Monday, October 12, 2009

Maus discussion questions

In Maus I, and even more so in Maus II, Art is very short-tempered with his father for being so stereotypically Jewish. Whenever Vladek tries to pinch pennies, Art pleads with his father to stop being so stingy, leading to Vladek chiding Art for being wasteful, which only frustrates Art further in a vicious cycle until one snaps at the other. Art makes it abundantly clear several times in Maus II that he considers every sentence not related to his father's Holocaust story a painful, wasteful experience, especially when his father is complaining about Mala or asking Art to help around the house. Why is Art so ungrateful and volatile towards his father the survivor yet so reverent of his father the prisoner of Auschwitz?

As characters, Art and his wife are very relatable. Their speech bubbles can be read without imposing an assumed accent to their words, Art clearly explains his opinions and thoughts when he talks to Francoise, and they both act according to social codes that most people are familiar with. Vladek is different. During his recollections, he is a resourceful, intelligent, iron-willed man who went to hell and back with only his intuition as a guide. However, when he interacts with Mala or Art, he is the epitome of a stereotypical Jewish senior citizen, often serving as comic relief in between gruesome episodes of Holocaust memories. Although Art confronts this issue during the scene with the psychiatrist, it still feels like Vladek as an old man is a comedic element to the story. Does portraying Vladek as a stereotype mar the significance of his Holocaust story?

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