Maus and Guilt
While on its surface Maus is the story of Vladek Spiegelman's experiences in the Holocaust, it is also much more. In many ways, the relationship between Vladek and his son is the central narrative in the book, and this narrative deals extensively with feelings of guilt. The primary types of familial guilt can be divided into three separate categories: 1) Art's feelings of guilt over not being a good son; 2) “Survivors guilt” shared by Vladek and Art, and 3) Art's feelings of guilt regarding the publication of Maus.
The simplest form of guilt in Maus is Art's guilt over the fact that he thinks he has not been a good son to his father. Right from the beginning of Book I, we are told that the two of them do not get along well, and that they do not see each other often, though they live fairly close. Art is always defensive around his father, and when they speak it feels as if an argument could happen any minute. Arguments often do break out; for example, Art's dropping cigarette ash on the carpet, or Vladek's revelation that he has burned Anja's diaries from the war. Vladek often asks Art for help with errands around the house, and Art is never willing to comply. One of the most important examples of this situation occurs at the beginning of Chapter 5 of Book I, when Vladek awakens Art early in the morning to ask for help fixing a drain on his roof. Art refuses, later telling his wife that he would rather feel guilty than travel to Queens to help his father. A few weeks later, during Art's next visit to his father, this guilt is painfully obvious, as he immediately asks his father if he needs help with any chores.
Though Art was born in Sweden after the war and did not experience the Holocaust firsthand, his life has also been deeply affected by these unspeakable events. To begin with, Art is directly affected by secondary "aftershocks" of the Holocaust, in that Vladek's personality and parenting style were clearly influenced by these events, and...