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Maus I: A Survivor's Tale: My Father Bleeds History (Maus, #1)
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Book Club Discussions > AUGUST: Maus I A Survivor's Tale My Father Bleeds History by Art Spiegelman

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Heather Bree (blackdotbug) I am so far. I got to start this one right away because it is in my boyfriend's extensive comic book collection. I noticed right off how each group gets a specific animal to represent them and I'm starting to wonder what the significance is of Polish non-jews being pigs. I get the cat (nazis) and mouse (jews). But pigs? Thoughts?

Lynlee4 | 11 comments How strange - I've been off the boards here forever but just picked this book up last week and put towards the top of Mt TBR.

Heather Bree (blackdotbug) I was talking to my boyfriend about Maus and he found this article online that said that Spiegelman chose pigs for Poles because pigs are recognizable animals in animation and cartoons like Porky and Petunia pig. He also said he chose mice for Jews because it played on the Nazi's characterization of them as vermin and their inability to completely wipe them out no matter how hard they tried. So on the one hand I was looking for more symbolism than was actually intended and on the other there was more there than I was initially aware of. Funny trying to get inside the head of a writer.

It wasn't from the author himself, but some have posited that pigs make sense for Poles because of their highly agrarian society. So how about dogs for Americans? It makes me think of the pet hierarchy often characterized in Looney Toons: dog chasing cat chasing mouse. And it makes me wonder about American sentiment worldwide at the time America entered WWII. Were we seen as "the big dogs?"

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Tahleen | 229 comments Heather, I think I was doing too much analysis of the pigs=Poles thing. I thought it had something to do with Poles sometimes acting in ways less than admirable, if you get my meaning. As for Americans, I think I remember thinking about the dogs chase cats, but it also might have to do with a friendly appearance masking a hidden danger (dogs can be friendly, but then they bite you). Does that make any sense?

Heather Bree (blackdotbug) Yes that does make sense, Tahleen. My first thought about the pigs was that I must not know enough about the role Poland played in the war, because I was thinking of the negative connotations of pig as well.
I can see how the hidden danger part can play into the American persona, especially considering the antisemitism many Jews faced when they came here to escape the conditions in Europe.
Anything else in Maus got you thinking?

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Tahleen | 229 comments I am particularly interested in Spiegelman's relationship with his father--though I read it a while ago, so I don't remember everything. I do remember that it develops a bit more in the second book. Have you read that one yet Heather?

Heather Bree (blackdotbug) I haven't yet. I didn't include it in my challenge books so I'm trying to stick to those for now. But I definitely will.
I noticed that (at least during the first book) I didn't really like the way Artie treated his father in getting him to tell him the story. He was short with him and didn't really seem to get it, that by asking his father all these details that he was bringing up a lot of pain for the guy. I found I had much more sympathy for the dad, even when he would have his outbursts. And the final panel in the first book just sent chills down my spine. It seems to me at this point that the two of them have a long way to go before they reach some understanding.

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Tahleen | 229 comments I think once you get to the second book it will all come together a bit more. There really is a lot of development in their relationship there, especially in one part where Spiegelman is essentially soliloquizing.

JG (Introverted Reader) I've been avoiding this thread until I finally got my review written. I wondered about the pigs=Poles thing too. I didn't think it was very nice, but Vladek probably didn't feel very kindly toward the Poles. They didn't exactly help him much, did they?

I read both books back-to-back. I thought that the graphic novel form was great. I haven't read many graphic novels, but a Holocaust story told this way made me look at it with new eyes. And even though it wasn't as violent as other books I've read, the violence that was included hit me hard.

The father-son relationship is hugely complicated, but I think he's showing that the effects of the Holocaust didn't end just with the liberation. They're still being felt today. And I agree with Tahleen--the second book explores all of that a lot more.

message 10: by Kandice (last edited Aug 10, 2009 03:29PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Kandice I'm not sure if I've posted this feeling here before, but I feel the graphic novel used to tell this story makes it more accessible. Some people just can't read anything considered horror, and I think everyone would agree the Holocaust was horror. Telling the story with an "innocuous" comic book lets people read it that would not if it were a novel or a memoir. I also think it's a good introduction to (older) children, along with Anne Frank, to the Holocaust.

Like JG says, the violence is there, of course, and it can hit you very hard, but I think it's a little easier to keep reading with this particular format.

I read the two books, one after the other, and wish everyone could, because, yes, the realtionship IS explored more in the second installment. The far reaching after effects are also more apparent. It becomes clear that the fathers irritating habits and personality traits are, in large part, due to his experiences in the camps.

Sara ♥ (saranicole) | 719 comments I got to the end of the book and went, "WHAT??? Where's the rest of the story???" Grrr... The book is checked in at the library, but I'm on vacation until Saturday night, so can't pick it up. I thought the book was very very clever. I couldn't put it down!

