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"If you lock them together in a room with no food for a week...then you could see what it is, friends!"
Vladek Spiegelman

Maus is the signature work of Art Spiegelman, a pioneer of the underground comics movement of the 1960s and 1970s. The work is a memoir of Spiegelman's parents, Holocaust survivors, and is interspersed throughout with images of Spiegelman and the strained relationship he has with his father in the present day. The interviews Spiegelman conducted with his father during this time make up the bulk of the book.

The work has all the basic underpinnings of a Holocaust memoir, portrayed in the comic book style. If you had seen it before, you would have recognized it: As a Mature Animal Story, World War II-era nationalities and people are all portrayed as Funny Animals.

Maus is in two parts, both released to heavy critical acclaim: "Part I (My Father Bleeds History)" in 1986 and "Part II (And Here My Troubles Began)" in 1991. In 1992, it received a special Pulitzer prize.

A CD-ROM version was released for Windows and Macintosh computers as The Complete Maus in 1994, containing both parts in a movie format. A book about the creation of Maus titled MetaMaus was released in 2011, including images of Vladek and interviews with Spiegelman and his family, along with a DVD-ROM with video and the Complete Maus.


This work provides examples of (many of them Truth in Television as it is Based on a True Story):

  • Abuse of Return Policy: During the present, Vladek attempts to return a half-eaten nearly empty box of cereal to the grocery store. He succeeds after using his backstory as a Holocaust survivor to elicit pity from the store manager (and actually manages to get more than the value of the cereal back), but his son realizes in shame that they can never return to that store ever again.
  • Abusive Parents: Vladek at his worst is emotionally abusive towards his only living son, showing No Sympathy for him as a child and always trying to show him up on house repairs. Art admits that Vladek was difficult to live with, but also understands his father has his own ghosts and demons.
  • All Jews Are Cheapskates: Vladek is extremely frugal, which helped him survive the Holocaust. Art worries that in portraying his father honestly, he'll come across as an ugly stereotype.
  • Amazingly Embarrassing Parents: When Vladek goes to the grocery store (in 1980's America) demanding to return a half-eaten box of cereal. He succeeds by regaling the manager with his Holocaust hardships. Art just facepalms and wishes for a quick death.
  • Armor-Piercing Question: When Art is in therapy, he mentions that after hearing all of his father's stories, he gained some respect for him and considered him a "winner" for surviving the Holocaust. This leads the shrink to ask him if he, therefore, thinks everyone who didn't make it was a loser, which catches him off guard. In the end, he adjusts his stance to say that there weren't any "winners" or "losers" in that era, just people whose lives were left to pure luck.
  • Art Shift:
    • The prologue taking place in Art's childhood is in a more three-dimensional and detailed style. Of note is that Vladek's mouse head includes whiskers and a mouth, while later illustrations of the mouse heads are little more than cones with eyes and ears.
    • The Rabbi in Vladek's dream in the war prison is a giant yet realistic mouse.
    • Spiegelman reprints, in its entirety, Prisoner on the Hell Planet - a comic he drew in college and appeared in his famed comix magazine Raw - on the subject of his mother's death, about which he felt considerable angst at the time (not to mention uncontrollable blind hostility). Everyone is depicted as human, although the author draws himself wearing his father's concentration-camp uniform.
    • There's another one - though not as drastic - in the chapter where Art draws himself in the present and goes to talk with his psychiatrist. Everyone has a human body but is wearing animal masks. Later we see the psychiatrist's mantle, with a picture of a cat on it. In recognition of our mental gear shift, there's a note saying "Framed photo of pet cat - really!"
    • A more shocking one is when Anja is presented with a photo of Vladek for the first time since exiting the camps, proving he's alive. When the photo is shown to the reader, it's the actual (human) Vladek (who was right: he was pretty handsome). The photo was taken at a place that had gotten hold of some concentration camp uniforms, and offered souvenir photos from the person's time in the camps. The fact that the only photo of Vladek from the camps is a staged facsimile also ties in with Art's repeatedly expressed difficulties in trying to represent the Holocaust.
  • Art-Style Dissonance: You wouldn't expect a Holocaust story being told through anthropomorphic animals.
  • Ass in a Lion Skin: The mice wear pig masks to pass among the general population of pigs. When Vladek mentions that Anja had difficulty disguising herself as a Pole, we see her mouse tail sticking out from under her coat.
  • Asshole Victim: Not all the characters are sympathetic or nice people, especially the members of the Jewish Ghetto Police. In the words of Vladek:
    Vladek Spiegelman: Some Jews thought in this way: if they gave to the Germans a few Jews, they could save the rest. And at least they could save themselves.
  • Autobiography: While it's mainly a biography about Art Spiegelman's father Vladek, a Polish Jew and Holocaust survivor, a good portion of it is dedicated to Art himself interviewing Vladek to get inspiration for the comic he's making.
  • Awful Wedded Life: From the outset Mala and Vladek's marriage is incredibly dysfunctional, to the point that Mala temporarily leaves Vladek during the second book, taking half their assets with her. Nevertheless, they still get back together by the end, with Mala taking care of Vladek as his physical health deteriorates and his dementia gets worse.
