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Maus I: Authentic Irony
Unlike an encyclopedic article which only points out the main events of the
, author of the famous and successful graphic novel
Maus I: My Father Bleeds History
, illustrates through cartoons, the real obstacles that a wealthy Jew family had to go through. We learn that it didn’t matter whether you were a person of wealth or someone with absolutely no money, but what we did discover was that if you were a Jew
“the Jews undoubtedly a race, but they were not human.”
(4) Maus I is not only a graphic novel demonstrating the negative effects of the Holocaust, but it also serves as a metanarrative, exemplifying the personalities of the characters. For example, throughout the novel, we get to see Vladek’s self experience of a genocide, the relationship between father and son, Artie’s confusion of this catastrophic event and his own problems, and finally Mala’s frustration of Vladek’s action. Through a storytelling technique, various elemental themes appear such as guilt, conflict between family members, dominance over others, suicide, and most importantly irony.
Irony is demonstrated when Vladek is dominant over his family members, Anja commits suicide and some Jews help murder other Jews during the Holocaust.
is ironic when he acts superior towards his family members, after being influenced by the Germans towards him. In
Chapter three (Prisoner of War)
, the Germans treated the Jew prisoners maliciously because they felt that they were dominant and superior towards this race. Of the prisoners of war, the Jews were placed in concentration camps, where they were continuously forced to work for hours without stopping. Vladek says
“Another German took 4 or 5 from us to a stable. ‘See this mess? It better be spotlessly clean in one hour. Understand?!’ It was impossible to do it one hour.” (
52) Because the work was clearly impossible to complete during this limited amount of time, the Germans wouldn’t offer them food and the prisoners would have to starve without it. If Vladek had experienced such disasters, why is he dominant towards
others? It is ironic when he acts assertive towards others, due to the fact that the Germans had acted the same way towards him. Vladek’s irritating and miserable personality has caused for the relationship between his son, Artie, and his second wife, Mala to become rough. He persistently aggravates Artie by accusing him of insignificant allegations such as the occasion when Artie did not help him fix the roof. For example, Vladek says
“You’re late! … But now is dark out! I wanted you would climb the roof – It’s a leak in the drain pipe. Ach!”
(73) Artie proposal of providing the materials to fix the roof is rejected by Vladek, causing Artie to become frustrated. The dominance that Vladek demonstrates makes it harder for Artie to understand his father. Vladek is also constantly ordering, arguing and criticizing Mala for her actions, suspecting that the only reason she is with him is because she wants his money. At the beginning of the metanarrative, we see the argument between
and Vladek with their conversation, indicating that they obviously didn’t get along. Vladek complains to her for the smallest issues and says,
“Acch, Mala! A wire hanger you give him! I haven’t seen Artie in almost two years – We have plenty wooden hangers.”
(11) Did it really matter whether Mala had given Artie a wooden or wire hanger to hang his coat, when both serve for the same purpose? The truth of the matter is that Vladek wanted to show that he was superior and the authority of the household.
Another example of irony is when
committed suicide after living through such a tragic and catastrophic genocide of Jews. Even before the Holocaust, Anja had gone through so much. When Anja delivered her first baby boy, Richeu, she became depressed and was sent into a sanitarium, where Vladek accompanied her to help her heal and recover. When she recuperated, she received the horrible news that her husband was sent to fight in the war. Vladek tells us,
“We were very happy, still, for over a year – until
August 24, 1939
. ‘A letter – from the government.’ A draft notice! I was in this polish reserves army, and so I had to go right away!”
(38) Through this period of time, she lived with this constant feeling of pressure, anxiety and fear, not knowing whether Richeu’s father was alive or dead. Later when he came back,
“even though everything was very tough- and it was really very tough”,
Vladek and his family “
were happy to only to be together.”
(67) Anja also had a difficult time changing her way of living and giving up her wealthy and luxurious commodities. Because her family was Jewish, they were limited with the amount of foods they could obtain (8 ounces of bread a day and a tiny bit of margarine, sugar and jam per week). The Polish, on the contrary would receive more amounts of food, since the
favored them more. Their businesses were taken over, as well, by the Germans, and finally at the end they were all relocated into vacated premises.
“All 12 of our household were given now to live in 2 ½ small rooms …”
(82) This transition of life must have been hard for
Anja and her family, since they were used to the luxurious and serene life they’ve always lived. Anja’s worst agony was handing over her beautiful boy, Richeu, to a stranger (Tosha) for his safety. This situation becomes ironic when Tosha poisons herself, her two children, and Richeu, killing them all in one instant. Either way, Tosha or her children would have been executed in the
Auschwitz gas chambers
, and for this reason, she decides to keep her dignity by committing the assassination. Finally in the graphic novel, we see that her last obstacle occurs after escaping the ghettos and retuning to her homeland (
). Vladek and Anja were rejected by old friends due to the fact that they were Jews and were afraid that the secret police would punish them for helping this race. It says
“Richeu’s governess always offered she would help us. We came to her house near town … ‘W-Who’s there? My God! It’s the Spiegelmans! You’ll bring trouble! Go away! Quickly!’ SLAM”
(136) Although Janina, the ex-housewife, was scared to help the Jews, I believe it was morally incorrect to reject them because after all, Vladek and his wife were humans. It comes to show who your real friends are. Unfortunately, after all these problematic situations Anja experienced, she killed herself. In a way, I understand her pain. She loses her first child and later her second child who survives, rejects her love. At the same time she survived a mass killing of Jews, only to refuse the second opportunity that life offered her.
It is also ironic when many of the Jews go against their own races, knowing that the Germans were going after them. The Germans maliciously treated the Jews by placing them in POWS also know as concentration camps, brutally beating them to death, humiliating them, burning their synagogues and pushing them out of their towns. These were all factors of a
pogrom also known as a riot against Jewish individuals. Later on they were relocated into empty premises, which were known as ghettos and then taken to gas chambers (Auschwitz Camp), where they were executed by the Nazis. Since the majority of the Germans were basically against all Jews, it is ironic to hear that a Jew, such as the one shown in page 113, snitches on Vladek’s family and his friends, in order to help the German secret police. Vladek tells us what happens later on and says, “
In the morning we gave a little food to him and let him go to his family … the Gestapo came that afternoon… they took us to a building in a part of Srodula by wires- a ghetto inside a ghetto –there we had to sit and to wait.”
(113) Later on in the comic, we learn that karma comes around; the snitcher was murdered by the Germans by a gunshot. Another situation which was ironic was when Anja’s father accepted the German’s offer of selling his furniture to them. After obtaining the shelves, the Germans obviously
didn’t pay Anja’s father and warned him, “
Please. If you want to stay alive go back inside
.” (79) Knowing that the Germans were racist against the Jews, I thought his actions were a bit foolish. In the end, it didn’t really matter if he lost his furniture or not, because they were taken away from their homes.
Overall we are demonstrated that the metanarrative helps illustrate various topics such as guilt for the death of a mother, betrayal when making the comic, the suicide of a loved one, conflict between a couple, dominance of the Germans to the Jews and most importantly the ironic situations in and out of the Holocaust. Vladek, Anja and Anja’s father act ironic in different situations such as the time Vladek feels superior towards Mala, Anja kills herself after surviving such genocide and Anja’s father begins to trust those who betrayed his race (
The one aspect that I loved about this graphic novel was that Art Spiegelman did not only decide to focus his book on the Holocaust but also included the life of the protagonists afterwards. I give this book two thumbs up.
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