83 pages 2 hours read

Art Spiegelman


Nonfiction | Graphic Novel/Book | Adult | Published in 1986

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Symbols & Motifs


Depicting real-life people as animals is a crucial part of Maus’s effectiveness: The use of cartoonish characters allows Spiegelman to depict the atrocities of the Holocaust in a way that doesn’t disgust the average reader. Depicting Jews as rats is a common anti-Semitic trope, and fascist governments like the Nazis frequently call their enemies vermin to dehumanize and justify violence against them. The Jewish people need to live like mice to survive in Nazi-controlled Poland, scurrying for food and hiding in holes. The common appearance also emphasizes that all Jewish people face the threat of death. However, Spiegelman understands that this isn’t a perfect analogy: As his parents hide in a rat-infested cellar, Spiegelman depicts a realistic rat as Vladek assures Anja that, “They’re just MICE” (149).


Spiegelman depicts the Germans as cats, the household predator of mice. He specifically draws them as striped tabby cats that resemble tigers and other wild cats. Cat stereotypes that resemble Nazi-like behaviors include a sense of superiority, a territorial mentality, and a willingness to kill for sport. While Spiegelman draws the Nazis as blocky and thuggish, he does use lighter shapes for friendly Germans after the war, including a mixed-ethnicity couple with children who have mouse heads with cat stripes.

Related Titles

By Art Spiegelman