Updated September 10, 2022

Theme of Racism in Art Spiegelman’s “Maus”

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Theme of Racism in Art Spiegelman’s “Maus” essay
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Many authors and artists alike both express the importance of theme in their work. The common questions often expressed when the reader has read an author’s written work is, what is the central theme of the book? As well as, what message is the author trying to convey to the reader? The theme is the most important part of a story. It’s the glue that connects the plot, the setting, and the environment that shapes the character throughout the story. The theme can be seen closely connected with Artie Spiegelman’s “Maus”, where racism is one of the major themes presented in the book.

Maus goes into depth on the racist views Germany held against the Jews in the 1930s and 1940s. Blaming the Jews for the country’s many economical problems after the Great War. Nevertheless, when Hitler came to power in March 1933, under his rule he would carry out one of the largest genocides in history. In addition to the fact “Maus I: A Survivor’s Tale” By Artie Spiegelman, a Jewish father tells a narrative to his son about what he had to go through during the Holocaust. Not only did they have to suffer the dreaded concentration camps but as well as racism. The main reason the Nazies displayed racism towards the Jews had to do with the idea of the Jews being subhuman. Which was displayed in this quote “Well, Jew, don’t worry. We’ll find work for you!” Maus (pg53). In context, the quote shows that Nazi soldiers dehumanized the Jews without even asking them what their names were. Thus showing that the Germans did not consider them as people but rather as what they are which was a Jew and nothing more.

Moreover, imagery helps further fuel the racial stereotypes held during the pre-world war 2 era. Instead of Spiegelman displaying characters as normal everyday people, but rather as animals. This shows the contrast between the Germans and the Jews, as well as captured Poles. Jews are represented as rats in the book. Suffering at the hands of the Germans who determined the Jews fates and destinies, Spiegelman distinguishes how the Germans treated the Jews as to how cats treat their prey, thus the Germans are symbolized as cats in Maus. Poles were presented as pigs, the definition of the word pig is an unpleasant person. Showing that the Poles helped the Jews not because they wanted to help them but for their own personal gain.

Furthermore, Nazi Germany used propaganda to further there racial views on the Jews to make the public think poorly towards the Jewish people. They used posters and newspapers to make the Jews look sub-human. Making the Germans able to identify the Jews based on their facial features alone. Like when Valdeck entered the Polish car the Germans paid him no attention when he walked in (Maus pg142). Thus instilling to the German people that they can identify a Jew just by their facial features alone.

In addition to the fact, the Germans not only used posters and the media to fuel their hatred towards the Jewish people but it also started at home. Kids were taught to hate the Jews at a very young age. They never gave the Jewish people a reason to show that they were equal. Thus showing that what is taught at home was then portrayed in public. “The mothers always told so: ‘Be careful! A Jew will catch you to a bag and eat you!’ So they taught to their children” (Maus pg 151). Mothers told their children to be careful and stay away from Jews. Often making Jews look like nightmarish people to kids. Kids will believe anything that is told to them which is why Santa Claus is so famous. So it wasn’t hard to get the German youth on the side of the Nazi propagators.

The Germans showed discrimination towards the Jews at the camp. Since the Germans felt that they were over the Jews they felt that they controlled who lived and who died. Such as in this quote “So we got stamped our passport and came quick to the good side of the stadium.

Those they sent left, they didn’t get any stamp.” (Maus pg92). The Germans felt that those who were able to work were the ones that they felt should live. If a Jew was not given a stamp they were sent to the gas chambers. These were old and young as well as mothers who didn’t want to be separated from there children.

Even though Maus is about Vladek, Spiegelman shows that other Jews went through racism and discrimination as well. Like when Anja was kicked by a Polish girl who accused her of stealing another piece of bread( Maus pg 223). This shows that the Poles felt that they were superior to the Jews even if they were in the same place as them. Even Mala understood that Vladek’s story of him surviving the holocaust doesn’t make him the symbol for all the Jews who lived or died. “ All our friends went through the camps, nobody is like him” (Maus pg133). She understands that all the Jews went through the horrors of the Holocaust as well. They too had to fight to live day by day, they too had to feel the uncertainty of what tomorrow might bring. Mala’s statement shows that every Jew in occupied German areas all fell victim to Nazi brutality no matter the class or social status.

Lastly, the people depicted in the book wore masks to show their identity. Throughout the novel, it is a cat vs. mouse game that is the representation of the Nazi and Jewish relations that showed during the Holocaust. Spiegelman showed the significance of the animal masks in act 2 of Maus. Artie was trying to figure out what animal Françoise should be portrayed as. Françoise says she should be portrayed as a mouse because she converted to Judaism. Spiegelman added this in the book to show the contrast between the different races. It is also noted that no human is shown in the book because nationalists were all that mattered in Spiegelman’s time.

All in all, Maus shows the reader the horrors of what racism is. The book paints a gruesome picture of how the Germans acted towards the Jews. Vladeks story is a testament to how Jews were shown to be sub-human. The use of animal figures in Maus makes the reader consider how the experience of anti-Semitism in the Holocaust shows the many types of racism in the novel. The theme of race shows the representation of the Nazi and Jewish relationship leading up to the Holocaust all the way up to the end of world war 2.

Theme of Racism in Art Spiegelman’s “Maus” essay

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Theme of Racism in Art Spiegelman’s “Maus”. (2021, Nov 24). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/theme-of-racism-in-art-spiegelmans-maus/


What do the pigs represent in Maus?
The Jews are depicted as mice, Germans as cats, pigs represent gentile Poles , dogs stand for Americans, frogs for the French, reindeer for the Swedes, bees for the Gypsies… His Maus is like a modern secularized bestiary.
What is the major themes in Maus?
In Maus, the themes of guilt and memory are revealed through the narrator's depiction of his relationship with his father and memories of his mother.
What is the significance of the title Maus?
The title, the German word for “mouse,” is a reference to the Jewish characters, who are all depicted as mice . By using German (or the language of the cats as the novel likes to call it), Maus plays on the anti-Semitic stereotyping of Jews as pests.
What is the theme of Maus by Art Spiegelman?
‍Guilt . Although survival is a key theme, the graphic novel explores how Holocaust survivors in The Complete Maus grapple with their deep psychological scars. Many of those who survived the war suffered from depression and was burdened with 'survivor's guilt'.
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