  • Ax-Crazy: One SS guard called "the shooter", who takes pleasure in summarily executing one unlucky Jew every night for the offense of stumbling across him on patrol. Vladek is lucky enough to have a cousin that's well-liked by the guards to avoid this fate.
  • Better to Die than Be Killed: In fear of having the children be forced into the gas chambers, Anja's sister Tosha poisoned herself, Anja's son Richieu, and her own daughter and niece.
  • Bilingual Backfire:
    • Vladek's cousin and Anja talk about him in front of him in English, not knowing that he studied English before he dropped out of school. He calls Anja out on it later.
    • Vladek and his cousin have a debate in Yiddish over whether or not to trust a pair of Polish smugglers and how to make sure they're trustworthy by having the cousin go ahead and send a letter with an all-clear. The smugglers turn out to know Yiddish and are German collaborators to boot, which leads to the plan being foiled and Vladek ending up in Auschwitz as a result.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Vladek and Anja survive the Holocaust and reunite after the war. But they lose their first child and most of their family, Anja will kill herself years later and Vladek will never be able to put the terrible experiences he suffered behind him.
  • Black Market: One existed in Auschwitz where cigarettes were the de facto currency, as described by Vladek. Prisoners who didn't smoke would exchange their issued cigarettes for bread, or save them up as bribes for liquor or to "arrange" the transfer of a loved one to a closer cellblock.
  • Bookworm: Lolek Zylberberg, Anja's nephew. He is scolded for reading over dinner and when he couldn't search for enough food, he fills his sack with books (much to the displeasure of the starving family).
  • Bowdlerise: In one reprinting, a member of the Jewish Police had his hat replaced with a fedora after someone threatened to sue for libel.
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall:
    • At the end of a long monologue to Françoise, Art admits that the whole conversation never happened the way he's shown it — "See, in real life, you would never have let me talk this long without interrupting."
    • During his visit to Dr. Pavel, he wonders if mentioning the doctor's love of dogs and cats will mess up the comic's symbolism.
  • Bribe Backfire: During the Auschwitz death march, one of Vladek's friends attempts to bribe two SS guards with gold he had looted from dead prisoners. The guards promise to give him an opening to escape later that night, but when he tries to make a run for it, they shoot him anyway.
  • Calling the Old Man Out:
    • Vladek frequently gets called out for his stinginess and racism.
    • Art wrote "Prisoner On Hell Planet" to vent at his mother for committing suicide.
  • Can't Kill You, Still Need You: In Auschwitz, a Polish kapo gives special privileges to Vladek and keeps him from being selected for slave labor and/or certain death, as Vladek is able to speak Polish, German, and English. Seeing the approaching defeat of Nazi Germany, the kapo wants to learn English to increase his own chances of survival post-war. After a while, he does seem to develop some genuine affection for Vladek and arranges a job to keep him alive after Vladek is taken out of the quarantine block.
  • Cats Are Mean: Perfectly fits in with the mice-as-Jews and cats-as-Nazis system.
  • Chekhov's Skill:
    • At one point, Vladek rambles about how his father used to starve him just to keep him out of the army. This serves as an explanation as to why Vladek has some experience with being starved.
    • Early in the story, it is mentioned that Vladek wanted to emigrate to the United States and was learning English. His knowledge of the language, which was rare for a Polish Jew in the 30s, came in handy at a few points and probably saved his life.
      • The first example is when Vladek arrived in Auschwitz and was assigned to a barrack run by a Polish Kapò who wanted to learn English (he had been appointed Kapò because he could speak German and he wanted to learn English since it was clear by then that the Allies would win the war). Vladek was the only prisoner to speak both Polish and good English, so the Kapò chose him as his teacher, giving him good clothes and extra food as a reward and hiding him in "quarantine" for months. The Kapò also ensured that Vladek gained a good job in the camp, so that he was considered "useful" by the Germans and not killed outright.
      • Later on, in a transit camp, Vladek was the only person who could speak with a French prisoner who was allowed to receive food parcels from home and who shared them with him.
      • And of course, speaking English proved to be very useful when Vladek was eventually freed by the Americans.
  • Chummy Commies: Anja and her friends from her student days were leftist sympathizers before she got married to Vladek. Also, Yidl, the chief tinman in Auschwitz - he's unpleasant to Vladek personally for being rich but isn't remarkably immoral. Nonetheless, Vladek says he's always shunned reds.
  • Corporal Punishment: Vladek was on the receiving end of this at Auschwitz when a guard spotted him trying to talk to several prisoners from the women's section and took him into a shed to hit his behind with a daystick and telling him to keep score.
  • Deadly Euphemism: Prisoners in the camp referred to being killed as "going up the chimney". The guards often killed groups of weaker inmates by having them "taken away for work".
  • Death March: Vladek is forced to participate in the Auschwitz death march after an aborted attempt to hide in the camp, which the Nazis threatened to firebomb. One of his fellow prisoners tries to bribe the guards into letting them escape into the woods, who take the bribe but then shoot him anyway.
  • Deceased Parents Are the Best:
    • Discussed and zigzagged. Anja is long dead before Art starts trying to tell her and Vladek's story, and he seems to see her in a way better light than his father because she served as a buffer between him and Vladek. The Prisoner on Hell Planet comic, however, reveals that he resented how Anja killed herself and that they didn't really understand each other while she was alive, and her last moment with Art was her engaging in a bit of emotional manipulation. When Vladek dies mid-story, Art is left to deal with his grief and suffers serious Writer's Block along with doubt about if he's the best person to tell the story. He admits at the end that Vladek was doing his best as a parent but was very flawed.
