Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Putting a Face to a Name

As many of you have already noted, the power of this novel is in the images. There is no doubt that stories of the horrors of the Holocaust are jarringly graphic. But I have never read a story or a history textbook that chronicled everything in pictures; pictures have been included of the before, during, after, but never simultaneously all three. Spiegleman writes of the rampant diseases that his father was surrounded with, and includes drawings of mice with blank stares and lines of anxiety around their eyes. Vladek contracts typhus, and Spiegleman draws him writhing and screaming in pain. Spiegleman tells how his mother’s camp was barbaric, but then draws an officer kicking the weak woman in her stomach. Anja and Vladek are finally reunited after the war ends, and Spiegleman communicates their astonishment and emotion when they first see one another again. We not only meet the people Vladek encounters through words, but see images of them—perhaps only once before they are murdered.

In short, the images in the novel are literally graphic. They transcend the power of Vladek’s story to another higher plane. The reader is able to physically relate with the emotion and the horror of the event, as well as the reality of surviving. No matter how it is told, the story of the Holocaust is atrocious and unfathomable. But pictures accompanying stories make it real. These names we read have faces. Spiegleman’s choice of non-human characters are what make the graphic nature of the story possibly approachable; the fact that what happened did not actually happen to mice makes it a bit more bearable, insinuating the impossibility of such inhumanity, while simultaneously illustrating that the Holocaust was a point in history where humans treated one another like animals. Finally, the juxtaposition of the past and the present, both in black and white and drawn the same, remind the reader of the reality of the events of the past and the continuance of the future.

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