MAUS Summary

Art Spiegelman


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MAUS Summary

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MAUS, a graphic novel by Art Spiegelman, is a two-book tale of survival during World War II and the Holocaust. The book begins in the late 1970s with Art’s visit to interview his father, Vladek, about his experiences during the war. Art and Vladek have a strained relationship at best, and the reader learns early on in the story that Art’s mother, Anja, committed suicide ten years prior to the start of the book.

Book One

Chapter One begins Vladek’s tale in 1935, when he met Anja. He was dating a woman named Lucia at the time, though the relationship ended when she saw a picture of Anja in Vladek’s possession. He leaves to be with Anja in 1936, but Lucia begs him to come back to her. When he refuses, Lucia writes a letter to Anja claiming that Vladek only wishes to marry her for her family’s money, which he denies in person. Vladek and Anja marry in 1937. This chapter establishes the narrative rhythm for most of both books, beginning in the present, then traveling to the past, then returning to the present. Additionally, this first chapter sets up one of the themes of MAUS, which is guilt. Art feels guilty about the distant relationship he has with Vladek, his father.

Chapter Two introduces conflict on a greater scale for Vladek and Anja. Anja begins decoding and relaying messages for a friend who is associated with the Communist party, and Vladek almost ends the marriage. Vladek and Anja have a child, Richieu, and travel to a sanitarium so that Anja can recover. Along the way they see evidence of the Nazi party and hear rumors of Anti-Semitism. When they return home, they discover that the factory Anja’s father gave Vladek has been robbed. At the end of the chapter, Vladek learns that he is being sent to the German front with the army. In the present, Art is visiting his father more frequently just as he is learning about Vladek’s care for Anja at the sanitarium.

In Chapter Three, the reader learns that Vladek was a prisoner of war, though his cousin sets him free and he is able to return home. He laments to Art in the present that he misses Anja and that he suspects Mala is trying to steal his money. This introduces another theme to the reader, and that is Vladek’s concern with money and thrift.

Chapter Four shows that life for the Jewish population is growing increasingly strained, with their businesses taken over by German overseers. Vladek arranges with a former customer to sell him some fabric, in order to get some money. After the Jews are forced into more constrained quarters, and trains begin taking them away, Vladek stops conducting black market business when a friend of Anja’s father is caught doing so and is hanged. It’s important for readers to understand in this chapter that Vladek is a resourceful person, and also experiences a great deal of luck, such as when he manages not to get arrested when caught stealing sugar.

Chapter Five revisits Art’s feelings of guilt when Vladek gets dizzy after trying to make a home repair. When Vladek continues his story, the reader — and Art — learn that Richieu was sent away for his safety, but that he would die and his parents would never see him again. The Nazis had already arrested the elderly — at this point in Vladek’s story, they have begun killing children. Anja’s parents are transported to Auschwitz, where they will eventually die. The chapter ends in the present, with Vladek expressing a desire for Art to have the key to his safety deposit box, which contains family treasures from before the war, as well as a ring he gave to Anja after the war, in the United States.

In Chapter Six, the reader experiences Art’s guilt in how he is depicting Vladek. Art tells Mala that he fears he is stereotyping his father after Mala confides in Art that Vladek gives her only fifty dollars a month when he has hundreds of thousands in the bank. Vladek’s story takes Art and the reader back to 1944, when Vladek and Anja go into hiding, and eventually attempt to travel with smugglers to Hungary, but they are betrayed, arrested, and separated. Vladek confesses to Art in the present that he burned Anja’s diaries after she killed herself, and Art becomes angry and shouts at his father, calling him a murderer.

Book Two

Chapter One opens with Vladek calling Art and his wife, Francoise, away from their vacation in New England. Mala has left him, and taken money from him. Art tells his wife about his guilt, which the reader learns centers around having lived an easier life than his parents did — he suffers from survivor’s guilt. Vladek recounts to his son how he was kept safe during his first few weeks at Auschwitz because he was able to tutor the Kapo in English. This is another example of how Vladek’s luck and resourcefulness combine.

Chapter Two informs the reader that in 1982, Vladek died of a heart attack. Art is to become a father, and the first MAUS book was a success but Art is unhappy because of the buzz and acclaim surrounding his book. Art relays how Vladek and Anja met at Birkenau on a couple of occasions, and how Vladek advised Anja to keep scraps of food for herself instead of giving it to others. Vladek is able to arrange for Anja to be transferred to Auschwitz.

In Chapter Three, the story returns to its normal pattern of narratives in the late 1970s and during the war. Vladek recounts how he planned to hide when the Nazis left Auschwitz, but rumors that the camp would be burned and bombed led to his decision to march with the other prisoners. On the train, he uses a blanket to make a hammock, once more tapping into his resourcefulness. Vladek contracts Typhus but ends up being sent to Switzerland as a prisoner of war after bribing other prisoners with bread to help him get out of bed.

Chapters Four and Five tell of Vladek’s hiding and escape from captivity, and his reunion with Anja. In the present, Vladek and Mala reconnect, though Vladek’s health is on the decline and he spends some time in the hospital. These chapters mirror his reunion with Anja and his reconciliation with Mala. At the end of the book, Vladek, in his confusion, calls Art Richieu and declares that he is done telling stories.