In high school I was geared to go to art school. I had a massive portfolio of sketches, paintings, and even photography, however, my concentration was 3-D art. My favorite medium was clay because I could create anything that existed in the physical world and even in my head. Every quarter my art teacher assigned one theme to a series of ten projects. I could create anything and use any medium as long as the project correlated with her theme. My last theme of my senior year was “Escape”. I thought about the word escape, and how I could interrupt it. The only thing I could come up with was how people escape the world. So, my project became a series of masks representing emotion; anger, love, and sadness. My art teacher was confused when I completed my project. I tried to explain to her that the mask allows use to hide behind it, but we also become the emotion that the mask represents. Then, she asked me whether I believed that the mask made the person wearing it have the emotion, or did it make him appear to have the emotion. Looking back on this project, I think my art teacher and I were focusing on how a mask can act as a signifier, but does not necessarily mean that it signifies the person it is on. The person and public can assign two different meanings to the mask the person wears. I thought about this idea in relation to Spiegelman.
Does it matter whether the characters wear masks or not in Maus II. Initially, I was trying to figure out why Spiegelman used mice, cats, and pigs as characters in the story. Why didn’t he use some other animals or objects, why these specific ones? I tried to construct the universal symbolism of a mouse; small, weak, squeaks, bottom of the food chain, and lack of self-defense. Then I looked at cats; predator of the mice and aggressive. This symbolism is obvious in correlation to the Holocaust, but I still wasn’t satisfied. As I began to read, I assigned these characters meaning, and significance based on my common assumption from their appearance. As I continued to read, I noticed the characters did not take on an “animal-state”, but rather were conveyed as humans. By the end of the story I did not see the characters as mice or cats; each character became an individual human. The concept of the mask breaks down and the reader does not see the images of a mouse, but relates to the emotion and ‘character’ of the human story.