Literature Study GuidesMausBook 1 Chapter 1 Summary

Maus | Study Guide

Art Spiegelman

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Maus | Book 1, Chapter 1 : My Father Bleeds History (The Sheik) | Summary



Book 1 is titled My Father Bleeds History. Artie Spiegelman visits his father and his father's second wife, Mala Spiegelman, in Rego Park, a neighborhood in Queens. It has been a long time since his last visit—he says he and his father aren't very close. They go into Artie's old bedroom so they can chat while Vladek Spiegelman rides a stationary bicycle. He's already had two heart attacks, and the doctors say pedaling is good for his heart. Artie, a comic book writer, wants to write about Vladek's experiences during World War II. Vladek doesn't think anyone would want to read about it, but Artie insists he would. Vladek begins his story by telling how he met Artie's mother, Anja Spiegelman.

It's the mid-1930s. Vladek lives in Czestochowa, Poland, near the German border. He buys and sells textiles and earns a modest living. He's considered to be good looking, like Rudy Valentino in The Sheik, and girls are always chasing after him. He dates one girl, Lucia Greenberg, for three years, but he has no intention of marrying her, especially after he meets Anja. Anja Zylberberg of Sosnowiec, where Vladek's parents and extended family live, is the daughter of a millionaire businessman and prominent figure in the Jewish community. She's smart and sensitive, and Vladek quickly falls in love with her. Lucia tries to win Vladek back, even going so far as to write an anonymous letter to Anja to tell her what a terrible person Vladek is, but Vladek is able to convince Anja otherwise. By the end of 1936, they are engaged. He moves to Sosnowiec, and they are married on February 14, 1937.

Vladek pauses his story to tell Artie he doesn't want anything about Lucia in the book. Private information like that "isn't so proper, so respectful." Artie promises he will omit it.


While this chapter is merely a prelude to Vladek's experiences during World War II, it offers a lot of insight about his character. Vladek quit school at 14 so he could work to earn money for his family, but decided to take private English lessons so he would someday go to the United States. His dreams for himself are far beyond Polish family man. The combination of his fluent English and his willingness to work hard to get ahead are what ultimately help him survive the war.

Vladek is also enormously practical. He chooses Anja over Lucia because he knows intelligence and kindness are far more important than good looks when it comes to having a good relationship. He can barely stand Lucia before he meets Anja, whose presence makes him realize just how wrong Lucia is for him. His practicality is also financial, as Lucia's family can't afford even a modest dowry, while Anja's family is wealthy far beyond average. He loves Anja for herself, but the promise of financial stability doesn't hurt.

As much as Maus is about Vladek, it's also about his relationship with Artie. Spiegelman began interviewing Vladek in 1972, when Artie was 24 and his father was 66. Prior to this Spiegelman had heard only bits and pieces of Vladek's experiences during the war, which he used as the basis for his three-page "Maus" comic in 1972's Funny Animals. Spiegelman brought the comic to his father, who immediately launched into the story of his entire war experience, filling in the gaps Spiegelman didn't even know were there. His father talked for four days, and Artie recorded the entire thing. Most of Maus comes from those conversations, though Spiegelman interviewed his father on an almost continual basis in the intervening years. Spiegelman presents this a little differently in the book—Artie visits Vladek with the intention of writing a book about Vladek's experiences, and the interviews take place circa 1978. This is one of several instances where Spiegelman takes artistic liberty with the narrative. The truth of Vladek's experiences and the tense relationship between him and his son are never up for debate, but the timeline sometimes is complex.

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