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Maus | Discussion Questions 1 - 10

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What does Artie's decision to include personal information about Vladek's relationships in Book 1, Chapter 1 of Maus tell the reader about the dynamic between father and son?

Chapter 1 introduces the reader to Anja, Vladek's first wife and Artie's mother, but it takes a detour to get there. As a young man, Vladek was very popular with the ladies in Czestochowa, Poland, particularly Lucia Greenberg. They dated for three years even though Vladek had no intention of marrying her, and Vladek admits to Artie they also had a sexual relationship, which would most likely have been frowned upon, especially for an unmarried woman. Lucia isn't portrayed in the most flattering light—she's obsessed with Vladek and tries to sabotage his engagement to Anja—and Vladek doesn't think it's proper for Artie to include this part of the story in the book. Artie promises he won't. Yet he does—Lucia's zealous pursuit of Vladek makes up a good chunk of Book 1. Artie's decision to include this information shows how much his father trusts him to do the right thing, but that Artie will not necessarily do that. He's not trying to purposefully hurt his father—he's simply trying to write a book people will want to read. His decision also implicates a generational divide. Things that were taboo in the 1930s, like premarital sex, seem very different in the 1970s. Artie thinks this is a promise it won't hurt to break.

Why is Vladek so opposed to Anja helping her communist friend in Book 1, Chapter 2 of Maus?

Shortly after Vladek and Anja marry, Vladek learns Anja is translating communist letters from Polish into German for a childhood friend. Vladek doesn't like communists, which isn't unusual, considering Russia, a communist state, had controlled parts of Poland for more than 100 years and then tried to reclaim what they lost when Poland was declared an independent nation once more in 1918. Communism was a threat not only to capitalists, like Vladek and Mr. Zylberberg, but also to the freedom of Poland in general. The illegal Polish Communist Party, established in 1918, was under close scrutiny by government officials, so even associating with communists, not to mention helping them, was a risky proposition. Anja's actions brought danger to her family's front door. If she had been caught, it would have reflected very badly on them and Vladek. Vladek wants to be a successful businessman, and he can't do that if his wife is "involved in conspirations."

How is Vladek's recollection about enlisting in the army in Book 1, Chapter 3 of Maus representative of his personality?

Vladek's father didn't want his sons to be drafted into the Polish army after his own terrible experiences in the Russian army. He practically starved Marcus, his eldest son, so he would fail the requisite physical examination a few months after his 21st birthday. When Vladek turned 21 the following year, his father put him on the same strict diet of salted herring and coffee. Vladek's body withered away, and his mind wasn't far behind since his father barely let him sleep. But when Vladek goes to the examination, he isn't rejected, but instead told to "build [him]self up for a year" and try again. Vladek begs his father not to make him relive the entire ordeal, and enters the service at 22. This anecdote about Valdek's past—one of the few included in Maus—is a testament to Vladek's courage and independence. His father's experiences have educated him well in the hardship of armed service, and he knows life in the army will not be easy. He also knows disobeying his father's wishes could end in his own misery and death. But Vladek is willing to face any danger as long as it means having control of his own body and making his own decisions. Instead of hiding from an uncertain future, as his father wants, Vladek marches straight into it. This same courage and independence help him remain strong as a civilian and an eventual prisoner during World War II.

Why did the Nazis treat the captured Jewish soldiers so much better at the work camp in Book 1, Chapter 3 of Maus than at the POW camp?

The accommodations for Jews at the German POW camp were atrocious. While the non-Jewish Poles stayed in heated cabins and had two meals a day, the Jews slept in thin tents and ate scraps of food. The work camp, in comparison, was almost like a hotel. For the first time in six weeks Vladek and his friends got to sleep in real beds and eat regular meals. This wasn't kindness on the part of the guards—it was a means of ensuring they got the most out of the few workers they had. Vladek and the other volunteers worked their bodies to the bone as they leveled the hillsides of the country with shovels and picks day after day. Without adequate nutrition and rest, they would be useless to the Germans, who didn't want to do this type of work themselves. From a practical standpoint, it made more sense for the Germans to treat the Jewish laborers relatively well so they would be able to accomplish more.

What is the significance of Parshas Truma in Book 1, Chapter 3 of Maus?

A parshah (which in Maus is referred to as a "parsha") is a passage from the Torah, the first five holy books of Hebrew scripture. There is one parshah for each week of the year. Vladek has a dream while at the German work camp in which his deceased grandfather tells him he will be freed on the day of Parshas Truma, which falls in the middle of February. This is significant for a few reasons: Parshas Truma is about the the benefits of giving of oneself. When a person makes a donation or helps someone else, he is also reaping the benefits of making the world a better place. Vladek goes out of his way to help others during his stay at the work camp, after he escapes the Nazis in Lublin, and in Auschwitz. He always shares his meager provisions and arranges for his friends to be taken care of when they are unable to care for themselves. The week in which Parshas Truma is read is an important one for the Spiegelman family. Not only is it the week when Vladek and the other Jews are released from the work camp, but it also is the week in which Anja and Vladek were married a few years before, as well as the week in which Artie was born. It is even the parshah Artie sang at his Bar Mitzvah. Whether this is coincidence or fate, Parshas Truma is an auspicious reading—and message—for the Spiegelman family.

