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Maus | Discussion Questions 11 - 20

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How does Vladek feel about the circumstances of Richieu's death in Book 1, Chapter 5 of Maus?

Vladek and Anja send Richieu to live with Wolfe's Uncle Persis, who is the head of the Jewish council in Zawiercie. They think he will be safe under Persis's protection, but the Nazis decide to kill everyone in Zawiercie. Anja's sister Tosha, who is caring for Richieu, refuses to "go to their gas chambers" with her kids, so she poisons the children and herself. When Vladek tells Artie this story in Book 1, Chapter 5, he acknowledges the tragedy of the situation and how sad he was, but he doesn't blame Tosha for what she did, nor does he appear to blame himself for suggesting Richieu go. He knows better than anyone it is impossible to predict the outcome of an unknowable future. He and Anja did what they thought was best at the time. When they finally learn of Richieu's death, Anja is of course heartbroken, but Vladek doesn't dwell on it. He pushes them both to move on to survive, even though he clearly never forgets or softens the truth of the loss of a son.

Why does Vladek make such detailed drawings of the bunkers for Artie in Book 1, Chapter 5 of Maus?

Vladek draws the two bunker configurations for Artie in Book 1, Chapter 5 because "such things it's good to know exactly how was it—just in case." World War II ended a long time ago, but Vladek doesn't think for a moment this kind of thing couldn't happen again. More than simply ensuring that Artie gets the drawings right for the book, he wants to make sure Artie knows how to construct a bunker of his own should he ever be in the same situation. It sounds far fetched to those who haven't lived through such a life-threatening situation, but for Vladek it is an all-too-real lesson for his son, who—as unlikely as it seems to people living in New York in the 1980s—might face such a danger in his lifetime.

What is the dramatic irony in Vladek's reasoning for not seeing a marriage counselor in Book 1, Chapter 6 of Maus?

Dramatic irony is when a character in a story or play doesn't know something the audience does. Vladek says he doesn't want to see a marriage counselor because he doesn't "want that a stranger should mix into [their] private stories." But that's exactly the entire point of Maus—strangers from all over the world are reading Vladek's private stories. Vladek does not make the connection between the interviews with his son and the intended use for those interviews. Neither Vladek nor Artie have any idea how important Maus will become in the next few decades, nor how many people will become intimately familiar with the lives of its subjects.

What is the significance of Vladek's decision to burn Anja's journals in Book 1, Chapter 6 of Maus?

Anja's journals, in which she kept a detailed record of her experiences before, during, and after the war, were meant to be a gift for Artie in the hopes he would use them in his own work someday. But after Anja's death, Vladek sees the journals as a painful reminder of the woman he loved and lost. On a particularly bad day, he destroys all of Anja's most precious possessions, including her notebooks. "These papers had too many memories, so I burned them," he explains years later to Artie in Book 1, Chapter 6. This is a big deal because Vladek doesn't throw away anything—he is known for taking home trash off the street just in case he needs it later. The fact that he burns Anja's things, including the journals, shows just how much he suffered after her death and how desperate he was to forget the past. It also sets up Artie for his own struggles, as he labors to understand his mother while writing the book and feels the huge loss of her words.

Why does Artie call Vladek a "murderer" at the end of Book 1, Chapter 6 of Maus?

Anja kept detailed journals throughout most of her life. Those written before and during the war were lost or destroyed, so she started again from the beginning after she was freed from Auschwitz. According to Vladek, the journals were a complete record of her life. Artie wants them so he can better understand what she went through during the war. To him the journals are a representation of his mother. When Vladek finally reveals he burned the journals, Artie blows up at Vladek, shouting, "You murderer!" Vladek destroyed the only possible way for Artie to connect with Anja a decade after her death, and to Artie this is akin to killing off Anja herself.

How does Art Spiegelman avoid the "racist caricature" of Vladek as a "miserly old Jew" in Maus?

