Understanding Art Spiegelman's Maus

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When beginning to understand Art Spiegelman's 1991 Maus, one must also remember that no literary work exists within or around a vacuous context, and that each piece of literature is ultimately influenced by the social and cultural contexts of both the author and the reader. This graphic novel is no exception. Each of the six sections within the book is framed with bits of the interactions between Vladek and Art during the interview that seemingly occurred to form the book. This framing acts as a way for the reader to ultimately learn about Vladek's character, which might otherwise be difficult to assess given his rather flat, unemotional Holocaust narrative. In an attempt to give literary works some sort of context, it seems that there are three “filters” through which any work of literature can be viewed. The first of these is what can be called the “personal context”, that is, the information we amass about the previous experiences of the protagonist and other central figures of the work. Clearly, what has happened to a person, real or fictional, in the past will inevitably affect their present and future actions and emotions. The second “filter” is the “social context”: the relationships that characters form among themselves. (In Maus, this will also be referred to as the “familial” context, since the central relationship in the book is between Vladek and Art – but it should be kept in mind that this is simply a narrower version of the wider concept of “social context”.)
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