The Mask That Art Spiegelman Shows Us in Maus
Maus is a controversial novel. It paints the Holocaust in a light not many other mediums can even fathom. The graphic novel medium truly is evocative. But the novel offers insight into more than just the Holocaust. The novel offers insight into the human existence and our use of masks that we project to others and what others project onto us.
The symbolism of different animals representing different types of people is very similar to what we use in the real world as our ethnicities are almost masks that we project to other people and as a way to differentiate people. This discriminating of people is proven to be inaccurate through many instances in the novel but the most common being Vladek’s ease of projecting a different mask like the train scene where he is captured (157), in which he is easily passing off as a Pole, represented by a pig. In the scene, he was apprehended by German police but only after being double-crossed by people that were supposed to be helping he and his wife escape. That goes to show the pointlessness of these masks when he so easily passed himself off as something he wasn’t in a Pole.
The symbol of masks isn’t only explored in the way that we project them but also in the way that others project them upon us. This is most apparent in Auschwitz with the German Jew (210). He is thrown into the concentration camp along with all the other Jews that the Germans horribly detained. He claims to be German and is seen as a mouse like the other Jews but the Jews see him as a cat like the other Germans. This is heavily symbolic of the hypocrisy of the idea of what we are seen as and projected as. The German Jew is stuck in a world of his own as he doesn’t fully belong to either group fully. This is symbolically highlighting the world we live in as sometimes our labels, good or bad, sometimes make us. Many times these labels aren’t in our control and keep us in a group decided by the society around it. That being during the Holocaust it literally meant life or death and life or death consequences are made over these symbolic lines today as well as gang warfare, civil wars, and religious ostracization.
The symbol of masks is ever-present through the novel, even in the situations outside of the Holocaust, Art, and Vladek and one of the interesting cases in Art’s wife, who born French becomes a converted Jew to appease Art’s family. It becomes apparent that it’s so easy to change labels and masks to the point that they mean almost nothing other than to bring people apart because Francoise could so easily become a mouse from what was projecting to be a bunny rabbit for her French descent. Through this Art highlights the fact that masks are only a matter of perspective and through an outside lens can mean almost nothing like the case of his wife.
Art offers an interesting perspective into human existence, as he takes such a horrific event in the Holocaust and uses it to frame a criticism of modern society and society as a whole. The idea that so many people hide behind masks isn’t a new one but it does gain a different thread with this novel. It, with historical context, shows the irreparable damage labels and perceptions can cause.