The Experience of Maus
The experience of being in the Holocaust is hard to imagine. The physical pain and fear that a survivor of the Holocaust felt could never fully be understood by anyone other than a fellow survivor. The children of survivors may not feel the physical pain and agony as their parents did, but they do feel the psychological effects. For this reason Artie and his father could never connect. The Holocaust built a wall between them that was hard to climb. Artie makes an attempt to overcome the wall between him and his father by writing the comic Maus about his fathers life in hopes to grow closer to him and understand him better, yet he struggles in looking past his fathers picky habits and hypocritical attitude.
Arties father, Valdek, as he knew him growing up was stingy. He was stingy with money, food, matches, and even toothpicks. All the food on his plate had to be eaten, or it would be served to him the next night and the night after that until it was gone. Valdeks obsessive behavior about not wasting anything aggravated Artie to no end. “He grabs paper towels from restrooms so he wont have to buy napkins or tissues,” vented Artie to his stepmother. Once Artie used an extra match and Valdek yelled at him for his wastefulness. His life could never compare to how hard Valdeks was, and this bothered Artie. At the very opening of the story, Artie cries because his friends leave him when he falls off his skates and his father tells him that, “If you lock them together in a room with no food for a week then you could see what it is, friends!” All things relate to the Holocaust for Valdek and this makes Artie feel guilty for not having such a hard life and for that feeling of guilt Artie becomes angry and distances himself from his father. In Maus II, Artie talks to his therapist and confides in him, “I mainly remember arguing with him and being told that I couldnt do anything as well as he could.” Such bitterness built up in him, further creating the wall between him and his father; it also created a wall between him and his past.
Arties fathers annoying habits somewhat lead to bad habits in Artie. Artie is a chain smoker. It relieves his tension. He is almost always seen lighting a cigarette when talking with his father. A scene in the story that truly encouraged Arties smoking habit was the event when Arties wife picked up a black hitchhiker. This very much disturbed Valdek. He viewed all blacks as thieves. Arties wife, Francois, barked back exactly what Artie was thinking, “thats outrageous! How can you, of all people, be such a racist! You talk about blacks the way the Nazis talked about the Jews!” Artie simply glared as if his wife took the words right out of his mouth, and reached for a cigarette to calm his nerves. Valdeks obsessive acts of saving and having everything in its place were almost all that Artie could take, not to mention his hypercritical attitude. Years and years of this built up in Artie. This may have been large reason for him being sent to the state mental hospital. Not long after his return from the hospital, his mother committed suicide. He was expected to take care of his father, who not only lost his wife, but the person that he shared the experience of the Holocaust with and that was something he could not deal with because he did not understand it. To deal with his mothers suicide, Artie created the comic Prisoner on the Hell Planet, which allowed him to express and sort out his emotions surrounding the event. However, the tension his father created in his life still plagued him. As a result he wrote Maus. It not only allowed him to enter into his fathers world, but also gave him an objective view of his relationship with his father. He spent many afternoons with his father in his pursuit of understanding. He became aware of the events in his fathers past, but still could not comprehend why his father could not put it behind him. He could not understand why other survivors of the Holocaust could move on, but his father could not.
Artie is overwhelmed by the events of his life. He is dealing with the death of his mother, and a father who cant let go of the past. He longs to understand the world of his father and talk to him once without arguing, but the walls have been built up too high that even after his fathers death, although more enlightened, he is just as confused as to who his father was.
The Experience of Maus