Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Humanity and Animals

Maus II, through its title and form, portrays humans as animals. The Jews are mice, the Germans cats, Poles are pigs, Americans dogs, and so on and so forth, each different ethnicity being represented by a different species. The form then casts mankind as nothing more than animals. As strong as the message that the form sends, so too does the content portray humanity as nothing better than dumb beasts. There are many examples through Vladek’s narrative that show this. It should also be noted that both the Nazis and Jews are shown to behave this way, a sign of the dehumanizing nature of violence and hatred. Everybody that comes in contact with it is negatively and demonstrably touched by it.

This comparison is most strongly shown on pages 82 and 83. After watching a prisoner writhe around in the grips of death, Vladek says, “And how I thought: ‘How amazing it is that a human being reacts the same like this neighbor’s dog” (82). In just a few panels later, several escaping Jews are shot down in an escape attempt by a dishonest Nazi guard they believed could be bribed. In fact, he did accept their money, but murdered them anyway. In this case, the Nazi is worse than the dog, as dogs are at least considered, in many cultures, to be honorable and loyal.

Much like in Those Who Do Not Grieve, the violence that is perpetuated by a strong force is transferred to those oppressed by it. Just as women oppressed other women in Samoa, so too do fellow Jews fight amongst each other. Vladek says, “And, God forbid, if someone got soup and someone spilled him a drop… like wild animals they would fight until there was blood” (91). The cycle of violence repeats itself even within already oppressed communities. Violence inherently begets more violence, even among fellow prisoners.

And yet, as horrifying as the Holocaust was, as much as it showed how far mankind could sink, Spiegelman still leaves the reader with a feeling of hope. Through solidarity, even the most intimidating struggles can be overcome. This is demonstrated in Vladek’s run in with the French prisoner. Because the two both speak English, they strike up a friendship. When the Frenchman receives a package he says, “My family sends. I want that you also eat something” then Vladek says, “He insisted to share with me, and it saved me my life” (93). For all the horrors that both men experienced in the war, Vladek is convinced that this simple act of human kindness, of brotherhood, saved his life. It is a lesson worth noting.

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