- Alternative Character Interpretation:
- Is Mala an unreasonable harpy only out to get Vladek's money or a sympathetic character trying to cope with the miserly and demanding Vladek? Vladek certainly subscribes to the former, but Art (and most readers) drift toward the latter.
- Vladek is strongly characterized as extremely practical and willing to do anything to survive. He also lists a number of incidents where Jews steal, doublecross or betray one another in desperate circumstances. However, Vladek never admits to a single morally questionable action at the expense of his fellow Jews. One might wonder if Vladek wasn't quite as morally incorruptible as his story makes him seem.
- Harvey Pekar of American Splendor fame reviewed the first part of the book for The Comics Journal (December 1986) and questioned what he felt was the overly negative presentation of Vladek by his son, feeling that for all his flaws, Vladek is only trying to show affection in the only way he knows how and criticizes Spiegelman for not making his Author Avatar more flawed, noting that after all the son is putting up with his father solely so he can tell his story to create the book we are reading and is perhaps Not So Different in ruthlessness as compared to his father.
- Likewise, Spiegelman himself noted that his own students at art school tend to root for Vladek as a Guile Hero and regarded his Stand-In as a whiny ingrate who doesn't understand how terrible his father's sufferings were.
- Is Vladek using his history as an excuse for anything? In Book Two shortly before the end, he exchanges half-eaten groceries with fresh food by telling the manager of a Shop-Rite everything since the Holocaust.
- Speaking of which, Vladek claims that the manager was very understanding after explaining his history, kind of making himself out to be the hero of the situation. It's more likely that the manager just gave him the grocery money to shut him up. Anyone who has dealt with customer service likely has a story of giving someone a certificate just to avoid endless hours of arguing.
- Is Lucia a vindictive woman, or is she understandably hurt after Vladek strung her along? Did she try to sabotage Vladek and Anja's relationship out of jealousy, or was she trying to warn Anja about how duplicitous Vladek really was? Does Vladek paint an accurate picture of her, or does he have an ulterior motive for depicting her as vindictive?
- Did Vladek really burn Anja's diary in a fit of grief and depression following her suicide as he claimed? Did he do it, on some level, do it to spite Artie for not paying enough attention to her when she was alive? Or was it to get rid of any contrary version of their story from before and during the war, so only his version would be preserved for posterity? Maybe a bit of all three? Vladek swears by the first, but Artie seems to suspect the latter.note
- Heartwarming Moment: The family in Hanover that Vladek and Shimek meet after the war. They are given a warm welcome by the German gentile wife, her Jewish husband whom she hid during the war, and their two children - cat-striped mice. Seeing this obviously loving German-Jewish family unit for a few brief panels is a welcome reprieve after two volumes of cruelty, and serves as a little bit of proof that the Nazi ideology, ultimately, didn't win (not to mention throwing cat-lovers a bone).
- Jerkass Woobie: Vladek is the incarnation of this trope. He's extremely cheap, overbearing, racist and a lousy father. However, he did suffer through immense hardship. He lost his first son and his emotionally fragile wife apparently never recovered from the experience. He's spent decades pining for the family he had before the war. The point of Vladek is that he, with all his flaws, is powerfully human and not reducible and easily understandable. The fact that Vladek and his son can't bond meaningfully because of a generation gap and trauma shows the real tragedy of the whole thing.
- Tough Act to Follow: Art Spiegelman has been quite vocal about how he never expected the "monument to my father" to become so popular, nor did he expect that his later works would be greeted by wishes for Maus III.
- Unfortunate Implications:
Spiegelman: I realized that it could be received as one more example of the trope that Crumb had consistently mined with Angelfood McSpade and other willful racist caricatures: the return of the repressedall that insulting imagery that had been flushed out of the mainstream culture but existed in the back of everybodys lizard brainnow brought back in a kind of Lenny Bruce Is there anybody I havent insulted yet? spirit, with the hope that if you say the word nigger over and over again, you remove its sting
- Several critics argued that by portraying Jews and Germans as different species of animals, Spiegelman was accidentally reinforcing the Nazi beliefs about the Jews belonging to a different race. On the other hand, Spiegelman maintains it was a deliberate subversion/reclamation of racist imagery:
- Frogs represent the French in this comic book. 'Frog' is also a racial slur against those of French descent.
- Similarly, some Poles did not take kindly to the comic. Why? Because to show that they are outside of the mouse-cat-dog power dynamic, Art Spiegelman drew them as pigs.
- What Do You Mean, It's Not for Kids?: Artwork and animals has gotten the comic book to sometimes be mistaken as something for kids to read. Those kids will pay. Spiegelman expressed the same to Sendak.Spiegelman: When parents give Maus, my book about Auschwitz, to their little kids, I think its child abuse.
- Despite this, the book is often used in higher forms of middle and high school, as well as colleges, as a textbook to discuss the Holocaust, both in America and in different countries, especially Europe and Germany who are keen to remind students of their Old Shame.
YMMV / Maus