    • Inverted in Vladek's relationship with Art. Art feels that he is The Unfavorite, and has lived his entire life in the shadow of his father's idealized memories and fantasies of Richieu, Art's brother who died in the Holocaust. Given that Vladek calls Art "Richieu" on his deathbed, Art is probably not wrong.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: Despite having been a victim of what was probably the worst case of institutionalized racism in the history of mankind, Vladek has a few old-fashioned ideas about race and class. He himself has really nasty views of Black people, to Francoise's disgust.
  • Determinator: Vladek is committed to surviving the war through all hardships and is occasionally called upon to inspire his wife to continue struggling.
  • Deus ex Machina: Arguably, one of the more disturbing elements of Vladek's experiences in the Holocaust that the book depicts is how often he managed to survive by sheer luck.
  • Draft Dodging: Vladek's father often went to desperate lengths to avoid being drafted into the Tsarist army, note  including removing over a dozen of his teeth. Vladek's father also put his son through physical and emotional hell so he would be too sickly to be drafted into the Polish army.
  • Dramatic Irony: Art promises his father he won't include the mildly embarrassing events of Chapter One. Which, obviously, the reader just finished.
  • Dreaming of Things to Come: Vladek, the father of Art Spiegelman, was forced to work in a prisoner of war camp before World War II. While he was there he dreamed his dead grandfather told him he would be free on the Jewish holiday "parshas truma". As it turned out, months later, he was indeed allowed to leave the camp on that very day!
  • Eagleland: The American soldiers who Vladek encountered near the end of the war are definitely Type 1, rescuing Vladek, giving him the help he needed, affectionately calling him "Willie", and even treating the German civilians with decency.
  • Establishing Character Moment:
    • Vladek has two, one for the present and the other in the past.
      • In the present, The first thing Vladek does when Art first visits his home is to yell at Mala for using a wire coathanger to hang up Art's coat rather than a nice wooden one. This establishes Vladek's merciless complaining, his rocky second marriage, and his meticulous attention to detail.
      • In his past story, Vladek begins with his courtship of Anja. During his first visit to her house, he sneaks away to inspect her housekeeping skills and go through her medicine cabinet to ensure that she's worth pursuing. This shows Vladek's rather callous practicality and attention to detail that would serve him well through his trials.
    • Art has one in Book 1, Ch. 2. After Vladek ends his story and then rambles about his poor eyesight, Art simply states that he's glad they're done for the day, commenting how his arm hurts from taking notes. This establishes that Art, while he does care for his father, Art is prone to single-mindedness & almost selfish thinking, and has long had enough of Vladek's stringiness. He is more interested in Vladek's story.
    • For Anja, while we are told early on (in the present) that she had committed suicide, she is shown to have suffered a Nervous Breakdown after giving birth to her & Vladek's son Richieu, even commenting that she should feel happy rather than depressed. This establishes the fact that Anja is an emotionally fragile person underneath her lively demeanor.
  • Everybody's Dead, Dave: Lolek was the only member of the Spiegelman-Zylberberg clan besides Anja and Vladek to come out of Auschwitz alive, and he was notably consulted by Art in the making of Maus.
  • Food as Bribe: Vladek's cautious and stingy nature helps him to always save food to use as bribes, which saves his life multiple times.
  • For the Evulz: Some Nazis are cruel simply because it amuses them. One example is "the shooter," who kills one Jew a day, selected at random.
  • Foregone Conclusion: Art is established as an only child in the story's prologue. His father tells him about his older brother, Richieu, who was born during the war and was a delight to his parents. Richie is killed by the woman caring for him when the Nazis try to take them to the camps.
  • Fortune Teller: Anja visits a Romani fortuneteller with a Crystal Ball who tells her an accurate account of her future. This is probably an invention of Vladek's.
  • Fragile Flower: Anja is depressed and emotionally fragile, and the loss of her entire family outside of her husband and second son only makes it worse. It falls to Vladek to give her a reason to continue living, but she continues to suffer from depression for decades afterwards and eventually commits suicide because of it.
  • Framing Device: Vladek telling the story to Art.
  • Freudian Excuse: Discussed. Vladek blames his stingy nature on the Holocaust, but other characters note that other Holocaust survivors don't have the same faults. He was already stingy before, and it helped him to survive.
  • Funny Animal: Aside from a re-published comic from real life and a chapter from part two where everyone just wears animal masks, this is how the characters are represented.
  • Funny Background Event:
    • In Chapter 4 of Part I, while Anja's family is having a conversation with Vladek during dinner, little Richieu makes a mess by spilling the food on the table, angering his mother Anja, who scolds him and cleans the table with a napkin while he cries, and she has to hug him. Awww...
    • In the same panels, their nephew Lolek (who is about 10 or 11 at the time) is reading a book at the table; his grandmother snatches it away from him, and he pouts indignantly over his dinner.
    • The very first panel of that chapter: Mala is putting away Art's outerwear. It's noted that she put it on a wooden hanger... and it's a new trench coat. Vladek groused about wire versus wooden hanger in the first panels of Chapter 1, and the last panel of Chapter 3 was Art thinking that he couldn't believe his father threw away his old coat.