How did international law fail Vladek upon his release from the German POW camp in Book 1, Chapter 3 of Maus?

The Geneva Convention of 1929 specified the fair treatment of prisoners of war, including the terms of their release. Healthy prisoners could be released at any time to their home countries, and had to be released upon the ending of hostilities. Yet Vladek and the other Jews from Sosnowiec were taken to Lublin, where the Nazis intended to kill them. The problem was that Poland no longer existed when Vladek and the others were released in mid-February 1940. Germany had taken over the western part of the country, where Sosnowiec was located, so the POWs from this region were technically Germans, not Poles. The terms of the Geneva Convention of 1929 didn't include anything about prisoners from annexed lands under belligerent (in this case, German) rule, so the Germans were free to do whatever they wanted with the Jewish POWs from the newly acquired area, including killing them. Killing Jewish POWs while they were in captivity would have been a violation of the convention, but killing them afterward was legally acceptable. It was a loophole the Germans used to their advantage to punish those who were against them.

What is the significance of the coat Vladek gives Artie at the end of Book 1, Chapter 3 of Maus?

Vladek purposefully throws away Artie's favorite trench coat and, when Artie comes over for dinner one night, tries to replace it with one of his old jackets, which he says is "still like new." Artie is furious. Although the undertones are somewhat humorous, with the scene smacking of parental over-control, it also illustrates the fundamental differences and miscommunications between father and son that contribute to the rift in their relationship. Though the old coat was, as Vladek says, "shabby," Artie loves it. It matches his personal style, unlike the naugahyde windbreaker Vladek gives him, which seems garish and unsophisticated in comparison. He doesn't care that it was old—to him, age makes it more valuable. Besides, his father's stinginess is apparent in his choice to give Artie a cast-off coat rather than buying him a new one. Vladek doesn't see any value in Artie's sentimental attachment to the trench coat. He evaluates everything from a standpoint of practicality and value. The coat was old, so it should be replaced. Vladek's act of giving Artie a "better" coat is a demonstration of his love. He wants Artie to be warm and he wants Artie to have nice things. Vladek has worked hard his entire life. He sees his son's choice of outerwear as a reflection of his own success. He has done well in life, so Artie should have a nice coat. Artie misunderstands this gesture as being an act of control. Vladek will not let Artie, even at 30, make decisions about his own life.

What does Vladek's decision to withhold money from Anja's family in Book 1, Chapter 4 of Maus say about his character?

Vladek begins making money quickly after he decides to smuggle fabric to Mr. Ilzecki. This money is very important to the survival of Anja's family because all the factories have been taken over by Germans, but Vladek keeps half of his earnings a secret. He knows "they wouldn't save anything" if he gave them the entire amount. The Zylberbergs have always been wealthy. They're used to buying whatever they want, be it a new dress or a new factory. Conversely, Vladek grew up in a family without a lot of money. He knows the importance of saving for the proverbial rainy day. Even though he is not the patriarch of the Zylberberg family, he acts like one, helping them prepare for the really hard times by saving half his income. This episode shows his practicality, his paternal instinct to protect everyone close to him, and his innate survivor instinct.

In Maus in what ways is Artie's relationship with Vladek similar to the one Vladek had with his father?

In their 30s, Vladek and Artie are each in the position of helping their fathers decide how to move forward with their lives. Artie does this in Book 2, Chapter 4 of Maus as Vladek deals with Mala's departure. Vladek says he's better off without Mala but he also doesn't want to live alone. He looks to Artie for advice, but Artie says only, "It's up to you." Artie doesn't want to be responsible for the outcome of his father's marriage, but he also doesn't want Vladek trying to move in with him. This conversation parallels the one Vladek has with his own father in Book 1, Chapter 4, when the senior Spiegelman wants to know if he should go to the stadium in Sosnowiec or not. Like his son 35 years later, Vladek "[doesn't] know how to advise him." Vladek, who usually has the upper hand in all of his personal relationships, is hesitant to give his father advice out of fear of saying the wrong thing. He and Artie are both unsure of how to guide the person who guided them for so many years.

Why does Spiegelman include Prisoner on the Hell Planet in Book 1, Chapter 5 of Maus?

Prisoner on the Hell Planet is an actual comic published in 1973. Its focus is the aftermath of Anja's suicide, and it provides context about Artie's past and his relationship with his parents. Anja died in 1968 shortly after Artie was released from a mental hospital for health issues of his own. They both suffer from mental illness—she has depression, and he is diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia—and have the torment of "inner demons" in common. At 20 Artie is distant from his parents, turning away from Anja when she asks if he loves her, and unable to deal with Vladek's grief after her death. This gulf between Artie and Vladek doesn't begin to narrow until Artie starts interviewing his father about the Holocaust. Though Artie accuses Anja of murdering him, it is Artie who is portrayed as the villain. Depicted wearing a prison uniform, Artie is first shown in front of a mugshot height chart. He is locked in a prison at the end. This is a metaphor for the guilt he feels over his mother's death, a feeling that stays with him for at least the next decade before he starts working on Maus.

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