Responding to Trauma
Traumatic experiences and memories have always played a crucial role in the creation of the literary works of different authors. It is widely hailed that sometimes one event can drastically change how individual see themselves and their life. This is exactly the case of Maus, a story written by Art Spiegelman. The author tells the whole story of his father’s experiences throughout the Holocaust. He writes the whole story as a first person recollection. All of the characters are variously affected by the trauma. One more affect of trauma is the way in which the author writes the story choosing the style of comic strips to depict such serious and tragic events. However, this writing type is the most striking and creative one. However, it makes the story easy to read.
It is quite obvious that the character of the author’s father whose name is Vladek is highly traumatized. The story is divided into two parts. The first one is called Maus I: My Father Bleeds History and the name of the second is Maus II: And Here My Troubles Began. This is the story of two Holocaust survivors whose names are Vladek and Anja. All their recollections are collected by their son Art. It is wise to mention that the comic book Maus is part of a larger body of second-generation Holocaust literature. It is widely known that children of the Holocaust survivors were brought up with the presence as well as the absence of the definite Holocaust memory (Kohli, 2). It is absolutely clear that the author in his comic book Maus wanted to show how such children as Art have a clear sense of bearing the unlived and inexperienced trace of the Holocaust past. That is probably why the second generation of literature identifies themselves through the relation to Holocaust. They always wanted to find and to restore some missing gaps (Kohli, 3). It was mentioned by Marianne Hirsch that such a phenomenon is called post-memory. It means that it represents the so-called second generation response to the trauma which was definitely inherited from their parents. It is widely known to be one of the most powerful forms of memory itself only because the connection between the post-memory and the object/source is mediated through representation, projection and creation and not through recollection itself (Hirsch, 8). Generally speaking, we can define this memory as something what has already become the type of memory of a witness. Readers should understand that the author was greatly influenced by the events which had happened in his life. His story of surviving the Holocaust was very much affected by his father’s survival and mother’s suicide.
If the characters of the book are to be analyzed, we can see that one of the most important heroes of the story is the witness and survivor of the Holocaust, the author’s father whose name is Vladek. His character is very much affected by the trauma. It can be easily explained because the author knew that the main hero lost all of his belongings, lost his beloved son, lost his wife and was on the verge of losing himself too during the Holocaust. The author wanted to show these facts depicting as much as possible not only the story of the Holocaust but also showing the current lifestyle of the Holocaust survivors. The author shows Vladek as not only frugal but even stingy and distrustful. A lot might be explained by the lifestyle that man had to lead during the times of the Second World War and the Holocaust. We know from the story that Vladek got married to Anja; she had wealthy parents who helped him to open a textile factory. It is very easy to get used to comfortable conditions. However, they had to tighten their belts later. Things were getting worth, though. Their family still had some influence and respect so they could earn their living. But later, especially in the second book, the author depicts how difficult it was to live in the camp and to eat only dry bread and soup. After having realized the scale of such victimization Vladek became able to save bread for later as people tried to exchange it for something else if possible. That is probably why Vladek was scrimping on everything, even matches. We can find that story in the second book, when his children Art and Francois came to help him recover when Mala left him. In the morning, Artie used a wooden match to light the cigarette what actually made Vladek very nervous. All matches were counted and he had 50 wooden matches to be used in 15 days. Even after Art told that he would buy a whole box of wooden matches it did not help as Vladek could not stand when somebody was wasting money all the time (Maus II, 20). We can find some short stories which depict Vladek’s nature in the first book too. For example, Vladek had the same habit of counting everything; however, in the first book he used to count pills only. Another important thing is that when he made a mistake he always used to blame someone else. For instance, when Vladek was telling his son about Anja and the story about communism, he dropped a bottle and said that Art made him do that (Maus I, 30). It can be easily explained, as people who lived in such awful conditions, created by Nazis, used to blame everyone for their unfortunate lifestyle. Actually some parts of the second book show how much Vladek changed with time and under the influence of the Holocaust. He did not trust anyone, it even seems that he did not trust himself, as when he was checking the papers together with Art and Francois, they had to double-check them and he still wanted to check again. He thought that something was wrong and the fact that Art did not want to waste time on checking everything all over again provoked Vladek to call his son lazy. Even when Francois offered to check everything herself he warned that he would still come and check everything again (Maus II, 22). It is obvious throughout the story that Vladek lives according to the rules which existed in the camp. Despite the fact that he had a lot of money, he tried not to use it at all. When he was walking with Art he actually broke the law and trespassed at the Pines when the guard was not watching. That was definitely a shock for Art, however, the readers may try to understand Vladek as this is life he used to lead (Maus II, 36). Another habit that Vladek got due to the trauma was the fact that he could not allow himself to throw anything into the garbage. During the Holocaust, people used to fight if somebody spilt even a drop of soup and it was said that the person who spilt that soup just did not know the price of hunger. Vladek once said that from the Holocaust times he couldn’t allow to throw out even a crumb. That was actually a day when Vladek, Art and Francois went to a supermarket because Vladek wanted to change products. The main problem was that some of the ingredients were already cooked, some boxes were already opened and food was partly eaten. Art and François were ashamed, however, Vladek did exchange the products (Maus II 89). Despite the fact that Vladek looked so peaceful when he returned to the car, he did have an argument with the manager and only after he explained his illness and probably the previous lifestyle, so the manager understood that there was no point in fighting with such a person. This is a real example of an individual influenced by trauma. The most striking is the fact that Vladek is depicted as racist. It is not normal as he is the representative of the nation which was oppressed so the fact that he used to call people Shvartsers is terrifying. It was shown in the situation when they all were driving from the supermarket and Francois decided to pick up a black man. Vladek was going crazy, he did not trust the man at all, and he told that he had to watch the products on the back seat all the time (Maus II, 99). Vladek was convinced that all black people stole things and he got angry when Art blamed him of treating the black man in the same way the Nazis treated Jews. It is obvious that the person has changed a lot because of trauma; his habits, independence and wish to do everything on his own, frugalness etc show how the person has changed because of personal tragedy. Anyway, the whole attitude of Vladek towards the world was shown at the very beginning of the story when he said that true friends are those who are checked when they are closed with you in a dark room for a week without food (Maus I. 6). Readers also know that a few years after Anja’s suicide Vladek met Mala. She actually helped him recover from the loss; however, she always felt that she was not actually loved by Vladek. She also suffered from the Holocaust and it is clear that the woman needed love and affection, however, most of the time Vladek treated her as a maid. It is mostly depicted in the first book. Vladek never complimented Mala and he was always dissatisfied with the results. When Art came for dinner, he thanked Mala and told her that everything was delicious. Vladek instead said that chicken was too dry ad he did not even thank her (Maus I, 44). Vladek was always suspicious that Mala was together with him only because of his money but he did not even allow her to buy anything using his money. He mentions the fact that Mala believes that money grows on trees. She wanted craftsmen to do all of work, however, Vladek was so stubborn that he wanted to do everything on his own and save the money. Throughout the story we can see that Mala tries to be very nice with Art, she always offers him coffee or tea, she tells him the whole story of her parents and her own life and she explains that she does not know anyone who became such a person as Vladek, despite the fact that people had been suffering as well. She criticizes Vladek too often and it becomes obvious that Mala is already tired of such a lifestyle. She even tried to help Art look for his mother`s diary. However, she was nervous later when Art decided to leave everything as it was. Mala explained that Vladek did not allow her to throw away anything and he went absolutely crazy when something was not on its place. That was the time when she cried that Vladek was more attached to things rather than people. Mala really lacks love as she also suffered a lot and she is still suffering because the person she lives with does not give her tenderness. Mala was also affected by trauma; she would like to lead a better life and not to be restricted all of the time and treated as a maid. We know from the story that Mala was a bit jealous to Anja. She mentioned that Vladek still had a lot of photos of Anja on his table and the fact that he had only one photo of her was only because he was doing her a favor (Maus I, 103). The author showed in the second book that Mala did really run away from Vladek and he was very nervous as she took some of his money with her. It seemed that his trust died together with Anja and he was not able to trust anyone to the full extend anymore. However, we know that at the end she did