    • And then horribly subverted later, where a panel shows Richieu playing happily with another child. He's playing with a train...
  • Furry Confusion: Lampshaded and even occasionally Played for Laughs.
    • At one point, Vladek and Anja are hiding in a cellar, and Anja panics when a (non-anthropomorphic) rat runs over her hand. Vladek tries to comfort her by telling her it was just a mouse. Later, Art (drawing himself as a man in a mouse-mask) says that his shrink's apartment is overrun with stray dogs and cats, and muses "Can I mention this, or does it completely louse up my metaphor?"
    • And shortly after that, and shortly after hearing his father talk about gas chambers for a whole day, making sure to notice that Zyklon-B is an insecticide, Art himself sprays a bunch of mosquitoes without thinking twice about it.
    • And while visiting the shrink's apartment, there's a panel with a picture of a cat, and there's a box saying, "Framed picture of a pet cat—really!"
  • Furry Lens: All of the characters are actually humans, and see themselves as such; they are seen by the reader as animals for the sake of the metaphor. This didn't stop Art from having to explain himself a few times, such as the aforementioned incident in the shrink's office.
  • Generational Trauma: The comic is, on the surface, about the memories of Holocaust survivor Vladek Spiegelman and his late wife Anja, but it also delves into what it was like for his son, author Art Spiegelman, to grow up as the son of two Holocaust survivors, and the mental health issues it caused in him, especially as he had to grow up in the shadow of an older brother who was killed by a relative. At one point, Vladek finds an old underground comic that Art published, "Prisoner of the Hell Planet", in which he vents his resentment and bitterness at his mother for committing suicide three months after Art left a mental hospital, forcing him to deal with his father's grief and paranoia at a time when he was very poorly equipped to do so.
    "You murdered me, Mommy, and left me here to take the rap!"
  • Genocide Survivor: Art's parents, Vladek and Anja, are Holocaust survivors. The book recounts their experiences during the Holocaust, as well as how it affected them afterward. His stepmother Mala is also a survivor, though the book doesn't go into as much detail about her story.
  • Gold Digger: Implied with Vladek, who leaves his pretty girlfriend Lucia Greenberg for the less attractive Anja Zylberberg, who comes from a wealthy family and can do wonders for his career. He does, however, insist that he fell in love with her through her beautiful correspondence. Much later, he accuses his second wife, Mala, of being this.
  • Gone Horribly Right: Art wrote/drew Maus in hopes of having his parents' harrowing pasts during the Holocaust be known. In the second book, he recounts how Maus did indeed gain commercial and critical success, but now he was being overwhelmed with endless interviews and offers to merchandise his work and haunted by guilt as he felt he was profiteering off of his parents and people's suffering.
  • Good Stepmother: He was already an adult when Vladek married her, but Art gets along better with Mala than with his own father. Whatever demons Mala has from surviving the Holocaust, she's more open about her problems and flaws. Art even says he thinks she could do better than his father.
  • Goomba Stomp: The prisoner who claimed he was German was dispatched by a guard jumping on his neck.
  • Greater-Scope Villain: Adolf Hitler, of course. Despite what the Hitler cat logo implies, Hitler, as well as his inner circle, are never seen in the story but their influence through the Nazis can be felt. In fact, the closest high-ranking Nazi official that Vladek ever encountered was Josef Mengele, aka the Angel of Death himself.
  • Greedy Jew: It's implied that Anja's wealthy background was a big influence on Vladek's decision to court her, and in modern times, he's an obnoxious miser who argues with cashiers over pennies. Art is constantly frustrated by how much Vladek conforms to the "greedy cheapskate" stereotype and discusses it at one point with Mala, explaining that he feels awkward and very uneasy about portraying that part of his father's behavior honestly, as he fears what will happen from perpetuating the stereotype.
  • Had to Be Sharp: Thoroughly deconstructed. Vladek's stinginess and ingenuity in squeezing something out of every cent he has are what enabled him to survive many situations during the Holocaust that another person would have died in, but his portrayal in the modern day expressly outlines that those traits are not desirable in a normal person in an average situation, and that Vladek continuing to be "sharp" regardless of what is going on makes him into an abrasive and unpleasant old man. Also, Art's therapist points out how respecting one's "strength" in a horrifying situation spits on the memory of those who died.
  • Happily Ever Before: Vladek and Art choose to close the story at the moment Vladek reunites with Anja, the closest thing to a Happy Ending their lives had.
  • Happy Ending Override: In a sense - while Vladek and Anja both survive the war, the former grew into a miserable borderline abusive father while Anja killed herself due to her lingering trauma.
  • Hard Truth Aesop: Despite the horrors he endured born out of prejudice Vladek holds racist beliefs toward black people, much to Francoise's disgust. You can be oppressed and still go on to oppress others.
  • Hero of Another Story:
    • To a certain degree, Anja. We never discover her version of the story and what happened to her between leaving Auschwitz and reuniting with Vladek in Poland after the war, as Vladek has destroyed all her diaries after her suicide.
    • Mala mentions that she is also a Holocaust survivor and was in the camps. We never hear her story or how she survived.