Kandice - I agree that the story's format makes it more accessible. I thought it was a brilliant way to tell his father's story.

I'm not sure what to think of the Poles-as-pigs issue. The only thing I know about pigs is that they're delicious no matter how you cook them. I know virtually nothing about Poles or Poland. For all I know, the only reason he picked that combination is because they both started with the same letter.

As for the relationships... the one that bothered me was between Vladek and his second wife. Holy cow, the disrespect... I'd shoot my husband in the *cough* groin region *cough cough* if he treated me like that!

Book 2 is on reserve for me at the library as soon as I get home, so I'll comment more on that later.

JG (Introverted Reader) Sara wrote: "The only thing I know about pigs is that they're delicious no matter how you cook them."

:-D You and my husband would get along!

You're right about the relationship with his second wife. He's terrible to her! There's more about that in the second one too. Hope you enjoy it when you get it.

Heather Bree (blackdotbug) So what did others think about Artie's reaction to his father burning his mom's journals?

Nancy | 5 comments OK, I'm an o-l-d YA reader (and h.s. librarian)-- my parents lived the war years. I thought the entire book was right on target as far as emotions of/and relationships with the elderly. Sorry if anyone was offended by the Poles/pigs part, but those who lived through the Holocaust would feel that way, esp. if they were near Auschwitz and were mistreated. My only concern about this as a YA book is the elderly parent story line -- not sure if my kids would get that. But I think the book mirrors what many of my parents' (and my) generation felt about that period in history.

Sara ♥ (saranicole) | 719 comments Heather wrote: "So what did others think about Artie's reaction to his father burning his mom's journals?"

Holy crap! I couldn't believe it!!! Why on EARTH would he do that???!?!?!!??!??

Heather Bree (blackdotbug) Sara wrote: "Heather wrote: "So what did others think about Artie's reaction to his father burning his mom's journals?"

Holy crap! I couldn't believe it!!! Why on EARTH would he do that???!?!?!!??!??"

The thing is, I can totally understand why Vladek would burn the journals. This is intense pain and loss we're talking about here, especially given the manner of the mom's death. What I don't understand is why Artie would think of his dad as a "murderer".

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Tahleen | 229 comments Heather, I agree with you, I understand the burning of the journals, though I can see why Artie would see his dad as a murderer. Vladek didn't actually kill her; but, he killed her voice and her words, which in Artie's eyes were one and the same. It was all he had left of her.

Heather Bree (blackdotbug) Thank you, Tahleen. I can see that. I think I was just stopped in my tracks by such a strong word. I was relating kind of strongly to that part of the book. I happen to have a deep set issue going on with my mom where I believe she kept from me something I consider to be my birthright out of her own fear and probably a sense of competitiveness and that bit about destroying those journals reminded me of it. I was having trouble getting back to an objective distance with the book because of that. It just kept bothering me, so thanks again.

St[♥]r Pr!nc:$$ N[♥]wsheen pictures, pictures, pictures ||| ♥ Zin Uru ♥ |||| hi...I'm glad I have found this group, seems to go with my recent musings. I haven't found the book yet, would really like to read it though. What an awesome title!! I wish I had thought of it myself!!!

Andrea Heather wrote: "Thank you, Tahleen. I can see that. I think I was just stopped in my tracks by such a strong word.

I agree also, it blew me away when he said that. But I can see his point about killing the memory of his mother. Especially since Artie is a writer and that is all he has of his mother voice, like Tahleen said. But it still disturbed be a bit to see Artie act so nicely towards his father in the last few comic strips and then turn around and call him a murderer.

Carol Littlejohn (carol50) | 12 comments I loved both Maus I and II. But I understood why the author called his Dad "murderer" after he burned his wife's journals. In a sense, the Dad did murder his wife's voice--a voice that we all needed to hear. Besides, the intriguing thing about these books are that the author speaks the truth, as ugly as it might seem. We may not agree with him, but this is the author's voice. And we don't want to murder HIS voice, do we? I think these books bring up many issues besides the Holocaust: survivor's guilt, father and son relationships, depression, suicide. And yet the book is not depressing! (At least not to me) I think there is hope in these books.

Sara ♥ (saranicole) | 719 comments I just got the second one... I'm excited (not really the right word, but...) to see how it ends!

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Tahleen | 229 comments Carol wrote: "I loved both Maus I and II. But I understood why the author called his Dad "murderer" after he burned his wife's journals. In a sense, the Dad did murder his wife's voice--a voice that we all neede..."

That was very nicely put Carol! I totally agree with you.

