Transferal of Guilt in Maus

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The books Maus I and Maus II are biographical comic books written and illustrated by Art Spiegelman. In these books Spiegelman tells his father’s story of survival through the horrors of the Holocaust. Spiegelman simultaneously presents an inner story of the conflict between him and his father, Vladek Spiegelman as both he and his father try to come to terms with the past, and work to have a normal life. This feelings of tension and conflict suffered by Vladek and Art in Maus I and II is caused by a transitional and rebounding feeling of survivor’s guilt caused by Vladek’s passing down of his own guilt, Art’s guilt of neglect, and Art’s attempts to come to terms with his own guilt of survival.

Art and his father Vladek have a rocky relationship, this is apparent from the very beginning of the Maus I. They are distant, with Art not having seen his father for some time before he started making his book. This is because of the tension between Art and Vladek, it causes discomfort between them and arguments break out often. These volatile arguments, which are displayed in several cases, seem to be caused by almost anything. One example is Vladek spills the bottle of pills he is counting, and though it is his fault, he blames Art. (pg. 30, Maus I)

This tension that causes these arguments to occur has its roots in Vladek’s feelings of survivor’s guilt. In order to cope with these feelings Vladek transfers them to other people in his life, such as Art and Mala. Due to this, Art had to experience what psychologist’s call a “double reality” in which he experienced a reality from the present and from his parents past. By growing up in the shadow his father’s guilt, Art was subjected to his father’s over-expectations brought on by his own guilt. (Grodin, Caring for Aging Holocaust Survivors and Subsequent Generations.) On top of these expectations, Vladek is stingy, obsessive compulsive, and determined to do everything himself. These characteristics were not present in...
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