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Transferal of Guilt in Maus



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    The books Maus I and Maus II are biographical comic books written and illustrated by Art Spiegelman. In these books Spiegelman tells his father’s story of survival through the horrors of the Holocaust. Spiegelman simultaneously presents an inner story of the conflict between him and his father, Vladek Spiegelman as both he and his father try to come to terms with the past, and work to have a normal life.

    This feelings of tension and conflict suffered by Vladek and Art in Maus I and II is caused by a transitional and rebounding feeling of survivor’s guilt caused by Vladek’s passing down of his own guilt, Art’s guilt of neglect, and Art’s attempts to come to terms with his own guilt of survival. Art and his father Vladek have a rocky relationship, this is apparent from the very beginning of the Maus I. They are distant, with Art not having seen his father for some time before he started making his book. This is because of the tension between Art and Vladek, it causes discomfort between them and arguments break out often.

    These volatile arguments, which are displayed in several cases, seem to be caused by almost anything. One example is Vladek spills the bottle of pills he is counting, and though it is his fault, he blames Art. (pg. 30, Maus I) This tension that causes these arguments to occur has its roots in Vladek’s feelings of survivor’s guilt. In order to cope with these feelings Vladek transfers them to other people in his life, such as Art and Mala. Due to this, Art had to experience what psychologist’s call a “double reality” in which he experienced a reality from the present and from his parents past.

    By growing up in the shadow his father’s guilt, Art was subjected to his father’s over-expectations brought on by his own guilt. (Grodin, Caring for Aging Holocaust Survivors and Subsequent Generations. ) On top of these expectations, Vladek is stingy, obsessive compulsive, and determined to do everything himself. These characteristics were not present in Vladek before the war, but are most likely coping mechanisms for his guilt as many survivor’s “cease to have a life with anything lively or pleasurable in it. ” (pg. 9, The Perversion of Loss) This would explain Vladek’s stinginess and want to reuse everything old, as well as why he and Mala live as they do despite the fact that Vladek has a large sum of money. As Art’s shrink, Pavel says, “Vladek always had to show he could survive, because he felt guilty about surviving. ” (pg. 44, Maus II) The tension caused by Vladek’s guilt pushed away Art, and on top of that made him feel even worse. The guilt Art feels is illustrated in his early comic that he displays in Maus I, “Prisoner on the Hell Planet”.

    He writes about his last interaction with his mother before she committed suicide, during which encounter he basically rejects her pleas for love. He states he was resentful of the way she “tightened the umbilical cord. ”(pg. 103, Maus I) Art feels as if his neglecting of his mother prompted her to suicide. He believed everyone thought that it was his fault, and in the end of the comic, Art illustrates himself in a prison cell as he condemns his mother of the committing the perfect crime.

    He has been trapped in a prison of guilt by his mother, who left without a note. This guilt of neglect Art feels towards his mother is almost mirrored in the guilt he feels for neglecting his father, who is still alive. This guilt is part of the transferal of guilt from his father, who, because of his conflictive personality pushes away Art. In Maus I, Art’s guilt of neglect is shown when he receives a call from his father early in the morning to get Art to assist him in fixing something.

    Art declines his father’s request, but his guilt is evident a week later, when on visiting his father he attempts to see if there are any other chores he can assist with. The damage has been done though, and Vladek is short and angry with Art. Through Vladek’s stories and expectations, Art also developed a feeling of survivor’s guilt. Although he was not born during the Holocaust, Art’s guilt could be linked to the fact that he feels as if his life has been bought at the expense of other’s deaths. (pg. 9, The Perversion of Loss) He feels guilty about having been born after the Holocaust, and that his parents had to live through it, while his life has been easy. This strains Art and pushes him further away from his father, when he asks himself which of his parents he would save from a concentration camp he tends to pick his mother. This guilt is visible when Art is talking to his wife and tells her that he “somehow wishes he could have be in Auschwitz with his parents, so he could really know what they lived through. ”

    Art also feels guilt for being born after his older brother Richieu, whom he describes as his “Ghost Brother”. Part of the tension between Art and his parents is caused by the invisible presence of Richieu, who Art believes his parents held him in comparison to constantly. Art creates his own sibling rivalry with his brother’s picture, seeing himself in a way as an unsuccessful replacement for Richieu. This causes Art to continue to rebel against his parents, and coupled with his conflicts with Vladek, definitely influence the path in life that he chooses.

    Starting in Maus II, Art suffers from even more depression. It has now been four years since the publication of his first book. Even though his book is successful, Art does not gain any happiness from it, and actually only feels more guilty. Now he feels as if he is exploiting the stories of his father, and those who died in the Holocaust for his own means. Art shows this guilt through his artwork in the beginning of chapter two, in Maus II. He shows himself, sitting at his drawing desk as he talks of his success, and strewn about him are piles of holocaust victims.

    These represent the victims that Art believes he is now taking advantage of, over these bodies the reporters and businessmen climb to further add on to Art’s feelings of guilt and depression by attempting to make him answer questions that he shows guilt in answering because he does not believe he has the right to answer them. Another dimension of the new depression that Art is feeling in Maus II is his guilt for finally proving his father wrong. This is another issue that he addresses on his visit to Pavel. All Art can remember is arguing with his father, and having Vladek tell him that he couldn’t do anything as well as he could.

    With the success of his book, Art is finally proving his father wrong although he now feels bad about it because “it doesn’t seem like much compared to surviving Auschwitz. ” (pg. 44, Maus II) This guilt just continues to add on to the guilt that Vladek passed on to him, which causes Art to feel depressed for not having experienced what his parents did. Vladek survived the holocaust at great cost to himself and his family. The pain didn’t just stop when the war ended though. Even though they moved countries, and he went on to be successful, the reverberations of the orrors he suffered stayed with him in the form of his guilt. This same guilt became the legacy that he gave to Art. The damaging power of this guilt caused a schism between Vladek and Art. In the end it is incredible that Art managed to cope with the guilt, and that he survived being born with a father who he described as already being partly dead. (pg. 90, Maus II) Works Cited Grodin, Michael A. , M. D. “Project MUSE – Caring for Aging Holocaust Survivors and Subsequent Generations. ” Project MUSE – Caring for Aging Holocaust Survivors and Subsequent Generations.

    The John Hopkins University Press, 2011. Web. 03 Oct. 2012. <http://muse. jhu. edu/journals/american_imago/v068/68. 3. grodin. html>. Levy, Susan, and Alessandra Lemma. The Perversion of Loss: Psychoanalytic Perspectives on Trauma. New York, NY: Brunner-Routledge, 2004. Print. Spiegelman, Art, and Art Spiegelman. Maus I: A Survivor’s Tale : My Father Bleeds History. New York: Pantheon, 1992. Print. Spiegelman, Art. Maus II: A Survivor’s Tale : And Here My Troubles Began. New York: Pantheon, 1991. Print. 8/3/2012 1334 Words

    Transferal of Guilt in Maus. (2017, Jan 06). Retrieved from

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