    • Mancie, a Hungarian Jewish woman who has been appointed as a Kapo at Birkenau uses her position to help other prisoners (risking her life in the process). She is instrumental in securing Anja's survival and is one of the very few people who help the main characters for genuinely altruistic reasons, refusing to accept Vladek's offer of food to reward her. Vladek tries to find her after the war, but he never discovers what happened to her.
  • Hiding Behind the Language Barrier: Vladek at one point has a racist tirade (in Polish) about Art and his wife picking up a black hitchhiker, while the unsuspecting man is still there.
  • Hypocrite:
    • Vladek is occasionally shown to be this way. He accuses Mala of being a Gold Digger, but it's implied that he originally pursued Anja because she was from a wealthy family. Art also points out that Vladek's racism toward black people isn't so different from how anti-semites regard Jews.
    • Yidl, a Jewish kapo in Auschwitz and a self-declared communist scolds Vladek for having been an industrialist who exploited workers before the war. But he uses his position of power to extort food from the prisoners under his supervision and is noted to be as greedy as the capitalists that he despises.
  • Impossible Task: Prisoners in Auschwitz were often intentionally given tasks which were incredibly difficult to complete, just to give the guards more excuses to beat or kill them. For example, Anja was repeatedly made to run carrying a giant drum of soup, but the drum was extremely heavy, even for the bigger and stronger Vladek, so making it across the courtyard with the soup for Anja was incredibly unlikely. Once she spilled the soup, the kapo would beat her, let everyone go hungry, and assign her to carrying the soup again to get a chance to beat her again. In another case, prisoners were only allowed food if there was no lice in their clothing, but to have clothing with no lice was practically impossible due to the cramped and filthy conditions; Vladek is able to trade a spare set of clean clothes and present that one to the guards instead (while hiding his real shirt in his pants).
  • Inconsistent Spelling:
    • So is it Anja, Anna, or Anya? All three spellings are used at one point or another. (It was originally spelled Andzia, but Spiegelman decided a more phonetic spelling would be easier for readers to grasp.)
    • Richieu's name in Polish was Rysio (a diminutive of Ryszard). Spiegelman says he had never seen the actual spelling until well after beginning work on Maus and was just guessing.
  • Informed Attractiveness: Vladek mentions several times how handsome he was in his youth, noting that he was often compared to a young Rudolph Valentino. A real-life picture late in the second book confirms that he was indeed a good-looking man. Vladek also notes that Lucia was more attractive than his eventual wife Anja, but he preferred Anja for her personality (and her money also probably helped).
  • I Want My Mommy!: In the opening of Maus II, Art is faced with reporters swarming him with questions and receiving constant requests from businessmen wanting to commercialize the story. Art is shown shrinking smaller and smaller until he turns into a child and cries: "I want... I want... my mommy!"
  • Jerkass: Vladek-a crotchety, manipulative, stingy and racist old man.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: The Polish kapo who keeps Vladek alive to learn English is a violent brute who holds some anti-Semitic views, but genuinely seems to start liking Vladek after a while and helps him get a job inside the camp instead of simply leaving him to be killed.
  • Jewish Complaining: Vladek and Mala constantly complain about each other.
  • Jump Scare: Art's psychiatrist says Auschwitz was like this, only all the time.
  • Karmic Death:
    • Vladek sees or finds out that several people who betrayed him to the Nazis were themselves killed by Nazis, usually because they had become useless to their benefactors at some point.
    • One particular case that stands out is when Vladek, Anja, her parents, and her nephew are hiding in a secret bunker in the ghetto. They are discovered by a Jew who claims he was searching for food; initially, Vladek wants him killed as to not expose the family's hiding place, but the others convince him to let the man go. The same man turns out to be an informant, and arrives the next day with the SS to expose the bunker, leading to the family's capture. Little over a week later, the informant is killed by the Germans, and Vladek, while on work detail, is the one who buries his corpse.
  • Last Day of Normalcy: The first few chapters of Maus feature Vladek's life in interwar Poland, his courtship with Anja, and his early family life with Richieu.
  • Let the Past Burn: Vladek burned Anja's diaries (and the many letters from a Frenchman he befriended while a war prisoner) after Anja committed suicide simply because his memories of the war became too painful for him to want to recall. Art is rather furious when he learns this.
  • The Masochism Tango: Vladek and Mala. They fight all the time, and Vladek constantly complains about her to Art. However, when she eventually leaves Vladek, he feels even worse; Françoise comments that it was probably their fighting that kept Vladek going. Seeing his declining health, Mala eventually returns to him, because she feels sorry for him.
  • Mature Animal Story: Yes, it has talking animals. No, it is absolutely not for kids.
  • Misery Builds Character: Vladek states several times that, although his time in the concentration camps was horrific beyond measure, he learned several skills that would serve him well later in his life. However, Art's therapist somewhat deconstructs this attitude, saying that it only justifies suffering.
  • Mobile Shrubbery: During the German invasion, Vladek recounts that while guarding a shallow river crossing, he shot and killed a Wehrmacht soldier wearing branches in an attempt to camouflage himself.
  • Mocking the Mourner: In a comic that Art wrote, a relative is shown telling Art he should have cried while his mother was still alive.
