschwitz has left on him. Therefore it is best to only tell the facts since doing so brings back all the sorrow and grief.
Maus is told from two first person narrative and so as an audience, we are allowed to see both Vladek and Art’s personal viewpoint. Spiegleman does this for the audience to form a rather deep connection with both characters. Arts’ relationship with his father, Vladek is volatile and there is a rift between the Holocaust survivor and his son. Vladek’s narration of his story is not in chronological order at all because he jumps from place to place and even forgets to mention other possibilities with what might occur in Auschwitz. Vladek’s memory fits in James Young definition of “deep” memory in...
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