April (booksandwine) | 312 comments I just want to interject on the Poles as pig topic - many of the Poles (not all) were very into giving up the Jews to the Germans. They saw the Jews as being others, especially the Orthodox Jews, because as you know, they dressed and looked differently so they could tell if someone was Orthodox (much like Hassidic Jews). Many were jealous of the economic success of the community Jews, today we know they were successful because they were educated, but many rural Polish did not realize that. I think many people have this vision of the Holocaust being over as soon as the concentration camps were liberated. This was not so, many Polish Jews returned to their homes to find them occupied by Polish Aryan families, families who did not want to leave their new homes and were prepared to kill in order to keep their home.
Also, not only do we have Aushwitz in Poland, but there were also the ghettos such as Warsaw and Lodz,which if you've seen The Pianist, you'll "know" or at least have a feel for how bad they were. Auschwitz certainly was not the only concentration camp in Poland, there was also Chelmno, Treblinka, Sobibor, Majdanek, Belzec,Plaszow.
Perhaps Speiglman felt the complacency of the Poles towards the Holocaust warranted their depiction as pigs, since it's not like the Holocaust was a secret, people definately knew. Also, please don't think I'm pulling this from my ass my source is A History of the Holocaust by Yehuda Bauer, we had to read it for my History of the Holocaust class.

Or perhaps he portrayed the Polish as pigs to represent the Nazi ideology of all non-Germans being subhuman swine.

April (booksandwine) | 312 comments Fiona wrote: "Jewish people do not eat pork do they? They see it as an unclean animal. I think choosing to portray them as pigs is quite a loaded decision - rather then because they were familiar cartoon charact..."

I didn't even think of the pork thing, how insightful, Fiona.

Ashley (affie) | 468 comments I finished reading these books this weekend, and I was amazed by how well the graphic novel format worked to portray the events of the Holocaust.

I also agree with a lot of the comments made, that I don't believe any of Spiegleman's animal choices were accidents or chosen because they were a recognizable animal. I think each of them was quite loaded.

It interested me that no one commenting mentioned the negative connotation of calling someone a dog. I don't think Spiegleman intended for the American's to be portrayed in an entirely positive light. Dogs can be both a very positive or a very negative animal. Americans were not actually that helpful during WWII. We ignored it for a very long time, turned many Jews away and only got involved when Japan forced the issue by bombing Pearl Harbor. Not only that, but although we were more than willing to help overseas, we didn't exactly open our arms to the Jewish immigrants trying to flee the horrors of Europe or return their lives to some semblance of peace and security. Ya, America did help end the war, but they weren't totally the good guys either.

Reading this make me much more interested now in seeing what other graphic novels are out there. It's amazing how much more you can convey when you add pictures to the telling of your story.

I also agree that the way he treated his second wife was awful, but (and I know it's a round about circle, self feeding and all that but) I also don't think she treated him fantastically either.

Morgan  | 21 comments Hi Everyone-

I am new to the group and came across this posting while doing research for Maus I and II, which I am reading for a college English class.

I found the following ideas about the animals chosen from a forum below:

a.mice - Jews: pestilence, breed rapidly with large amounts of offspring, live silently among people, hard to get rid of.

b.cats - Germans: hunt mice, protect the home from pestilence.

c.pigs - Poles: Jews don’t eat pork and consider the pig a dirty animal; for the prodigal son, having to take a job living with pigs was for him the ultimate disgrace.

d.fish - British: the British have been long renowned for their navy.

e.dogs - Americans: “man’s best friend”; the liberators.

f.frogs - French: double meaning – frogs are slipper, slimy (Dreyfus Affair); frogs can change into princes (Art’s wife, a Frenchman, converted to Judaism).

g.reindeer - Scandinavians: from the north.

Although I had a difficult time reading this book (especially pg. 108 of Maus I, where a Nazi guard murders a Jewish child who is crying) I think it is an important topic to learn about. It was definately ery unique, from how it is formatted in comic-book style to showing the author's relationship with his father in addition to the father's story.

I agree with Ashley that choosing to depict ethnic groups in animal form was very loaded. I have read many articles/blogs from Polish people who are extremely upset at how they were portrayed. This is just one perspective from a man who was trying to understand what happened to his family and millions of other people. He was obviously struggling with this history, even his author's photo reflects this. Spiegelman didn't portray himself as being without flaws and it must have been hard to write about his lack of patience with his father, especially after his father died.

message 28: by Jennifer W, WT Moderator (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jennifer W | 1289 comments Mod
I only just read Maus I, I'll probably pick up 2 soon. I have to say I understand Art calling his father a murderer over the journals. I was anxiously awaiting to see what was in them, even if I figured it wouldn't be until book 2, but now knowing that I won't get to them, his father *is* a murderer. We, the readers, will never know Anja except through her husband.

I felt that the animal depictions were a good way to illustrate something without having to spell it out. Though I kinda didn't buy that a mouse could wear a pig mask and be mistaken for a pig, but of course, if you relate it back to people, you can't tell just by looking if the people in Eastern Europe were Poles or Jews. Very well done.

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