  • Money Is Not Power: A rare tragic example. Vladek's father-in-law tries to bribe himself and his wife out of the Holocaust. Unfortunately, smuggling two middle-aged Jews to safety in 1940 is simply too much risk for anyone, no matter how great the reward. In one of the saddest scenes of the story, Vladek tries to bribe one of his relatives, a Jewish ghetto policeman, into sparing his father-in-law from deportation. Unfortunately, the relative takes the bribe, and just ships the old man to his doom.
  • Moral Myopia: Vladek suffered great hardship for being a Jew, yet he thinks nothing of being racist toward African-Americans. Françoise calls him out on this.
  • Morton's Fork:
    • Vladek tells Art that the guards in the death camps would often grab a random prisoner's cap and throw it, and tell them to run and get it. Prisoners were obviously not allowed to disobey the guards, but following his instructions would also get them shot. This would be written off as an attempt to escape, and the guard would be praised for "stopping the escape" and awarded a few days of vacation.
    • When Art asks Vladek why none of the prisoners tried to fight back, Vladek says sometimes they did, but the effort to kill even one guard would lead to a hundred prisoners being killed, and then everyone else would be executed, so the end result would be the same for the prisoners, if not worse.
  • Mundane Luxury: In Auschwitz, a friend of Vladek named Mandelbaum is literally brought to tears when Vladek brings him stuff like shoes that actually fit and a belt so he doesn't have to hold up his trousers with one hand all the time, simple things which the Nazis had denied them.
  • National Animal Stereotypes: Every shown nationality is given its own animal.
    • Jews are mice no matter what nation they hail from. This is a reference to Nazi propaganda that equated Jews with mice and vermin. It also emphasizes their vulnerability to oppression.
    • Germans are cats, who prey on mice.
    • Americans are dogs, who are friendly and helpful and can drive away cats. This of course references the Americans who helped the Jews at the end of the war. Different races of Americans are given different breeds of dogs. There are also actual dogs seen at several points.
    • Poles are pigs. Spiegelman is ambivalent about the Poles, many of whom oppressed the Jews, but some also helped those in need. Pigs were intended to be neutral animals, one not associated with the mouse-cat-dog hierarchy. Despite this, many Poles found the association highly offensive.
    • The French are frogs, referencing the national stereotype. Spiegelman is also ambivalent to the French. While they were enemies of the Nazis, he notes that France had its own history of antisemitism.
    • Swedes are reindeer, referencing their mountainous nation.
    • Brits are fish, referencing the fact that they come from across the ocean.
    • Roma are gypsy moths for obvious reasons.
    • Instances where this system becomes complicated are dealt with in a variety of ways:
      • Art wonders how he'll portray his wife, a Frenchwoman who converted to Judaism. He suggests that he portray her as a French frog until her wedding, when she magically transforms into a beautiful mouse. She's less than enthusiastic, so she's portrayed as a mouse from the beginning.
      • A Jew who married a German has hybrid mouse and cat children: mice with tabby stripes.
      • A man among Jews who claims to be German is seen as a cat to Vladek and a mouse to the Germans.
      • An Israeli Jew is portrayed as a somewhat stuffy and well-fed mouse. His question to Art is how he would have portrayed an Israeli. Art quips, "I have no idea... porcupines?" (likely a reference to the term "sabra", a Jew born in the Land of Israel, taken from the Hebrew word for a cactus).
  • Nice Mice: The persecuted Jews are depicted as mice. Averted with some unsympathetic individuals.
  • "Not So Different" Remark:
    • Françoise is horrified by Vladek's prejudice toward African-Americans when she picks up a black hitchhiker, during which Vladek spends the whole time sitting in the back guarding the groceries and complaining in Polish. After they drop him off, she and Vladek argue about it and she accuses him of being no different than the Nazis. Art, who knows his father's stubbornness all too well, gets them to Agree to Disagree.
    • Art's therapist, Pavel, points out that Art's great respect for his father's ability to survive the Holocaust makes him dangerously susceptible to the eugenicist mindset that caused it in the first place.
    "So you think it is admirable to survive. Does that mean it's not admirable then, to not survive?"
  • Old Shame: In-Universe, Mala comes across Prisoner on the Hell Planet, the comic Art wrote about Anja's suicide. Art is a little upset Vladek saw it, but Vladek, though upset by it, admits that he's glad that Art was able to get his feelings out.
  • O.O.C. Is Serious Business: During one visit, Art finds Vladek treating him especially coldly. It is because he read the comic strip Art wrote after Anja's suicide.
  • Oppressed Minority Veteran: An Ambiguously Jewish concentration camp prisoner claims to have fought in World War I and earned "medals from the Kaiser", and his own son is a soldier now. According to Vladek, the guards beat him to death when they got tired of his complaints.
  • Parents as People: After Vladek dies, Art comes to this conclusion about both of his parents. Vladek was flawed, but his story had to be told, and he did his best in raising Art. Anja had her demons, and Art for better or for worse will never know them because of Vladek burning her diaries.
  • Pay Evil unto Evil:
    • Vladek and his family create a hidden bunker to escape the liquidation of the Środula ghetto, but another Jew stumbles across it. They debate killing him to protect themselves, but ultimately take pity on him and let him go with a little food, after which he reports them to the Nazis. Vladek's cousin Haskel, the chief of the Jewish police, arranges for the SS to kill the informant, and Vladek ends up burying him.
