Memory and Representation in Maus


When we remember things, we aren’t aware of how much are representations of the past can be altered by time and the discourses surrounding us.

Art Spiegelman’s Maus deals with autobiographical recollections of the past. Specifically, Art Spiegelman’s father Vladek provides a narrative about his hardships in Auschwitz. Art presents Vladek’s memories by remembering what his father told him about what he remembered. Art interviews Vladek on separate occasions and provides sketches of what his father said. Art attempts to be as autobiographical as he can with the use of Vladek’s exact words from a tape recorder. The emphasis on the truth of the story is present in the fact that when the story deals with his father’s narrative, it is done in first person. Vladek’s exact narration is present on each panel that deals with his wife Anja or his life in the concentration camps. Even though Art presents Vladek’s memoirs in the most accurate way possible, there are many things that should be taken into account with the representations. I think Art Spiegelman is also aware of these obstacles in providing a completely truthful narration.

First of all, Vladek’s narration occurs when the events have long past so his memories can be subject to change do to time. Also, Vladek is speaking to Art orally and then Art interprets the memories to the best of his abilities. But, Arts interpretation is something to account for. Art is providing scenes for Vladek’s narrations that might not be exactly what the scenes in Vladek’s head looked like or how he remembered them. But the way in which Art presents the story can indicate that he is aware of the representations of memory.

He clearly shows that the ages of both himself and his father and where they are when the remember the events. Many scenes involve the conversations of Vladek and Art. Art also includes his feelings about what his father is telling him and how it affects him. It isn’t just Vladek’s memories told by Art but Vladek’s memories and Art’s memories. The way Art depicts each character and scene is also important to how the memories are being represented. Art knows that he wasn’t there for the hardships his father dealt with and he knows his scenes might not be accurate so it is important that the characters don’t look similar to Vladek’s memory either. The characters in the graphic novel are anthropomorphized animals. Art presents Jews as mice, Germans as cats, non- Jewish Americans as dog,Poles as pigs, French as frogs, Swedes as reindeer, the British as fish and gypsies as gypsy moths. Very many people in Vladek’s narrations Art had never seen before and Vladek may not even remember their faces to well. The use of the animals is important to show that the memories aren’t complete and are represented through Art. It’s also a way of showing how the Holocaust had emphasized people’s race as a way of genocide. Cats are stronger than mice and often antagonize and kill mice. The animal caricatures are a way to depict people without knowing their faces and also showing the racial discrimination during the Holocaust and also after it.

Memories can’t always be complete and are always changing over time. I think Art Spiegelman was very aware of this when producing his graphic novel. He shows the scenes where he interviews his father and shows his own emotions during such instances. He presents characters and both his narration and his father narration in such a way as to show that this is the truth but also a representation of the truth.