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Maus | Symbols

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Animal Heads

The use of animals to depict different races and nationalities is the most obvious use of symbolism in Maus. In addition to letting Spiegelman avoid drawing the facial features of people he's never seen, this technique also helps the reader understand the power structure and national relationships in place during World War II.

  • All Jews, no matter their home of origin, are depicted as mice. They are the most vulnerable animals portrayed in the book, taking refuge in small hiding places as they are hunted by the Nazis.
  • Germans are cats—in the book sneaky, conniving, and ready to pounce with their claws out. Cats are hunters and the natural enemy of mice.
  • Americans are drawn as dogs. In the animal kingdom (and children's cartoons), dogs are always chasing cats into hiding. Spiegelman draws these particular dogs without any discernible breed characteristics—they are mutts, which represents the blended nature of the population of the United States.
  • Polish people are depicted as pigs. They are entirely separate from the mouse-cat-dog food chain, which is symbolic of the role of the Polish as bearing witness to the atrocities. But as pigs they carry all the negative connotations associated with pigs as well. In fact, the extermination camps were made by the occupying Germans on Polish land, which brought great pain to the already difficult relation of Polish Catholics and Jews—going back centuries.

Photographs

There are two types of photographs in Maus: actual reproductions of family photos and Spiegelman's hand-drawn interpretation of family photos.

  • Only three of the photos in the book are actual reproductions: the snapshot of Anja and young Artie in "Prisoner on the Hell Planet" in Book 1, Chapter 5, the photo of Richieu at the beginning of Book 2, and the "souvenir" photo of Vladek near the end of Book 2, Chapter 5. Together, these three pictures show everyone in Spiegelman's immediate family. His connection with them is the strongest, so they are shown as they actually are.
  • The hand-drawn photographs in the book are all family members who died during the war or passed later on. To Spiegelman these people's lives are separate from his own, like a fictional story with a tragic ending. He's trying to connect with them but can't picture them as fully formed people. They remain one-dimensional characters who look like every other mouse in the book.

The photographs in Book 2, Chapter 4 have great meaning to Vladek, both for who is and who isn't in the pictures. Anja's family photos were kept safe by Janina, the family's former nanny, during the war. The majority of those people died during the Holocaust, including Richieu. "All what is left, it's the photos," Vladek says of the Zylberbergs. The extended Spiegelman clan isn't pictured because "it's nothing left, not even a snapshot." Without photographic evidence of their lives, it is as if Vladek's parents, brothers, and sisters never existed.

Anja's Journals

Anja was a lifelong diarist, even during the most stressful times of the war. Her journals didn't survive the war, so she started from scratch, documenting her life from the beginning for future generations. Artie desperately wants these journals as he's working on Maus so he can better understand his mother's point of view. They are the closest he will be able to get to talking to his late mother once more, and to Artie they are a symbol of Anja herself. Vladek sees Anja in the journals, too, which is why he burns them. He misses his wife desperately after her death, and seeing the journals brings back too many painful memories. The act of destroying the journals is symbolic of Vladek's attempts to forget the past. It also causes great pain to Artie as part of the acceptance of the entire wartime experience that is forever lost to him, as his mother is in committing suicide without leaving a note.

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