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Muas Essay 2

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Although there are many qualities about Vladek that are condemned in Maus, Spiegelman’s graphic novel is ultimately an empathetic telling of his life. Discuss.
One of Spiegelman’s concerns through the construction of Maus is his depiction of Vladek as a ‘caricature of the miserly old Jew.’ Whilst Vladek’s miserly qualities are just one of his many flaws to be condemned, Spiegelman’s portrait of Vladek and his reconstruction of this ‘survivor’s tale’ is ultimately empathetic. Like Spiegelman himself, the reader comes to perceive and understand Vladek as a resourceful, courageous man whose inability to disconnect from those behaviors which guaranteed his immediate survival during the war have left him imprisoned in this past unable to connect with his post war life and the people in it.

As presented in Maus, Vladek is neither caricature nor hero but a complex and flawed character whose survival of the holocaust is celebrated but who can also be seen as a victim of its horror. As seen in the prologue Vladeks dismissal towards arts feelings displays he has no sympathy and no capacity to see beyond his own experiences and pain that haunts him till today. Vladek tries to imagine Anja’s presence by forcing mala to live in her deaths shadow. Vladeks is convinced that mala is only after his money he becomes obsessed with this belief to the point that drives her out of the house. Mala runs off to Florida to escape the negativity of Vladek, we only then learn how much she has had to put up with at home. The distrust and betrayal off Vladeks past experiences shows how they have affected him now.
Whilst Vladek’ flaws often render him a difficult companion, one whose selfishness and coldness are to be condemned, his resourcefulness and courage enabled him to provide for and protect his family during the rise of the Nazi regime. Vladek risks his own safety when he deals and trades in the black-market with not coupons to support for his family. with risk comes rewards but also death, an example was made of four marketers who dealt in the black market without coupons by letting their bodies hang in the ghetto for a week. The dreaded Nazi icon symbolizes the despair felt by Jewry, as avenues of escape seemingly close overnight, those who attempted to escape were often unsuccessful, every route, every option every road seemed to lead to Nazi persecution, ghettos and concentration camps as we see on the page where Vladek and Anja “walked in the direction of Sosnowiec.”

In the death camps of Auschwitz Vladek’s strength and capacity to endure and adapt to the horror unfolding around him fosters a compassionate and generous viewing of this man and his experiences. Vladek is pitilessly beaten when he encounters the German who pummels him for speaking to Anja, Vladek responds rather tentative to it, but there is nothing he can do and the key to survival is about pushing through and not letting them get to you. Vladek witnesses the inhumaneness of the flaming pits and crematoriums where millions of Jews were burnt to death, however can tell the story very calmly and not being agitated as speaks it, this shows us he had to learn to adapt to survive during the holocaust. Vladeks ghastly past expresses that he has adapted to it, resulting him to be humble about certain situations.
Finally, perhaps, it is the father and old man telling his story to Art who is rendered most compassionately, for despite his racism and selfishness, Spiegelman enables us to see his frailty and trauma, to see that this Holocaust survivor didn’t really ‘survive at all.’ The collection of photos falling to the ground indicate although Vladek survived he endured a lot to be alive, the loss of his family, his son “all what is left, it’s the photos’’. Vladek mistakenly calls Art ‘Riches’ after he requests art to stop recording, telling us that Vladek had become mentally unstable and is stuck between past and present. The last page illustrates Vladek and Anja’s tombstone. Where arts name is signed underneath showing us that art has told ‘his’ story. The pain and misery enforced upon Vladek tells us that surviving the holocaust is merely as bad as being burnt alive in those same gas chambers, that way you wouldn’t look back and think about all the friends and family that have perished.
As father and holocaust survivor Vladek presents as a damaged and difficult character easy to dismiss and condemn for his inability to see the needs of others. Spiegelman’s construction of Maus is able to look beyond a son’s anger, however, and deliver a ‘fair’ portrait of a man whose qualities enabled him to survive the most brutal of regimes. Spiegelman’s commemoration of his father’s holocaust experience is ultimately an empathetic account of a survivor who did not get to ‘live happy ever after,’ but instead suffered the trauma and legacy of a past from which he ultimately couldn’t escape.

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