In his introduction to “Art from the Ashes: A Holocaust Anthology,” Laurence Lagner argues that “Language, of course, has its limitations” (3) when writing about the the holocaust. When witnessing the slaughter of children in Warsaw by the Nazis, Abraham Lewis wrote that “there is nothing to be gained by expressing in words everything that we feel” (3). Those experiencing the holocaust witnessed the limitations of language first hand, as their words were incapable of stopping the atrocities happening all around them.
However, these same words, which so utterly owerless to the writer, exemplify the power of language by “leaving behind a record of scenes that nothing but language could have captured for the future” (4) In our contemporary context, the real limitations of language in relation to holocaust writing is not found in the first hand accounts, but rather in post-holocaust writing that attempts to apply familiar literary devices and tropes to events that are alien to the ordinary reader. Spiegelman, however, avoids using such literary cliches as heroism, hope, or the triumph of love over hate in “Maus” and “Maus II. According to Lagner, ffective holocaust literature is “an experience in unlearning” (5), as both the writer and the reader must come to terms with “abandoning all safe props” in order to come closer to comprehending the holocaust experience. Therefore, because all cliches and conventions are abandoned in “Maus” and “Maus II,” readers are forced to confront the reality of the holocaust without the safety or preconceptions of the familiar, which is invaluable for helping us come to terms with and to understand an event so unthinkable.
One of Spiegelman’s most unconventional elements is using the form ofa graphic ovel to write a historical biography of a holocaust survivor. This form immediately places readers in an unfamiliar context, which is very effective in preparing them for the absence of familiar literary conventions. It is not difficult to find examples of individual panels in “Maus” and “Maus II” that effectively convey the raw unthinkableness of the holocaust. For me, there is one panel in particular in “Maus” that made me put the book down with the intention of never picking it up again.
This is the seventh panel on page 108, which depicts a German soldier killing a Jewish child by swinging him by his leg and smashing him into a wall. It is not true that words unaccompanied by pictures always fail to convey Just how inhumane and unimaginable the holocaust was. For example, Lagner’s own description of the “excremental assault” a woman he interviewed endured while escaping from a Nazi round up attests to the ability of language to describe the unthinkable (6). Nevertheless, a drawing such as this one leaves nothing to the imagination.
What is more, the graphic novel does not allow words to manipulate or mislead the reader. Instead, it provides a context where simple language can carry so much raw emotion without being cliche. The words accompanying this panel and the previous panel on page 108 of “Maus” are an example of this. The first panel reads: “Some kids were screaming and screaming. They couldn’t stop. ” The words accompanying the panel described above read: “So the Germans swinged them by the legs against a wall .. .And they never anymore screamed” (p. 108).
I nere are no cllcnes In tnls norrenaous aeplctlon 0T tne cola- Dlooaea murder 0T children as young as two years old. When we look for some meaning in their demise, there is nothing there. According to Lagner, effective holocaust literature forces us “to surrender.. the comforting notion that suffering has meaning–that is strengthens, ennobles, or redeems the human soul” (p. 5). The acts of brutality that the Nazis carried out during the holocaust were not counter balanced in any manner by opposing acts of love, kindness or redemption.
Instead, those subjected to its horrors, we forced into a survival mode that put individual preservation above all else. In both “Maus” and “Maus II,” there are acts of individual kindness, but these are not part ofa larger theme about community or the human condition. They are just about survival and circumstances, as is the case with Art’s farther. It is clear from the two graphic novels that his surviving the holocaust was part luck and part ingenuity.
The sheer luck and randomness of surviving the holocaust can be seen in the story he tells about getting stopped by a German soldier nicknamed “The Shooter” because he liked to randomly shoot a Jewish person everyday. The reason why the soldier did not shoot him was because of the last name, Spiegelman. The soldier knew Vladek’s cousin, Haskel,who was chief of the Jewish police and collaborating with the Nazis. There are two situation involving Vladek’s cousin that how there is no comfortable cliches for genuine holocaust literature.
One of these situations involved Haskel helping Vladak, his wife and nephew get released from detention that would have resulted in their being taken to a concentration camp. Vladak was able to arrange for this to happen by paying his cousin to help. When Art learned this, he was shocked that Vladek had to pay his own family for help. As a result, he tells his father that even if he did not have the money, his cousin would have helped him. However, Vladak tells Art that he simply does not understand and ” t that time it wasn’t anymore families.
It was everybody to take care for himself! ” Another element that emerges in the “Maus” graphic novels is how much of a negative psychological impact the holocaust had on its survivors and on the children of its survivors. The Maus books do not glorify the holocaust by depicting Vladek as a man who survived this horrible event but learned and grew from it. Instead, the “Maus” books reveal that the holocaust left Vladek extremely emotionally and psychologically damaged. The fact that holocaust tainted everything that Vladek did can be seen right at the beginning of “Maus.
In the graphic novel”s first scene, we see Art as a child. In this scene, Art falls off his bicycle, but his friends do not wait for him. When he gets home, he is upset, so he tells his father what happened. With the help of how each panel is drawn and arranged, the full negative impact of the holocaust on Vkadek can be seen. When Art comes home crying, Vladek immediately starts to comfort him. In one panel, there is a close up of Vladek hugging Art, which clearly reveals how much he loves Art. However, when Art tells his father that his friend’s had been mean to him, the holocaust takes over.
He tells Art “If you lock them together in a room with no food for a week … Then you could see what it is, friends! “. It is clear that the holocaust had greatly ink acted Vladek’s ability to be a patent. In fact, it tainted his perspective so much that it filled Art as well. This can be seen by the fact that he is writing the graphic novels as a method to try to understand his father as well as himself. The flaws that dominate Vladek’s personallty are not a renectlon 0T tne reaeemlng nature 0T tne nolocaust. Instead, they are simply the result of surviving such a traumatic event.