The topic of PTSD or any other mental disorder is common among modern authors. However, some opt for not clearly stating the issue in their texts but rather inviting the reader to be a witness of the characters’ symptoms. Art Spiegelman employed such a method to present how trauma stems from personal circumstances and shocking events from warfare. However, the author chose to write non-fictional stories of him and his father, Vladek, in comic form to increase the reader’s interest. Furthermore, the author does not state in Maus that the story itself is strongly connected to PTSD, inviting people to explore the character’s life story. However, Spiegelman certainly presents the indications of PTSD condition to provoke analysis of possible reasons for symptoms’ evolving.
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Art Spiegelman’s Aim for Portraying His Parents’ Lives
Art Spiegelman aimed to portray his parents’ lives during the terrible events of the Holocaust in a graphic manner. Thus, in Maus, the author tells the story of two Holocaust survivors, his parents, and also plays the role of the transmitter of the tale from their perspectives. Art seeks to fill the story with the details which he aims to obtain from his Jewish father, Vladek (Chacko & Friedman 1). However, at the same time, he suffers from Valdeks revelations and antics initially provoked by Holocaust events. As a result, after experiencing Vladeks apparent mental disorder, Art’s judgment becomes clouded, and his psyche is strained (Chacko & Friedman 1). In addition, as the stories of his parents are revealed, they contribute to the development of additional memories of Art (Chacko & Friedman 1).
He also becomes closer with his father during information gathering through understanding his awful experiences and hurtful memories (Chacko & Friedman 1). The Maus books present the story of Arts parents in Europe before World War II officially began and after them being taken away to camps (Chacko & Friedman 1). Knowledge of their stories influences Arts desire to analyze the events and causes that led to the development of mental disorders with permanent effects. However, as Art reveals his parents’ experiences, his own life story becomes also evident and crucial in the flow of the plot in the Maus books.
The Central Aspects of the Maus Books
The Metaphors Implemented in the Graphics
Art Spiegelman presents his parents’ story in the comic form, as an anecdote, with the comical inclination. Moreover, the comics accommodate various metaphors that the author implements to achieve even a funnier design (Rosen 253). For instance, Art Spiegelman enforced the animal metaphor to every group of people in the story: the main characters are humanized creatures, Jews and Nazis are depicted as mice and felines, respectively. In addition, Spiegelman presents Americans as dogs, French as frogs, and Poles as pigs. It is also significant to mention that Spiegelman fuels the pictures with hurtful feelings and emotions of his father by graphically showing the events in the lack of any color.
Furthermore, the narration in Maus is mainly based on flashbacks and memories of both Vladek and Art. However, Spiegelman presents the whole story using the metaphor of creating two different worlds: present and one filled with past and horrible experiences (Rosen 254). In other words, the relationship of Art with his father, a man who is obsessed with his past and totally dependent on it, is central to the Maus books (Rosen 254). Thus, the author declares the story of the man who is utterly helpless in the world of his present retirement and the past one in occupied Poland with extermination camps.
Vladek’s Survival during Holocaust
As stated previously, since Art does not have direct experience with Holocaust events, he gathers the information from interviews with his father, Vladek, and presents them in the form of flashbacks. During the interactions, his father expresses past trauma from the terrible loss of his family due to the famine (Chacko & Friedman 2). Furthermore, as Vladek’s memories unfold, Art learns that his brother, Richieu, died in the extermination camp during the Holocaust. However, Spiegelman also realized the effect of this loss on his parents. To be more particular, Art had already learned about his brother from the picture of Vladek and Anja with Richieu (Chacko & Friedman 2). However, precisely from Vladek’s story, it finally became apparent to Art that his father admired his brother more than him (Chacko & Friedman 2). That is why his death had a hurtful imprint on Vladek’s life and considerably affected the further development of his mental disorder.
