Representing History in “Maus”

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Today there are many mediums in our society that are used to convey information. Newspapers, such as the Washington Post or The Wall Street Journal, are great sources for information around the world. Websites such as CNN are also useful for the same purpose.

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But there exists one method of communication that society has long neglected: the comic book. Today, we regard comic books as childish, but comic books are great mediums used for spreading information, colorful panels and text combine to create an accurate understanding. Many new comics go even further to take on more intense topics, graphic novels such as Maus by Art Spiegelman offer great insights into some of the worst events to ever occur in history. Spiegelman shows that history is cruel and unusual, but it requires investigation to understand why.

History is a difficult thing to grasp, because of human blunders. So many events, the Watergate Scandal, Apartheid, the Holocaust, – all of these things happened as a result of failures of our society. Spiegelman flagrantly highlights this in Maus II. The opening quote of the book itself states Mickey Mouse is the most miserable ideal ever revealed…Healthy emotions tell every independent young man and every honorable youth that the dirty and filth-covered vermin, the greatest bacteria carrier in the animal kingdom, cannot be the ideal type of animal…Away with Jewish brutalization of the people! Down with Mickey Mouse! Wear the Swastika Cross!(Spiegelman 3). The quote came from a newspaper article from Pomerania, Germany, mid-1930s. Not even into the story, the reader is confronted with a quote like this; it provides the sort of ethos that thrived in the Third Reich. The amount of negative energy just from this quote is crucial to understanding how and why German society disliked Jews so much. The citation, which talks about how Mickey Mouse, the innocent, clubhouse-friendly character of our childhoods is now the worst thing to ever be introduced to someone just because it is a mouse. This connection doesn’t stray, in fact it propels us, into Maus II. The quote addresses Mickey Mouse and then closes with a radical statement of Wear the Swastika Cross! and Away with Jewish brutalization of people!. In Maus II, the Jews throughout the book are mice, as if to concur with the quote. The mice are continuously oppressed by cats, the Germans. By putting the Holocaust into a more abstract level, Spiegelman seems to make the right choice. Art does this in the effort to make everything more human, as if afraid it is too much to deal with all at once. Despite the abstractism that Spiegelman uses, that is not to deter from the main message that Spiegelman continuously transmits throughout his work; the fact that people are immoral.

The few people who do understand history all agree on one thing: history has and will forever remain cruel. For history to not be this, it would take a purge of the entire human race, a complete restart of civilizations. The concept of war, invented in 2700 BCE, still lives on today. The first cancer was found as early as 1600 BCE, and still continues to perish too many helpless beings. Spiegelman undoubtedly agrees with this in Maus II, as stated on page 79 Some prisoners working in the gas chambers revolted. They killed 3 S.S. men and blew up a crematorium…Yah. For this they all got killed. And the four young girls what sneaked over the ammunitions for this, they hanged them near to my workshop.(Spiegelman 79). In Auschwitz, it didn’t matter if one was young, trying to make one’s case for freedom, freedom that has been long sought after, freedom that is a right entitled to oneself. To have freedom so tantalizing close but to have it kept away is all but the worst of all tortures. God forbid the exploitation of the man who got found trying to obtain this natural possession, for the penalization was death as said above. For being an infant, unable to care for yourself, or a terminally ill person, pleading on death’s doorstep, didn’t matter. Everyone in Auschwitz either saw or experienced death. And it wasn’t through quick deaths, Auschwitz was a buffet for death. Rebel or not, it was the gas chambers, beatings, hangings, animal wounds, and more just because of a certain race/religion. Brutality in Auschwitz is unlike anything ever experienced ever before in the human race. What better example of cruelty is there to look at than Auschwitz? Auschwitz, the single location for about 1.3 million casualties – babies, elderly, sick people alike – is ostentatiously perceived as the manifestation of cruelty in Maus II.

