Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Pictures in Maus II

Maus is a very moving and powerful graphic novel. Much of its success is due to its medium. By replacing the human face and body with common animals, Spiegelman paradoxically brings the reader closer to both the humanity and the horror of the situation because of the lack of the humanity. Similarly, Maus is not some cartoon that attempts to point at a massive event in history – the Holocaust – but rather at Vladek’s truly individual experience. The two panels where the graphic novel breaks from its illustrations – the pictures of Richieu and Vladek – are two of the strongest instances of this interplay between the individual person and the overall lack of humanity.

Maus is dedicated to Richieu, Spiegelman’s older brother who passed away in the ghettos of Poland. The picture of his younger brother, who appears to be no older than eight in the photo, has a very ominous character even before the reader gets into Maus II and has any idea who the boy is (assuming they did not read Maus I). Later, a staged picture of Vladek in souvenir concentration camp clothes is presented in the middle of the illustrations.

With the presence of both of these pictures, Maus is brought away from the artist’s pen and back into the concrete reality. The reader is reminded that this account is really real. It ended one of these lives and permanently tarnished the other. Moreover, by instituting the human face as the reality of the genocide, Spiegelman establishes a relationship between the particular and the many. He thereby reminds the world that the Holocaust is both one story and many stories, and that no story holds preference over another.

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