    • Soon after the German surrender, Vladek and Shivek encounter a German family in Würzburg who have lost everything due to American bombing. They come away from the encounter happy that the Germans were getting back a little of what they had inflicted on the Jews.
  • Pet the Dog:
    • Haskel for all his Category Traitor moments does what he can to keep Vladek and Anja alive, sometimes without needing money.
    • Vladek gives Art a key to his safety deposit box while talking about Haskel. Later, he finds photographs from the war that Art can use for reference. Despite being upset after reading Art's comic about Anja's suicide, he tells Art it was a good way for him to deal with his feelings.
    • A Nazi guard orders Vladek to repair his boot. While Vladek is able to do a half-decent job on most shoes, this task is so complex that Vladek has to outsource the work to a professional cobbler in the camp. After examining the boot and being satisfied with the work, the Nazi guard leaves and returns with an enormous sausage from the pantry.
  • Postmodernism: The story itself tells and deconstructs the story of how the story was made, including Spiegelman doubting his choices of how to depict the people as animal characters.
  • Pro Bono Barter: Vladek is truly the master of this trope, to the point where he could be the poster boy. It may also explain why he's so stingy compared to other people who went through the Holocaust: it's this skill that allowed him to survive.
  • Punch-Clock Villain: Several of the guards at Auschwitz. A few of them reward Vladek for favors, but have no qualms about murdering the others. There's only one among them who actually seems troubled over what he's seen. He's also the only one who's friendly and polite to prisoners.
  • Pragmatic Villainy: When Vladek and a large group of prisoners are lined up along the edge of a lake to be executed by gunfire in the morning, they discover that all the guards fled. The head officer's girlfriend convinced them to abandon the execution and flee the approaching Americans instead, not out of any kindness towards Jews, but because they'd probably be executed for their war crimes if caught.
  • Reassigned to Antarctica: Vladek recalls just one of the guards was friendly to the prisoners... until he was assigned to Birkenau for a few days. When the guard returned, he was pale and refused to speak any more.
  • Refuge in Audacity:
    • While incognito as a Gentile Pole, Vladek rides the German streetcar instead of the Polish one, since no German would expect a Jew to put himself under the nose of the Germans.
    • What is Vladek's plan to get a refund from the supermarket? Regale the staff with his experiences with the Holocaust. Art is utterly mortified however.
  • Released to Elsewhere: The Nazis never told prisoners whether or not they were being executed, they would be simply be "taken away for work", but this was always a death sentence. They also wouldn't tell prisoners whether the shower heads would release water or gas. Art's shrink, himself a Holocaust survivor, stated that being in a camp was like a constant Jump Scare.
  • Replacement Goldfish:
    • Deconstructed. Art says he knows that his parents conceived him as a replacement for Richieu, his older brother, and Art resents it. He says that it was hard to grow up under a portrait of a boy who never got to grow up and cause trouble for his parents.
    • Mala becomes a new wife for Vladek after Anja dies, albeit after more than a few years have gone by. She resents, however, how he never treats her well and takes her for granted as a Gold Digger. Art and she agree that it's hard to please Vladek, having to live up to his previous family.
  • Screw the Rules, I Have Connections!: Vladek is able to get special privileges in Auschwitz because he knows English, and the kapo in charge of that sector wants to learn English to better his odds post-war, when the Reich is inevitably defeated. This includes protection from guards, extra food, clothes that fit, and being given a useful job. Not that it makes living in Auschwitz much less of a hellhole though.
  • Screw This, I'm Out of Here!: Once the war is coming to an end, several times, the Nazi guards simply abandon their posts and flee because it's not worth guarding and killing some more Jews when they've already lost and the Americans are about to overtake their location. This ends up saving Vladek's life multiple times.
  • "Shaggy Dog" Story: The subplot about Anja's diaries in the first book. Also the incident where Vladek starved himself for weeks trying to trade enough bread for cigarettes to get together a big enough bribe to transfer to a housing unit by Anja's, only for his entire haul to get stolen while he was away.
  • Shameful Shrinking: In the opening of Maus II, Art Spiegelman is shown shrinking smaller and smaller as reporters torment him with questions about Maus I. At the end he is a small crying child. A helpful talk with a therapist about coming to terms with his guilt gives him back his normal, adult size, but then listening to recordings of his father's speech causes him to instantly shrink back into a child.
  • Single-Species Nations: Every species represents a different ethnic group: Mice are Jews, Poles are pigs, Nazis are cats, etc. When using fake papers that identify them as Polish, the (mice) characters wear pig masks.
  • Shoot the Shaggy Dog:
    • After the war is over, Vladek hears that antisemitic Poles are still killing those Jews who return to their homes. Vladek can only note the tragedy of surviving the Holocaust only to be killed immediately afterward.
    • Anja's suicide many years after the Holocaust may also count, depending on what exactly triggered it.
  • Stop Being Stereotypical: Art Spiegelman's character laments that his father has all of the hallmarks of a nasty, miserly old Jew and fits the stereotype very well. When challenged about it, his father says he's tight-fisted only because of the Holocaust, but Mala points out later that she and the other Holocaust survivors they know aren't like him.
  • Supporting Protagonist: Art himself may count, given that the book follows him but it is actually telling Vladek's story.