The unusuality of history flourishes through the inundation of cruelty. The constant intertwining of these two words, as one often leads to the other, is cumulative throughout Maus II. For example, on page 71 it is averred We pulled the bodies apart with hooks. Big piles, with the strongest on top, older ones and babies crushed below. Often the skulls were smashed. Their fingers were broken from trying to climb up the walls. And sometimes their arms were as long as their bodies, pulled from the sockets. (Spiegelman 71). This is unusual because how many times, in our world, has there been a case where bodies are dragged using hooks? Where bodies, children and elderly, are put into piles, with crushed skulls? None other than Auschwitz. This is because to have one’s corpse dismantled in such a grotesque way, where the describing and comparing of deceased body parts are normal talk. To have such a situation would require one to thrive in one of the most absurd places on the face of the Earth. Another reason that justifies that history is unusual is on page 72 And those what finished in the gas chambers before they got pushed in these graves, it was the lucky ones. The others had to jump in the graves while still they were alive. Prisoners what worked there poured gasoline over the live ones and the dead ones. And the fat from the burning bodies they scooped and poured again so everyone could burn better. (Spiegelman 72). This is indubitably unusual because burning bodies is unusual, but live and dead one’s simultaneously is just outrageous. What’s more, the waste from the broiling of these bodies was then used as a way to jump start the next batch that got this treatment. Spiegelman concurs with this, he even adds that those who died in the gas chambers were the lucky ones. Dying is terrible, but to be judged by the way you die is just inhumane. As frequently as death appears in life, the way one died is what sets people apart in Auschwitz, which is bizarre in the world today.

By understanding events like Auschwitz, one can get to the deep, seldom roots of the actual event. Everyday people ask Why? and as simple as this phrase is, it carries a lot of depth behind it. Only through deep questioning and extensive research are we able to find the answers that we need in life. Art Spiegelman asked his father about his reluctance of sharing his story with us, and through persistence our world was able to receive Maus and Maus II. Spiegelman, after finishing Maus, goes back to Poland to see the things that his father went through. He visits the place where in Maus on page 83 four Jews are hung. Spiegelman misinterprets this in his book, by showing gallows where in actuality they were hung by a tree. Spiegelman even visits the stadium, the place featured on page 89 where many Jews were sent to their death. After finding the place, now a grass field with many kids playing soccer on it and having a good time, he remarks This could be another planet rather than the same piece of ground…It is another planet. Spiegelman even visits Auschwitz, where the realization of cruelty and horror there washes over him, as he cries in the very bunks that his father could have slept in. Through deep investigation, Spiegelman understood the cruelty of history and humanity.

Everything in history all ends and starts at one place: human nature. In history, there are so many relations that can stretch from one place to another, even to another place in another time period. Ever since humans have walked on the Earth, humans have dominated. History is another thing that is dominated by humans. History is human nature. Every bad thing that humans have done were only possible because humans were able to let it happen. The Holocaust was able to happen through a radicalization of society, whose goal was to eradicate one, single race; the Jews. To the non-Jews in the Third Reich, Jews were vermin, filch and things that are ultimately detrimental to society. This thought can practically be brought back 600 years ago, to 1347, where the Black Plague killed 200 million people in Europe. Rather than going with the logical reasoning, many people blamed Jews for the cause of this devastating pandemonium. Anti-Semitism began to increase exponentially, entire communities were killed by mobs. Eventually, people began to realize that the cause of Black Death was due to bacteria, fleas that hid inside of rats. The rats would then hide inside one’s house, and then the rodents would hide inside of houses and spread the disease onto people. Spiegelman seems to come in, as stated before, his Jews are portrayed as rodents. Rodents, that to most of society at that time were the cause of nearly 200 million deaths across Europe. These allegations, though false, were only made possible through human nature, something more powerful than any weapon ever created in history. Human nature, is the thing that creates barriers between people, what brings society down. Human nature is what spawned segregation and discrimination. This isn’t to say that it is our fault, because to not have human nature is to not be human; rather that our abuse of it has lead to our failures.

In conclusion, understanding why things happen, especially in history, brings out the irregularity of life. It often can lead to terrible feelings, but nothing great is achieved without tremendous sacrifices. In order for one to understand history, it is required to understand human nature, the good and the bad parts.

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