Published in 1991 and written by Art Spiegelman, the MAUS is a book that provides the account of the author’s effort of knowing his Jewish parents’ experience, following the Holocaust as well as their survival in U.S. It gives a picture of the difficult affiliation between the author and his parents where he stands as a survivor of this as well.
This tale is presented in the form of a conversation between the author and Vladek – his father. In a humorous manner, Spiegelman employs animals to represent characters. For instance, dogs represent the Americans while reindeers represent Swedes, among others. The setting of this interview is a large area ranging from New York through Germany to Sweden, a style that enables the writer to give a broad picture of the mass destruction during the World War II while at the same time he shows the nature of relationships in his family prior and after the war. The author uses characters like Vladek Spiegelman-Art’s father, Anja-Vladek’s wife, Art- Vladek’s son, among others, all of whom are survivors of the holocaust, either direct or indirect.
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The concept of ambivalence stands out clearly in the book through the various relationships provided. For instance, Vladek’s ambivalence towards his son, Art, is clear as explained in the following paragraph.
Ambivalence is no more than the disagreement of ones feelings towards another person or a thing. This person may simultaneously portray both the positive and negative views towards another. The novel is rich in this concept. For example, Vladek is the father to Art. He loves him but he is unable to show it off. This case is seen when Art, who has been playing with his friends accidentally falls.
Art cries of pain and rushes towards his father for assistance.“…until he has spent five days locked in a room with a group of people and no food, he cannot know the meaning of the word friends” (Spiegelman, 1991). These are the father’s comments to his son. Vladek ought to act like a loving parent by soothing his son to stop crying as well as nursing his pain. From the response, it is not clear whether he loves his son or not. Whether he said this to make his son laugh rather than cry or whether he said this out of ignorance is not determined.
Moreover, he is willing to converse with his son. In fact he narrates to him about his origin as well as that of their family. But the way he addresses some questions is wanting. When Art enquires about the dairies, Vladek does not hesitate in giving his weird answers. “I looked in, but I don’t remember” (Spiegelman, 1991). These answers fail to classify Vladek’s feeling towards Art. He has a diverse feeling towards his son and this is no more than ambivalence. Art’s feelings towards his father are also strained and uncertain too.
Art portrays an all-round relationship with his father. This is apparent because he entirely relies on him for the account of his own story. He frequently visits him at his yard. Following the suicide of his mother, Art declares that his father is a murderer (1991). In addition, when Vladek feels dizzy, he demands the assistance of Art who in turn fails to rescue him. Based on these issues, it is not clear whether Art has positive or negative feelings towards his father. Paying him frequent visits and abusing him portray two opposing feelings, showing how he is unsure towards his father.
Another uncertainty stands out between Vladek and his own self. It is apparent that all people love themselves and Vladek is not an exception. When he is visited by Art, he is found putting in place a variety of pills. From their conversation, Vladek posits that in order to be strong, he ought to fight for his own salvation. Art’s healers posit that Vladek has a guilty sensation following his surviving in the holocaust.
This makes it vague of the kind of feelings he has for his own self and hence ambivalent. Moreover, in another dialogue between Vladek and Art, neither of the two understands the feelings of the other as Art enquires about the holocaust. Vladek has a real experience of the scenario unlike Art.
Art cannot understand the feelings of his father in relation to the episode because he (Art) was not there as it occurred. On the other hand, Vladek is unable to identify his son’s feelings towards him because the two do not relate in the sense that the scenario happened in the presence of one and not both. Therefore the two are ambivalent towards each other.
The relationship between Vladek and Anja is also ambivalent as expounded below. Anja meets with Vladek and her boyfriend. They stay together in this relationship until they marry.
This shows that Anja loves Vladek because of this evident willing to stay together as husband and wife. However, Anja has another boyfriend, whom she also loves. It is thus unclear of whether Anja is truly in love with Vladek or the other boy. This identifies her as ambivalent towards Vladek. Vladek on the other hand accepts to marry Anja. Following the incidence where Anja’s friend was arrested, Vladek opts to terminate his marriage with Anja.
When Anja gives birth to Richieu, their first child, she is taken to a high class hospital where she is well-nursed by Vladek until she recovers. Vladek’s conduct of nursing and ending of their marriage, as depicted here are opposite. Whether he is a real loving husband or not fails to be clear basing on this, hence ambivalent towards Anja. The connection between Vladek and his own father is undefined as well. In their dialogue, Vladek explains to Art that he was almost intentionally starved to death by his father. He adds that he was even denied sleep.
This followed from a plan between him (father) and his army, which sought to absorb Vladek as a soldier. Vladek tells his father not to repeat that again implying how mistreated he felt, though he becomes a soldier later. Based on this, his stance as a father, behind this scenario is not defined. His feelings towards his son are no more than ambivalent.
The concept of ambivalence is well developed in the book. However, it is worthy noting that this concept has some attached functions. For instance, it functions to maintain one’s undefined state which is, to some extend, important. In the book, it has played a crucial role in the represented relationships. For instance, if Art hated his father, he would not have gotten the material for his book.
If he loved him, he would have rescued him when he was ailing. In addition, Anja’s ambivalence towards Vladek places her in a position better that she can be if she sticks to either of the two. If Vladek leaves her as he says, Anja will join her other boyfriend. If that is not the case, she is still safe. This shows how ambivalence plays an adaptive role in this relationship since Anja can adapt whichever outcome of her marriage.
These, among other illustrations, depict ambivalence as a tool that serves some crucial functions, as discussed above.
Spiegelman, A. (1991). Maus: A Survivor’s Tale: And Here My Troubles Began. New York: Pantheon.