Furthermore, Vladek seems uncertain at first to share his story as he does not want to relive the painful memories of the Holocaust events that so heavily changed him. However, as the numerous interviews pass, Art’s father starts including more vivid details as though he attempts to return to the years of World War II and experience deaths, suffering, and agony again (Chacko & Friedman 3). Spiegelman realizes the true legacy of his family after visits to Vladek’s house and learns how his experiences led to the development of his mental disorder, PTSD.
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Vladek’s Suffer from PTSD
The Influence of Holocaust Events on Development of the Mental Disorder
Vladek is hurt by the memories from the Holocaust and still remembers them in vivid detail. For instance, during the interviews, Vladek does not just tell his story to Art; on the contrary, he appears to return to those events to experience them again. In addition, Vladek fails to recover and forget about his participation in numerous traumatic events, which correlates with PTSD symptoms (Tomlinson & Cockcroft 1). Consequently, Spiegelman mentions another sign of the mental disorder that he notices while Vladek is sleeping, “He’s moaning in his sleep again. When I was a kid I thought that was the noise all grown-ups made while they slept” (Spiegelman 234). According to Tomlinson and Cockcroft (1), PTSD can be triggered by sounds, feelings, and smells strongly related to the traumatic experience. However, Art also focuses on the fact that Vladek frequently moans while sleeping, leading to believing that he indeed battles PTSD. In addition, during their interactions, it becomes clear to Art that PTSD is also provoked when his father perceives flashbacks from World War II.
Vladek’s Mental Disorder Influences His Family
Having learned about his brother’s death, Art is anxious as he realizes that Vladek loves Richieu more than him. Such a competition reaches its peak when Vladek, ill and disorientated, starts confusing Art with his dead brother and demands he stopped recording the interviews (Hirsch 14). This way, Vladek transmits his trauma to the next generation, his son Art, and clearly affects his mental health (Hirsch 14). Another critical point is that Art is in denial of the Holocaust events; however, as he learns about them from his parents’ experiences, the Holocaust becomes part of Spiegelman’s identity (Hirsch 14). In addition, his connection with his family grows so powerful that he starts imagining himself during the Holocaust and in extermination camps (Hirsch 14). Consequently, Art realizes his incompetence due to not participating in the Holocaust events, which worsens his mental health (Hirsch 14). Such a severe impact of his parents’ trauma results in developing the mental disorder in Art with a clear need for psychotherapy. In the second volume of the Maus books, Art presents his visits to psychiatrist Dr. Pavel, a survivor of Terezin and Auschwitz.
To sum up, Art Spiegelman manages to graphically present the traumatic experience of his father after the Holocaust events. Furthermore, during his visits to his parent’s house, he learns their story and realizes its effect on the development of Vladek’s PTSD. His father fails to forget about the horrible events and still relives them after he falls asleep. As a result, his mental disorder also considerably impacts Art and eventually leads to negative repercussions.
Due to Vladeks’ strong affection for Richieu, Art experiences competition with his brother, even though he is long dead. As Vladek’s symptoms develop, he starts confusing Art with his brother, which negatively influences his only alive son. Spiegelman then grows to face other negative consequences of his father’s trauma: the Holocaust becomes a part of his identity, and he starts imagining his participation at events. The past experiences transmitted from his parents result in Art’s need for psychotherapy, which he further receives from the Czech psychiatrist, Dr. Pavel.
Chacko, Feba & Friedman, Ellen. “The psychological effects of transmitted trauma depicted in Art Spiegelman’s Maus and Anne Michael’s Fugitive Pieces”. TCNJ Journal od Student Scholarship, vol. 12, 2020, pp. 1-7.
Hirsch, Marianne. “Family pictures: Maus, mourning, and post-memory.” Discourse, vol. 15, no. 2, 1992, pp. 3-29.
Rosen, Alan. “The language of survival: English as metaphor in Spiegelman’s Maus”. Prooftexts, 1995, pp. 249-262.
Spiegelman, Art. The Complete Maus. Pantheon, 1996.
Tomlinson, Laurie & Cockcroft, John. “Post-traumatic stress disorder: breaking hearts.” European Heart Journal, 2011, pp. 668-669. doi:10.1093/eurheartj/ehq404