“Murderer.” After finishing the first book of Art Spiegelman’s Maus, the word echoes in my head. It was shocking the first time Artie hurled it at his father for destroying his mother’s Holocaust diaries. It was even more shocking that in this hallowed work of art, Artie says it twice.

I have a feeling the ending of the story says a lot more of Spiegelman’s relationship with his father, Vladek, than it does about the Holocaust. Throughout the work, Mala, Vladek’s new wife complains about her husband’s moods and frugality. At one point, Spiegelman even joins Mala in complaining about Vladek. He mentions assuming his father is the way he is because of his experiences as a Jew during the Holocaust, but Mala disagrees. She states Vladek is different from all their friends in his frugality, and they all suffered through the concentration camps. Spiegelman contemplates continuing with the story of his father, fearing people will see him as a “racist Jew.”

Characters need to be three dimensional. Spiegelman does an excellent job portraying his father with all his complexities, but it’s interesting Maus:Book I spends so much time getting the audience to feel for Vladek only to have him called a murderer by his own son at the end of the story. I felt a lot of dissonance when Vladek was hyperbolically called a murderer as compared to the Nazi murderers who put to death so many Jews. Spiegelman’s feelings about Vladek must have been so strong as to call him that after spending so much time listening to Vladek’s stories of survival. It’s also ironic that Vladek’s stories are mostly about keeping Anja alive, yet Vladek is still called a murderer.

When my grandmother on my father’s side passed, I was obsessed with the book, Roots. In an effort to document my own family’s journey to America, I recorded my grandmother speaking about her childhood in Puerto Rico and the passing of her husband (my grandfather) when he was twenty-nine from a kidney disease. Through all the Spring cleanings and growing up and moving things around and basement finishings, I realized the tape I made of my grandmother is likely lost — at least for now. Because of this, I empathize greatly with Spiegelman. My grandmother’s version of events — her story is gone forever, disappeared into the ether. It does feel like a certain death, like an aspect of her, her voice and essence, are gone forever. I still wouldn’t call either of my parents (let alone myself) a “murderer” for not being careful enough with my grandmother’s artifact I created, but the big difference is no one intentionally lost it. Vladek, however, in a fit of emotion, destroyed Anja’s diaries that contained her perspective and voice. I wonder if Spiegelman would’ve reacted so harshly to Mala if she had accidentally destroyed the diaries. My guess is that the whole history of Spiegelman and Vladek’s relationship is behind Spiegelman’s exclaiming murder. Spiegelman doesn’t call his father a murderer for the act of destroying the diaries alone.

The art from the work utilized many aspects of art from art history. Two movements I saw working particularly powerfully were expressionism and impressionism. When there was a lot of extreme and powerful emotion, an expressionist halo of lines emanating from the faces of characters displayed. This happens when Anja became terrified when running from the Nazis and when Spiegelman reacted to Vladek’s burning of Anja’s diaries.

Also very cool is Spiegelman’s use of impressionism. At times, lines were drawn furiously and frantically with a lot of space in between them to depict rain following at the gates of Auschwitz. At other times, the lines had less space between them and were calmer, but their diagonals were obviously meant to convey a sense of action. Their spacing and thickness, although thinner and closer together, are still clearly reminiscent of impressionism.

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