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Maus | Discussion Questions 21 - 30


What role does Pavel play in Book 2, Chapter 2 of Maus?

Pavel is Artie's therapist circa 1987. Artie visits him at a particular difficult time in his life, five years after Vladek's death and a year after the publication of the first volume of Maus. Artie feels guilty about his portrayal of Vladek, as well as not having lived through the Holocaust himself. "No matter what I accomplish, it doesn't seem like much compared to surviving Auschwitz." Pavel is able to help Artie get past these issues not only because of his training as a therapist, but also because he is a survivor of both Auschwitz and Terezin concentration camps. He understands better than Artie what Vladek went through during the war, which allows him to become a surrogate for Vladek after Vladek's death. Artie feels comfortable asking Pavel questions he could never ask his father, such as if Pavel felt guilty for surviving the camps, and the answer gives him greater insight to how his own father might have felt. Pavel is also able to help Artie get past his "artist's block" by describing the tools in the tin shop in which Vladek worked. Pavel gives Artie the confidence to continue with his work even after Vladek's death.

How does the discussion about the camp orchestra in Book 2, Chapter 2 of Maus address the problems of memory?

In Book 2, Chapter 2 Artie asks Vladek about the camp orchestra, which he read about during his extensive Holocaust research. Vladek, however, has no recollection of an orchestra at Auschwitz. The Auschwitz orchestra is well documented in historical literature, and it was indeed used to accompany prisoners as they marched to and from work. But Vladek doesn't remember it, so for him, the orchestra didn't exist. Spiegelman struggled with how to acknowledge the discrepancies between one person's experience and the collective knowledge of the historical event. He didn't want to discredit his father's memories as being wrong or incomplete—it's entirely possible tin shop workers were marched out of a different gate than where the orchestra was positioned—but he also wanted to illustrate how subjective memory can be. This is done literally. In the first frame on the page, prisoners march toward the orchestra. In the next frame, Artie asks Vladek about the musicians. Vladek doesn't remember them, so the third frame shows the orchestra almost completely obscured by the prisoners, with just the tips of the conductor's wand and the cello sticking out above a sea of mouse heads.

How does Vladek protect Anja in Book 2, Chapter 2 of Maus?

Though Vladek and Anja are in separate parts of Auschwitz, Vladek still finds ways to take care of her from afar. He befriends Mancie, a prisoner at Birkenau who is having an affair with a German officer. Mancie's love life keeps her safe from the worst hardships in camp, and, in addition to delivering letters and food from Vladek, she takes Anja under her wing. She can't protect Anja from her terrible kapo, however, so Vladek offers in one of his letters to repair her kapo's shoes. He does excellent work, and the kapo is suddenly much kinder to Anja and makes sure her jobs aren't as strenuous as before. When Vladek learns that new women's barracks are being built in Auschwitz I, he saves his bread and cigarette rations for weeks in order to trade them for vodka, which he uses to bribe those in charge to have Anja moved closer to him. In each scenario Vladek is risking himself—giving what little food he has, breaking camp rules by sending letters and food, and talking to Anja every time he is assigned work in Birkenau—to make sure she remains healthy and safe. He never gives a second thought to his suffering for Anja's sake.

What is the significance of Artie's reaction to the mosquitoes at the end of Book 2, Chapter 2 of Maus?

The seemingly benign last few frames of Book 2, Chapter 2 may actually be seen as important. In an instance of verbal irony, the chapter is titled "Time Flies," a play on words probably not noticed until the end. This final section comes after Vladek tells Artie about the gas chambers he dismantled in Auschwitz, so the subject of human extermination is already at the top of the reader's mind. In the present Artie and Françoise are on the deck at Vladek's house. The mosquitoes are starting to bite, and Artie goes after them with a can of bug spray. Artie's lack of remorse for killing the annoying bugs is representative of the Nazis' attitudes toward killing more than a million people in the Auschwitz gas chambers with another pesticide, Zyklon B. Like Artie and the mosquitoes, the Nazis didn't care who they killed as long as it was easy and efficient.

What does Artie mean in Book 2, Chapter 3 of Maus when he says of Vladek, "in some ways, he didn't survive"?

While Françoise and Artie wait for Vladek to finish his errands in the grocery store, Françoise comments it's "a miracle" Vladek survived everything he went through during the Holocaust. Artie counters, "but in some ways, he didn't survive." He means there are parts of Vladek that were irrevocably changed during the war. He lost almost his entire extended family, as well as Anja's, so the support system they once had has all but disappeared. Along with it went family history and tradition. Though Artie doesn't know what Vladek was like before the war, he has seen its effects. Vladek is frugal to the point of paranoia and trusts no one, and he has seemed unhappy and distant throughout Artie's entire life. Though his body survived the war, his happiness and optimism did not. At the time Françoise makes this comment, Vladek has just narrated some of the most horrific details of his experiences, things that are unimaginable and in some ways beyond words. It is telling that as Françoise and Artie converse in the car they talk about whether or not they will "survive" living with Vladek in Queens.

Why does Vladek say in Book 2, Chapter 3 of Maus, "here, in Dachau, my troubles began"?