Spiegelman's goal in writing Maus was to portray his subjects as the real people they were, flaws and all. Yet he worried his father would appear to be nothing more than the stereotypical stingy, penny-pinching Jew whom anti-Semites believed in and portrayed over the ages. The problem was Vladek really was a penny pincher who also was Jewish. Two related tactics help Spiegelman ensure Vladek's character has more depth than the traditional racist stereotypes. Spiegelman explicitly says he doesn't want Vladek to come off as a caricature. In Book 1, Chapter 6, Artie and Mala talk about Vladek's personality, and Artie tells her one of his greatest concerns is that he portrays Vladek accurately even though the portrayal will seem stereotypical. Mala's response shows that she views Vladek as cheap, that she has herself internalized this image of him, based on her experiences with him. By having his characters say this out loud, Spiegelman is telling the audience he knows how bad this looks, but Vladek really is like this. In interviews following the book's publication, Spiegelman said he also worked on a more subtle level to ensure the audience didn't think he was merely relying on racist tropes for character development. If he didn't personally know a character's motivation for doing something, he just laid out the facts and let the audience decide for themselves. For example, Vladek complains throughout Book 1 that Mala wants him only for his money, while Mala complains he won't let her have any money at all. Spiegelman isn't an active participant in their relationship, so he doesn't pin the blame on either Vladek or Mala. Instead he lets their actions speak for themselves: Vladek is terrified that when he dies Mala will take everything from Artie; and a neighbor tells Artie Vladek won't let Mala buy personal toiletries. Forcing readers to analyze the details of the relationship helps them look beyond preconceived notions and stereotypes.

What is the significance of the way Françoise is drawn in Maus?

At the beginning of Book 2, Chapter 1 of Maus, Françoise and Artie argue about how Artie will depict her in the book. Because she is French, Artie thinks she should be drawn as an animal that represents her nationality, such as a frog or a rabbit. But Françoise insists she should be drawn as a mouse because she converted to Judaism after marrying Artie. "If you're a mouse, I ought to be a mouse too," she says. She makes a good point—Artie is technically an American Jew, not a Polish Jew. If he's basing his animal depictions on nationality, his character should be drawn as a dog. He ultimately decides to draw her—and himself—as a mouse, which signifies that a person's religious and cultural identity is more important than nationality. Instead of positioning Francoise as an outsider, Artie depicts her as being "one of them."

Why does Artie feel jealous of Richieu in Book 2, Chapter 1 of Maus?

Artie and Richieu never met—Richieu died in 1943 and Artie wasn't born until 1948—but Richieu's presence in the family looms over Artie his entire life, particularly during his childhood. He is the child Vladek and Anja lost, and Artie often assumes he is the child they would much rather have than Artie himself. Artie tells Françoise the photo of Richieu in his parents' bedroom "never threw tantrums or got in any kind of trouble ... It was an ideal kid." In comparison, Artie was "a pain in the ass." Richieu is just a memory now, and a sad one at that. Nobody wants to imagine their deceased family member as being a difficult child or a failure as an adult, so it's only natural Artie assumed Richieu would have done great things in his life. This causes a "spooky" sibling rivalry when Artie feels he has failed himself and his parents. He is jealous of the perfection Richieu achieves in death, which he himself cannot achieve while alive.

What is the significance of the quarantine block kapo's use of Vladek's name in Book 2, Chapter 1 of Maus?

Artie is assigned to the quarantine block when he first arrives at Auschwitz. Each prisoner is assigned a six-digit serial number, which is tattooed on the prisoner's arm. From that point forward, names do not matter. Each person is referred to by the number, even when addressed by guards and supervisors. The kapo, or supervisor, of the quarantine area is a non-Jewish Polish prisoner who wants to learn English, which Vladek knows. The two men spend time together, and the kapo begins referring to Vladek by his last name, not his number. It's a sign that the kapo is identifying with Vladek on a human level. Once he gets to know Vladek (and sees just how helpful Vladek can be), the kapo protects him from work duty. This human connection is what the Nazis were trying to avoid when they assigned people numbers. It is much harder to kill someone to whom you can relate.

What is the meaning of the mouse mask Artie wears at the beginning of Book 2, Chapter 2 of Maus?

Art Spiegelman didn't know how to proceed with Maus after the first volume was published in 1986. His father had died four years earlier, which meant not only the loss of his only living relative but also his source of information and his muse. Spiegelman also felt a significant amount of guilt about the attention he was getting for writing about a tragedy he didn't experience. Unsure of how to proceed, he adds a third time period to the book: the right now, which allows him to share his concerns and experiences with the reader. He distinguishes this period by drawing himself as a human wearing a mouse mask tied around his head, which obscures his facial features. Unlike the animal faces used elsewhere in the book, it is clearly meant to be taken on and off with the ties in the back. This visual symbol also indicates how Spiegelman puts on a metaphorical mask of his father's voice and experience while working on the book and then hangs it up when he is done for the moment.

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