  • Survivorship Bias: Art's therapist, another Holocaust survivor, pushes him to avoid succumbing to this trap while depicting his father's story.
    Pavel: Then you think it's admirable to survive. Does that mean it's not admirable to not survive?
    Art: Whoosh. I-I think I see what you mean. It's as if life equals winning so death equals losing.
    Pavel: Yes. Life always takes the side of life, and somehow the victims are blamed. But it wasn't the best people who survived, nor did the best ones die. It was random!
  • Survivor Guilt: While trying to understand his father Vladek's experience in the concentration camps, Art asks his own shrink (also a Holocaust survivor) if he ever experienced this. The psychiatrist replies that he never felt guilty, just sad.
  • These Hands Have Killed: In the Polish army, Vladek is horrified when he finds out that he killed a German soldier named Hans.
  • Thicker Than Water: Tragically subverted. One of Vladek's relatives, a Jewish ghetto policeman, is dragging away Vladek's father-in-law. Art asks why the relative couldn't help him as a family. Vladek replies that at that point, survival superseded family ties.
  • The Tooth Hurts: Vladek's father was so desperate not to be drafted into the Russian Army, that he yanked out a lot of his teeth.
  • Thousand-Yard Stare: Vladek recounts one young guard in the Auschwitz work camp who was unusually friendly (most guards wouldn't even be willing to talk to the prisoners), but was gone for a few days because he pulled a few shifts in the Birkenau extermination camp. When he returned, he looked pale and kept staring into the distance because of what he had seen, while no longer being friendly.
  • Too Much Alike: Art mentions this off-hand to his fiance, as he once had a girlfriend who was also Jewish and middle-class, but because they were so similar it was weird to get erotic with the girl.
  • Training from Hell: Inverted. Vladek's father would put him through starvation and sleep deprivation to keep his son from being drafted into the Polish army.
  • Two Lines, No Waiting: The narratives jumps between three timelines - Vladek's Holocaust survival, Art interviewing his father, and Art creating Maus.
  • The Un-Favourite: It's implied that Vladek's first family, Anja and Richieu, will always be closer to his heart than his later son and second wife. Art says that he had a sibling rivalry with his late brother, who died at a young age before Art was even born. He worries that all of his faults are being compared to his parents' idealized memory of Richieu. The penultimate panel of the book has the tired and sick Vladek call Art "Richieu."
  • Unreliable Narrator: In the end, the tired, sick and depressed Vladek says that he and Anja lived Happily Ever After. However, we know that Anja suffered from mental problems and killed herself about twenty years later. It's also implied that some of his stories may not be 100% truthful.
  • "Well Done, Son" Guy: A very realistic, unsentimental version. The final lines show how difficult and painful this can be in life.
  • Warts and All: Called out by name in MetaMaus, where Spiegelman comments that it was very important to him to try to be as honest as possible in the comic's depiction of Vladek, himself, and their complicated father-son relationship, even if it means that some of Vladek and Spiegelman's own uglier personality traits is on display at times. He noted that he didn't want to "sentimentalize" Vladek by depicting him as "a survivor who's ennobled by his suffering"; rather, Spiegelman explained, that one of the main messages he was trying to get across with the comic was "Look, suffering doesn't make you better, it just makes you suffer!"
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Many times, Vladek meets someone in the camps, but only for them to be separated and never seeing one another again. For example, in the first part of the second book, he helps take care of a friend named Mandelbaum, but eventually Mandelbaum is taken away from the guards to a certain death, but ambiguous fate. Vladek muses he could have been shot by guards, beaten to death, or succumbed to illness in the fetid conditions.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Vladek's stingy behavior gets him this multiple times. A truly stand-out case is when Art explodes at Vladek for burning Anja's memoirs, even yelling to his face that by doing so he killed her more finally than anything else ever could.
  • Who Would Want to Watch Us?: Invoked when Vladek tells Art not to tell the story of Lucia Greenberg because it would add nothing to the overall story of survival and Art promises that he will not... right at the end of the chapter that features it.
  • World of Funny Animals: Though not so funny most of the time.
  • Yandere: Lucia Greenberg, Vladek's ex from before he met Anja, is a minor example - the worst she does is attempt to sabotage his new relationship with Anja by telling her disgusting rumors, but fails. When Vladek leaves her, she falls to his feet and begs him not to go. This may be a case of Unreliable Narrator, and this is how Vladek perceived her many years later. Art himself even lampshades this how his father tries to make himself look better in the stories.
  • You Have Outlived Your Usefulness:
    • Vladek notes that in Auschwitz he saw the Polish smugglers who ratted him and Anja out to the Nazis once more. The smugglers had eventually been deported to the death camp as well, because the Nazis had no use for them anymore. He never saw them again.
    • Earlier in the story, a Jewish informant led the Gestapo to Vladek's "bunker" in the ghetto. He was later shot dead by the Germans, eyes still open from "struggling to survive", and Vladek was the one who buried him.
  • You No Take Candle: Vladek's English is very good for a Polish Jew in the 1940s, but it's clearly not perfect, and Art makes it obvious when Vladek is speaking English, despite everything being written in English, by his slightly broken speech patterns. Still, his English is acceptable enough for a Polish kapo to take Vladek under his wing (because the kapo wants to learn English to better his survival chances when the Allies defeat the Nazis).

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