Art Spiegelman, from Maus


1. Discussing his decision to tell his fatherís story in comic book form using animals, Art Spiegelman said in an interview: "I donít know what a German looked like who was in a specific town doing a specific thing. My notions are born of a few score of photographs and a couple of movies. Iím bound to do something inauthentic. Also Iím afraid if I did it with people, it would be very corny. . . . To use these ciphers, the cats and mice, is actually a way to allow you past the cipher at the people who are experiencing it. So itís really a much more direct way of dealing with the material."

How exactly do these "ciphers" enable the reader to have a more direct connection with the people in this narrative? What other effects does this "casting" of Jews as mice and Germans as cats have? How does the metaphor work on multiple levels through its connection to ideas of extermination, predation, and bestiality? How does Spiegelmanís use of cats and mice to represent humans resemble that of other anthropomorphic comics such as Donald Duck, and how might it be different? How might it be related to childrenís fables that also anthropomorphize animals?

2. When Maus became a best-seller, The New York Times classified it as a work of fiction--a decision that was highly controversial. When the National Book Critics Circle nominated Maus for an award, it was in the category of biography. What is it about this book that makes determining its genre difficult?

3. Look at the various forms of documentary "evidence" that are included in this excerpt from Maus (e.g., the notice for the elderly Jews to be transferred to Theresienstadt, the diagram of the hiding place, the passports stamped with the letter "J"). What is the effect of including these items in the text?

4. How does Spiegelman graphically "mark" the difference between the present-day conversation between himself and his father, Vladek, and the past events Vladek is describing? Why might Spiegelman have chosen to make the backgrounds of the panels of past events so densely patterned? What does this suggest about the contrast between Vladekís past and present, and about the power of these memories?