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Literary Devices in “Maus” by Art Spiegelman

Updated November 24, 2021
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Literary Devices in “Maus” by Art Spiegelman essay

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Art Spiegelman’s Maus is the masterpiece of pictorial writing that has been proclaimed by some as the single most significant comic book of the twentieth century. The common and important reception of Spiegelman’s graphic novel earned Maus The Pulitzer Prize Special prize in 1992. The novel recounts the story of Vladek Spiegelman, that writer’s founder, who grew up in Poland before the attack of world war 2 had these alterations in German policy regarding Jews and, ultimately, became a prisoner of war and was sent to Auschwitz.

Besides being the history of life, this novel also deals with different thematic elements, e.g., growing through hardship, racial issues, stereotypes, generational views and conflicts, intolerance and interpersonal relationships. For the purposes of this essay, Maus can be analyzed using the three-pronged way. Lastly, I can briefly describe how the writing and graphic aspects of this novel meld into the original autobiographical book that Maus has to turn into.

Through the use of literary devices, such as personification, imagery, and symbolism that Art Spiegelman uses in Maus part II, he explains in his own interpretations the Holocaust and how he viewed his parents escape from the camps they were in. Art used all of these literary devices in many ways to describe the story.

Spiegelman uses many different literary devices throughout his work. The one literary device that stands out the most and that is the most noticeable is personification. Spiegelman’s work, Maus part I and II use mice as characters. The mice in his comics did human-like things and told the whole entire story. The mice did anything a normal human would do such as going on vacation, drive cars, live in houses, have jobs, talk, and much more. The mice also represent real people in history. They represent the Jewish people in the time of the Holocaust, as well as Spiegelman’s family.

Another literary device that Spiegelman uses in his work is imagery. He uses strong imagery, he not only presents the comic, but he uses clear characters that allow the reader to grasp a deeper connection with the comic Since Maus parts I and II are comics, the imagery is seen rather than being written. The most obvious use of imagery is the animal allegory used in the comic (Dean). Spiegelman uses animals such as mice, cats, and pigs to represent different races and nationalities. The mice in the comic represent Jews and their life during the Holocaust.

Spiegelman makes the mice different colors to represent the different races that make up the Jewish population. Cats are used to represent the Nazi party to represent how the Nazis were after the Jews and how they wanted to kill them. The pigs represented the Polish people who were Christians (MAUS: What devices are used to create deep characters in Maus by Art Spiegelman?). This is offensive to the Polish people and also sends a mixed message. Although they do good deeds and are in contact with the mice the most, they are portrayed as something terrible Poles as Pigs in MAUS The Problems with Spiegelman’s MAUS: Why MAUS Should Not Be Taught in High Schools or Elementary Schools).

His use of imagery allows the reader to engage with the text about his parents escaping from the Nazi camps to survive on a superficial level. He says “All around was a smell I can’t explain… sweetish… so like rubber burning. and fat” (Spiegelman pg. 36). Reading this gives the reader an insight into what life was like there. Spiegelman says things along the lines of this to grab the reader’s attention and to really fill them in on what the Jews went through every day and how brutal it actually was.

One of the literary devices that is the most notable in Spiegelman’s comics is symbolism. Spiegelman uses symbolism in every scene throughout his comic, Maus, in both part I and part II. One example of this is that he uses images of mice to represent the humans. The reason Spiegelman chose to use mice to represent Jews during that time was because the Jews were looked at as less than humans. This shows Spiegelman’s readers how the Jews were looked down upon as human beings and belittled by the Germans.

Kincade argues, “While some scholars argue for the history of using mice as the Jewish icon, others argue that Spiegelman’s decision to use animals, rather than actual people, stems from a crisis in symbolic representation, on the part of the author (McGlothlin, 2008, p. 101).” He not only uses mice in his comic to represent humans. He uses cats and pigs to represent the Germans because everyone knows that cats chase after and kill mice. This shows that the Germans thought they were of a higher class than the Jews. This explains how the Jews were inferior to the Germans because mice are inferior to cats. Spiegelman uses symbolism to make his comics easier to comprehend for the readers.

In this comic, Spiegelman is trying to tell the readers what happened during the Holocaust, according to his parents. He wants people to understand the horror and pain that these innocent people had to go through in a more interesting way than just an article or book. Spiegelman uses his parent’s accounts of what happened because it’s personal to him. Not only are they personal, but they have made him into the man he is today. By his use of literary devices, the story is more interesting which makes readers dive in. It also makes it makes learning about things that happened in the past not seem boring.

Kincade argues, “As a whole, Maus uses the graphic medium to convey symbols in such ways that are more difficult to achieve in literature. These images appeal to the reader’s primary perception while engaging the work—sight and the ability to perceive images without the need for literacy—while the dialogue contained within the speech balloons contains information not unlike what one might find in a work of Holocaust literature, images, which can effectively evoke pathos, paired with a narrative commonly conceived of in a solely literary medium form the basis for Maus and the reader is presented with minutely detailed drawings that contain as much emotion as the narrative itself.” This explains how his use of literary devices allows the reader to have a primary perception while engaging throughout the comic by appealing to sight and their ability to perceive images.

Works Cited

  1. Dean, Danielle. “Maus: Literary Terms.” Prezi.com, 13 May 2015, prezi.com/y0vfezbllabn/maus-literary-terms/.
  2. Spiegelman, Art. Maus II: And Here My Troubles Began. uniteyouthdublin.files.wordpress.com/2016/01/spiegelman-maus-ii.pdf.
  3. “What Devices Are Used to Create Deep Characters in Maus by Art Spiegelman? | MAUS Questions | Q & A.” GradeSaver: Getting You the Grade, 21 Feb. 2012, www.gradesaver.com/maus/q-and-a/what-devices-are-used-to-create-deep-characters-in-maus-by-art-spiegelman-64263.
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