Course Hero. "Maus Study Guide." Course Hero. 7 Mar. 2017. Web. 20 May 2018. <https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Maus/>.
Course Hero. (2017, March 7). Maus Study Guide. In Course Hero. Retrieved May 20, 2018, from https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Maus/
(Course Hero, 2017)
Course Hero. "Maus Study Guide." March 7, 2017. Accessed May 20, 2018. https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Maus/.
Course Hero, "Maus Study Guide," March 7, 2017, accessed May 20, 2018, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Maus/.
It is February 1987. Vladek Spiegelman died in 1982. Artie Spiegelman is overwhelmed by the success of the first volume of Maus, which was published to critical and commercial acclaim in 1986. He's also depressed. Thinking about the Holocaust all the time is taking its toll, and he feels like anything but a "functioning adult." A visit to his psychiatrist, Pavel, puts things in perspective. Artie goes home and listens to some of his father's taped interviews from the summer of 1979, when he and Françoise visited Vladek in the Catskills.
Vladek's work in the tin shop takes him all over the camp to repair roofs. This is how he meets Mancie, a kind woman leading a group of female workers from Birkenau, the second of the Auschwitz camps. She acts as a go-between for Vladek and Anja Spiegelman, delivering letters and food. Vladek gets to Birkenau himself on a work excursion and gets to see Anja in person. Just talking to her is dangerous—a suspicious guard nearly beats Vladek to death on one occasion. Vladek doesn't dare go to the hospital, which is known as a one-way ticket to the gas chamber.
By using his quick wits, Vladek gets himself a job as the only shoemaker in Auschwitz. He does top-notch work, and his reputation spreads among the officers in the Gestapo, who bring him food as thanks. He even repairs the shoe of Anja's cruel kapo, who takes Anja under her wing afterward. The shoe shop closes after a few months, and Vladek is moved away from his warm and solitary work environment to "black work," or hard outdoor labor. On the bright side, Anja has been transferred to the new women's barracks in Auschwitz thanks to bribes organized by Vladek.
Vladek is moved back to the tin shop toward the end of 1944. The Russians are getting close, and tin men are needed to dismantle the machinery in the gas chambers so it can be moved to Germany, where the Nazis can "finish [the Jews] in quiet." Huge holes are being dug outside the gas chambers. They are mass graves. Vladek says the "lucky ones" are dead from the gas chambers when their bodies are thrown in. Others are put in alive before being burned to death. Artie asks Vladek why the Jews didn't resist. Vladek says they were too hungry and scared to fight back. Most of all, none of them could believe any of this was really happening.
Writing Maus wasn't necessarily good for Spiegelman's mental health. He was suddenly under the spotlight for something he didn't even experience, and he felt stuck in terms of how to proceed with the story. His diminishing self-confidence is represented by his constantly shrinking form on the page. By the time he's ready to see Pavel, he is drawn as a small child. His talk with Pavel helps him regain his confidence and sense of purpose, and as he walks home he grows taller and taller. Yet he shrinks almost immediately upon returning home, this time because he hears himself yelling at Vladek on tape. Years after his father's death, Artie is ashamed of his impatience in getting Vladek's story. As he suggests to Pavel, he draws himself small because he feels guilty that his life is so much easier than Vladek's. This is one of the reasons why he never felt he was good enough for Vladek. Until Pavel mentions it, Artie never considers the possibility that Vladek also suffered from survivor's guilt and showed off all the time as a way of proving to himself why he was allowed to live while millions of others died.
The interviews Spiegelman used to build Book 2, Chapter 2 of Maus provide a lot of insight into Vladek's character during the period of the interviews themselves. There are two aspects of his father's personality that really annoy Artie: his father's refusal to throw anything away and his expertise in nearly every aspect of household repair. The reader initially sides with Artie because that type of difficult behavior sounds annoying. But Spiegelman isn't interested in portraying himself only as the put-upon son or as his father's savior. He wants to tell how things really are, which means telling both sides of the story, even if it means making himself look somehow petty. Vladek mentions his capabilities all the time because they are what kept him alive during the war. "You see?" he says to Artie. "It's good to know how to do everything!" He's not bragging—he's telling his son why it's important to know how to do things on your own.
The same reasoning applies to his penchant for picking up trash off the street. He had to save every scrap of material goods in Auschwitz—paper, wood, lead—because one never knew when it would be needed. This information not only gives the reader a better idea of why Vladek is the way he is, but it also makes Artie a less sympathetic character in the process. Spiegelman could easily have presented his father as the stereotypically miserly old man but instead casts a bit of the shadow on himself too for not being fully understanding, which is perhaps another symptom of his life-long guilt.