To the outsider Vladek's war experiences seem filled with the worst troubles imaginable all the way through. He fights the Germans on the front lines, is taken as a prisoner of war, hides in Sosnowiec and sees his family taken away one-by-one, and then ends up in Auschwitz with his wife. Yet Dachau stands out in his mind as being the beginning of his "real" troubles because of the chaos surrounding Germany's retreat. The Nazis moved thousands of prisoners from extermination and concentration camps around the country inland to Dachau. The severe overcrowding led to the spread of disease, namely typhus, and those who were afflicted were essentially left to die. It wasn't a question of whether a prisoner would get sick, but when. Typhus was spread by lice, and anyone who had lice on their clothing wouldn't be served food, which only weakened their immune systems further. "It was nothing to eat, and nothing to do, only to wait and to die," Vladek says. In Auschwitz, at least, Vladek had work to do. He was also able to control his situation by bartering for better jobs and making connections to keep track of Anja. In Dachau Vladek also doesn't know where Anja is or even if she's alive. He has nothing to do but wait to die, and he comes close to it when he finally contracts typhus. Even after his release in a prisoner exchange, he is fighting for his life as he runs from rogue Nazis intent on killing every last Jew even after the war's end.

What is the significance of the illustrations accompanying the photographs in Book 2, Chapter 4 of Maus?

Vladek gives Artie a box of old photographs in Book 2, Chapter 4, but instead of including the original photos, Spiegelman draws the family members as mice. The reason for this is twofold. First Spiegelman is not a portraitist and would not presume to draw individual faces, nor would that approach fit the fact that all Jews suffered the same fate at the hands of the Nazis. Spiegelman's choice is also symbolic of the distance he feels between himself and people who seemed more like characters in his father's stories than three-dimensional humans. Because he lacks a personal connection with them, they all have the same neutral facial features as the other mice in the book. The only way to tell them apart is to read the caption at the bottom of each picture. The box of photographs holds pictures of only Anja's family. No pictures of Vladek's relatives survived the war, so there aren't any photos to display as Vladek talks about them. Instead, Spiegelman draws a close-up of Vladek across four frames. Though he is sitting next to Artie in the smaller frames, Artie is cut out of the dominant image. This gives the reader a better understanding of the perpetual loneliness Vladek feels as one of the sole survivors of his family line.

What is the meaning of Chapter 5's title, "The Second Honeymoon," in Book 2 of Maus?

"The Second Honeymoon" has two meanings. The first refers to Anja and Vladek, who are reunited at the end of Chapter 5. They are shown embracing in front of an enormous full moon, and the reader gets the sense everyone else in the room fades away as Vladek and Anja focus only on each other. Vladek says they "lived happy, happy ever after," which suggests their reunion as a reaffirmation of their marriage vows and a perpetual "honeymoon period" after that. Artie knows this is not the entire truth, but it's the version of the truth Vladek is telling. The second meaning of "The Second Honeymoon" has to do with Mala. She leaves Vladek in Book 2, Chapter 1, but they are back together in Book 2, Chapter 5. At first he is just as cantankerous as ever, but things change between them as Vladek's condition worsens. He's no longer fighting her about everything and becomes resigned to letting her do what she wants just so he can get some "peace." This relatively quiet period of their marriage can be looked at as a "honeymoon" after Mala's return, though not a very happy one.

To what extent is Artie to blame for Mala's feelings of entrapment in Book 2, Chapter 5 of Maus?

Mala leaves Vladek in Book 2, Chapter 1, but she returns in Book 2, Chapter 5 when he falls ill. She had previously sworn she'd never see him again, but she feels "sorry for him" that he has no one else to call. Since his release from the hospital, Vladek is "more confused and dependent" than when they were together, and she feels trapped into staying with him for the foreseeable future. A lot of her feelings have to do with the guilt she feels about leaving the man she once cared for, now when he is sick, to take care of himself. She wouldn't have to feel this way if Vladek had someone else in his life on whom he could rely, namely Artie. In Vladek's and Mala's youth, children took care of their parents when the parents were no longer fully independent. This is what happened in Anja's family—her grandparents lived with her parents until they were sent to Auschwitz when they were in their 90s. Artie, as an American of a different generation, doesn't feel this same sense of responsibility toward Vladek, and Vladek and Mala both know it. He's already flat-out refused to live with Vladek once, and even getting him to come over to help with household chores takes excruciating effort. Mala feels trapped partly because she knows Vladek cannot rely on his son fully beyond recording the details of his life.

What can be inferred from Vladek's calling Artie by the wrong name at the end of Book 2, Chapter 5 of Maus?

When Vladek finishes his story, he says, "I'm tired from talking, Richieu, and it's enough stories for now." He has confused his living, adult son, Artie, for his dead, six-year-old, Richieu. This tells the reader a few things: Vladek's mind isn't as sharp as it once was. His memory is failing him, at least when he is tired, and this calls into question everything he has told Artie so far. What other people or events did Vladek confuse? How much of his story is fact, and how much is faulty memory? Vladek is close to the end of his life. His diminishing energy levels and mental acuity signal a body no longer in peak form. Even though Richieu has been dead for more than 30 years, he is a very real presence in Vladek's thoughts. Unlike Artie, who has only a blurry photograph of his brother for reference, Vladek knew Richieu as a living person and still mourns his loss every day.

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