Maus - A Game of Cat and Mouse

Spiegelman, Art. Maus. New York: Pantheon Books, 1991.

Maus: A Survivor’s Tale: My Father Bleeds History is the story of Vladek, a Jewish survivor of World War II and the Holocaust. The story is written by his son, Art Spiegleman, in the form of a graphic novel which displays the story with drawings and speech balloons. The book begins with Art, a young author, asking his father to tell him his experience during World War II so that he can record it and create a book about the experience. Interlaced throughout the novel is the tumultuous and realistic relationship between Art and his aging father.
Vladek’s story begins with him meeting Art’s mother Anja, the source of the strained relationship between father and son since she later commits suicide after the war and Art partially blames his father for it. It then follows Vladek’s life from 1935 through 1944 in Nazi-occupied Poland. Vladek and Anja were from a well-off Jewish family who were well-respected in Poland. They married and had a son, Richieu, within a few years of meeting. Vladek was drafted into the Polish Army and captured by Germans as a prisoner of war while his young son and wife waited for him in Poland. After being released from being a prisoner of war, he returned to his wife and son in a tension filled Poland. The book follows the progression of what Jews faced in Nazi-occupied Poland: from tension, to intolerance, to ghettos, to shipping to Auschwitz and murder. In the book, Vladek and his family trade their valuable possessions to stay alive, are forced to live in hiding in secret rooms and as Poles, and Richieu is killed.
The story follows the hectic and uncertain movements of the family trying to avoid being brought to Auschwitz, where they thought they would be faced with certain death. In the end, they were faced with their fear of Auschwitz. "And we came here to the concentration camp Auschwitz, and we knew that from here we will not come out anymore...We knew the stories--that they will gas us and throw us in the ovens. This was 1944...We knew everything. And here we were," (157).
One special quality of the book is that the author cleverly represents Jewish people as mice and Nazis as cats. The literal visualization of a game of cat and mouse follows thematically with the hiding that Vladek and his family did to avoid the Nazis. Poles were represented as pigs throughout the novel, and when Vladek and Anja pretended to be Polish to hide from the Nazis, pig masks were drawn to cover their mouse faces.
As Art hears his father’s story, the bond between father and son is less tumultuous and more understanding. The relationship between father and son is relatable for most readers. Other readers may be drawn in by Maus' storytelling quality or its ability to tell a story about the Holocaust with visual aids. The topic of the book and the all black and white drawings maintain the seriousness of the Holocaust while the relationship between Vladek and Art as they write the book and the representation of the characters as animals make the story more approachable for all ages of readers.
Recommendations for Teachers:
The brilliantly written Maus does have some obstacles when teaching it in the classroom. The format of a graphic novel (as seen to the left) presents reading problems with its comic book style. A student has to become accustomed to this style in order to follow the story logically from frame to frame. In order to help them with this it is important to show examples in class. Maus presents fantastic opportunities to teach the holocaust as well diversity. These websites can help along the way.

About Art Spiegelman

Critically acclaimed cartoonist Art Spiegelman, was born in 1948 in Stockholm, though he grew up in Queens, New York. Spiegelman played a role in the underground comics of the 60's and 70's. He co-edited the "Arcade" magazine in the 1970's in San Francisco and became so frustrated that he vowed to never serve as an editor again. That is until he moved back to New York and met his wifre, Francoise Mouly and they started up "RAW," the avant-garde, self-published comic magazine which originally serialized Maus.

Art won the Pulitzer Prize for Maus in 1992, and it was around that time that he began contributing for the New Yorker. In his long career, he has taught classes on comics at New York's School of Visual Arts, created "Garbage Pail Kids," and produced a number of publications. He and Francoise currently reside in Manhattan with their two children, where they co-edit the Little Lit children's book series (


This is a short interview with Art Spiegelman on his graphic novel "Maus."

This is a video of Art Spiegelman listening to a tape that he recorded with his father, Vladek Spiegelman. It is interesting because you can actually hear Vladek speaking on the tape.

Art Spiegelman discusses the structure of Maus and other topics.

Additional Resources:
  • - This is a one page instruction sheet on how to read a graphic novel or comic strip. It could be a good idea for a teacher to go over something like this before the class begins reading any graphic novel.
  • MAUS Resources on the Web - This is a comprehensive website with links to many different academic sites related to the novel, the author and the Holocaust. The site also has links for teacher resources.
  • "Getting in Touch with My Inner Racist" - This is an article written by Art Spiegelman and published in a publication called Mother Jones. This article is written in first person by Spiegelman regarding his views and experiences with the issue of race, specifically, the African race.
  • Review of Maus - This page, posted by a faculty member of Georgetown University, discusses: Techniques of Remembering the Holocaust by Second Generation Jews, The Unusual Structure of MAUS, and The Holocaust as a Demonstration of Man's Brutal Nature. The page also includes several links to other related sites.
  • Intersections: Of "Maus" and Spiegelman - This page includes a short article about Art Spiegelman, as well as several audio clips from on air NPR interviews with him.
  • Comiclopedia - This is an "encyclopedia" of comics. This specifc page includes infomation about Art Spiegelman and several of his works.
  • Tijuana Bibles - This is an article titled, "Tijuana Bibles: Art and Wit in America's Forbidden Funnies, 1930s-1950s," written by Art Spiegelman. In this article, Spiegelman discusses early comics and the cultural aspects associated with them.
  • IndieBound - Christopher Monte Smith interviews Spiegleman. The bulk of the interview deals with Speigelman's new book, edited by his wife Franciose. The book, "Little Lit," is a selection of fairytales and folklore.
  • Art for Art's Sake - Another interview with Art Spiegelman discussing Maus and RAW. RAW is a publishing that features comics, cartoons and illustrations.

Names of reviewers:
Colby Ensing
Cameron Kutzli
Jory Sanders
Crystal England

Links to other reviews:
Feed by M.T. Anderson
Smack by Melvin Burgess
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie