The Concept Of Guilt In The Novel Maus

May 26, 2022 by Essay Writer

In the novel book called Maus, a lot of guilt has been described. Vladek expressed most of his guilt to his son [Art], and Art sense the feeling of guilt he receives from his father. Art was born after the Holocaust; he was growing up in a time of the holocaust survivors. As a child, Art experienced a lot of guilt at a young age that it was affecting their father and son relationship. Art tells Vladek’s wife, “I know this is insane…. Easier life than they did”. (Maus II, 176). He was aware that his life was much easier than Vladek especially since his father went through so much tragedy that can never be compared to the average life that Art lived.

Throughout the entire story, Art feels guilty believing that he was not a decent son to Vladek. The first chapter of the book in Maus I, Art directly starts off the book saying, “I hadn’t seen Vladek in a long time we weren’t that close” (Maus I,13). Even though that Vladek and Art did not live far away from each other, it was very rare for Art to visit his father. Art feels a lot of guilt by not going over to help his dad, causing him to feel like he was not the best son. Art also feels guilty when he thinks about Richieu, his brother that he never met because he died during the Holocaust and before Art was born. The only gift Art has of his dead brother is a photo: “I didn’t think about … was mainly a large, blurry photograph hanging in my parents’ bedroom” (Maus II, 175). Even though Art’s brother is not alive there is still a conflict between the two. Vladek did not want Art to feel like he is battling with his dead brother Richieu. However, Art continues to assemble a sibling jealousy in his own mind, therefor creating a tension between the father-son relation, producing even bigger disparity. Just thinking about the result of the sibling conflict which only existed to Art, he is left with the belief that he will never be a good son to Vladek. “So…are you going out to Queens?” “No way – I’d rather feel guilty! Besides, I am too busy, and he can easily afford to hire somebody.” (Maus I, 99). In this quote for example, Art basically feel guilt for not being helpful to his father which on the other hand, Vladek Expectation seemed to be very unrealistic which lead to Art bound to fail.

It is very valuable to clarify that Art is guilty for many reasons which are different from why Valdeks is guilty. Art felling of guilt comes from Vladek’s guilt, which are back to his survival of the holocaust, “He couldn’t do anything as well as he could” (Maus II, 204). Art was always feeling that his father must be right, and his survival of the holocaust justifies his father even more. Valdek is kind by nature, so Art has trouble contacting and understanding his father. However, Art puts blame onto Vladek’s regarding Anja’s journals. Anja’s diaries are the only memories left after her death which was burned by Vladek’s and caused Art to react in a harsh way, “GOD DAMN YOU! You-You MURDERED! How the hell could you do such a thing!! (Maus I, 161). Art is making his father Vladek feel guilty for burning Anja’s journals. Art does not understand the emotional pain that Anja’s journals were having on Vladek. These differences that Vladek and Art have in view lead both characters to feel disconnected with each other, resulting them to be unable to understand with each other.

Art finally started to realize his own guilt and struggles after the publication of Maus I. In Maus II, Art started to wear a mouse mask. A reporter asks Art why should younger Germans feel guilt when the Holocaust happened before they were even born, and Art response, “Who am I to say? … I dunno… Maybe EVERYONE must feel guilty. Everyone! FOREVER!” (Maus II, 202). This quote could relate that guilt on a collective level was not a bad thing, most importantly, if it can help in preventing another Holocaust. It is very clear that Art feels guilt and is including himself when he says emphasize on EVERYONE.

Spiegelman questions the idea that if everyone should feel some type of guilt over the holocaust and that it should extend beyond the Germans. Children of the holocaust and of the Nazi Germans share similar guilt. The point of Art wearing a mouse mask reveals that Art was pretending to be one of the Jewish victims of the holocaust, but the reality is that he was never a victim. In this quote Art says, “I can’t believe I’m going …. My father’s ghost still hangs over me” (Maus II, 203). Looking back to the theme of the story where guilt is still being presented. Now that Vladek is dead, Art feels even more guilty for illustrating his dad in a tough way. Art tries to make sense survivors guilt that Vladek feels from being one of the holocaust survivors. Vladek’s channels inner guilt toward himself for being a survival through the Holocaust, and is said by Pavel, “Maybe your father needed … always right that he could always SURVIVE … GUILTY about surviving” (Maus II,204). The survivor’s guilt that Vladek feels is poured out on Art, who is described as the real survivor.

Throughout Maus, the author uses his graphic imagery and visual metaphors to effectively discuss how guilt, despite being an objectively simple concept, has both individual and collective levels in the context of the Holocaust. Spiegelman uses his graphics and text to enforce the understanding that although often appearing negative, guilt is a force that compels us to not only reflect, but also responsibility to others.


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