return to him. Mala was very kind so when she got a call from him she just could not leave him without the help despite the fact that she swore to herself that she would never come back to him (Maus II, 122). She still felt trapped as Vladek was dependent on her. However, that helped Mala to gain some influence on Vladek as she persuaded him to sell his house to which he was so attached and to move to Florida with her. However, readers still believe that Vladek truly loved only Anja. This character was mostly depicted by Vladek. Anja was very traumatized by the Holocaust. She changed a lot during that time. From being self-confident she turned into a woman who was afraid of everything. She was struggling all of the time during the Holocaust because she was not strong enough. Maybe if she had not loved Vladek so much, she would have died in the camp. Anja really lacked support and love. She lost her first child during the Holocaust, and it was pity, however, it was not a reason to make this child always be the best one. She gained her strength only when she felt that her husband was somewhere close to her. Readers can feel only sympathy for her; however, she was too much traumatized by those terrible events in her life. Before her death, she came to her son Art and asked if he still loved her. However, she was not sure about it. The answer of her son was probably not the way she expected it to be as he turned away from her and said, ‘sure, mom’ (Maus I, 103). She came to him late at night and she definitely needed support, however, she was not understood. She was really loved by everyone. We know that her husband was going crazy after her death because it was mostly Anja who had led him through the Holocaust. Her son did not know her well and throughout the book he was trying to find her memoirs. Anja was broken and she was too much affected by the Holocaust. The last character that should be discussed is Art. (Elmwood, 692). He was surrounded by people who were affected by trauma. These people were his father, mother and even the ghost-brother who would always be better than him but who died during the Holocaust. Art was always surrounded by the memories of dead people and those memories were influencing the life of living people. Art would not have probably been so much affected by the Holocaust if not because of his mother who committed a suicide. That was the main link which connected Art and the Holocaust. And that was the reason why he was trying hard to find her diary and read her memoirs. This connection created the whole individual trauma for Art. It was also made worthier by the father who was always contrasting the childhood of his son with the events he went through during the Holocaust. The child felt always blamed especially if to take into account the last conversation between Art and his mother. He really felt guilty because of that event. This was a child who was brought up in the shadow of the Holocaust and who had to meet the expectations as he was the representative of the next generation. That is why he becomes obsessed with the Holocaust and gets involved into his parents’ life. The most sad and depressing thing is that despite Art’s desire to find his mother’s diary he fails to read it as his father destroyed it (Maus I, 159). And probably the worst part was that this diary was actually dedicated to Art. Vladek did not even read it he just burned it. Anyway, Art was very precise in writing everything down and he did pay a lot of attention to various details. For example, when counting the number of months Vladek spent a lot of doing black work. Vladek made a mistake but Art corrected him (Maus II, 68). Art was maybe even too objective trying not to lose any kind of information.
It is quite obvious that such an event as the Holocaust cannot allow a person to remain the same. People suffered because they were losing their relatives and beloved one. People were getting used to the fact that they had to fight for food and their lives. People were afraid of everything. However, everyone was affected by these events in a different way as a lot depended on where a person was during that period and what he/she had to do, and how many people he/she saw dying. Vladek, Anja and Mala experienced the most terrible things during the Holocaust. They obtained some habits and got used to particular daily routine and they could not change it anymore. All of them were stuck in the shadows of the Holocaust. And a lot of their memories were constantly reopening and bleeding which did not allow them to lead a different life and forget about terrors that were happening in the concentration camps. All those factors combined together influenced their lives and their stories. It is also obvious that such a tragedy cannot stay within one generation only. Next generations will definitely suffer because of the past of their parents and grandparents. Attention is then paid not only to some certain events which happened but also to people who suffered during the Holocaust. The main goal is to show how these events can cause trauma to next generations which struggle to understand the effects and not to be influenced by the Holocaust echo. The story shows that Art and his mother were much traumatized by that echo. And this echo may also affect and traumatize survivors and descendants. The whole story was riddled with tension and various conflicts which actually show how deep the traumatic effect, caused by the Holocaust, was.