Competition in Maus The book Maus addresses the issue of the Holocaust and tells the story of Vladek in detail, a man who survived Auschwitz. However, one of the most striking things about the story is not the surviving issue, but how it reveals the relationship between Vladek and his son. Competition is everywhere in the story. In the first book Vladek had a competitive relationship with his son Artie, but throughout the story the competition falls into the hands of Artie and Richieu, the dead brother.
Artie is constantly struggling with the broken relationship he has with his father. When talking to Pavel, Artie says: “No matter what I have accomplished, it doesn’t seem like much compared to surviving Aushwitz” (II, 45). Artie’s life experiences and those of his father are completely different and this difference seems to increase the distance between them. People have different stories and backgrounds, but their skills and greatness can’t be measured by one individual event, such as the Holocaust.
Due to this eternal competition imposed by his father, Artie’s purpose for writing the book may have started in order to record family history, but this was a superficial cover attempting to overcome his deeper feelings of inferiority he felt while around his father. “He loved showing off how handy he was… and proving that anything I did was all wrong. He made me completely neurotic about fixing stuff… One reason I became an artist was that he thought it was impractical-just a waste of time… It was an area where I wouldn’t have to compete with him” (I, 97).
In fact, Artie did show his competence through writing the book and being able to portrait his dad’s story so well. A passage that demonstrates how Vladek always seems to be making Artie feel incompetent is when Vladek knocks over a his bottle of pills and blames it on Artie. “Look now what you made me do! ” (I, 30). Even though Vladek knows it was his own fault, he doesn’t want to admit it. Then Artie tells him “Okay, I’ll re-count them later”. 30), but Vladek replies saying that Artie doesn’t know how to count his pills and adds “I’m an expert for this” (30). These two quotes clearly show how Vladek is always trying to prove himself better than his son. Vladek never gives Artie the chance to prove that he is capable of doing anything and this increases the distance between father and son. Another example of Vladek’s necessity for dominance is shown when he accidently breaks a plate and gets really upset. Artie tries to remedy the ituation and offers to do the dishes, but his father replies in his broken English, “No. You can defrost out the turkey legs… you only would break me the rest of my plates” (II, 73). Vladek is always trying to give him easier jobs and won’t admit that Artie is equally capable of anything because this would put a hole in his credibility. With credibility comes dominance, and without it he loses it. If he loses his dominance over Artie, this would free Artie from the comparison trap because he wouldn’t feel inferior anymore.
On the second book, Artie tells Francoise about Richieu and how his parents had always had a picture of the dead brother in their room, but never a picture of Artie. “The photo never threw tantrums or got in any kind of trouble… it was an ideal kid, and I was a pain the ass. I couldn’t compete” (II, 15). Due to this eternal competition with Richieu, Artie was caught in a “competition trap” that he struggled with his whole life. This boxed Artie in. Because everything he did was compared to an unrepeatable experience, Artie could never break out of the competition trap.
This trap would always hold him back. Artie lived in a new time with new opportunities, but he still couldn’t let go of this unspoken competition with his ghost brother. One of the most effective images in the novel was on the very last panel, when Vladek says “I’m tired from talking, Richieu, it’s enough stories for now” (II 136). This scene illustrates the preference Vladek has for his first son, Richieu. In choosing this quote to be the last one in the book Artie displays that this competition with his brother has no end.
The fact that Artie dedicated the book to Richieu is another display of this, that even though they never met, Vladek was able to bring Richieu alive in Artie’s life. This passage also demonstrates how much Vladek still wishes Richieu was there with him. It is definitely painful for Artie to be called Richieu. In addition to this last quote, Artie also chose to dedicate the book to Richieu, Vladek and Richieu felt the direct pain of the holocaust, and as much as Artie tried he would only be able to experience its indirect effects, and this would never hold up in any comparison.
Sibling rivalry built up in Artie’s veins, but as most siblings have ways to exchange this equally, Artie was in a unique situation. Not only could he never experience the things Richieu did, he could never exchange any emotions. Richieu was only a photo, and yet Vladek always unconsciously made sure Richieu’s life affected Artie. Artie was never going to be good enough for his father, or his ghost brother. He was stuck in a constant competition with someone no longer living. Writing Maus was what he did to relieve what was forced on him.
Most books written about the holocaust are full of the direct effects, but his book took a new spin on the topic by focusing on the indirect effects. He would never stop competing with his brother. This is evident up to the last quote of the story when Vladek calls Artie by his dead brother’s name, which just goes to show that Artie is still upset by this competition. Work Cited: Spiegelman, Art. Maus: A Survivor’s Tale, I : My Father Bleeds History. New York: Pantheon, 1986. Spiegelman, Art. Maus: A Survivor’s Tale, II : And Here my Troubles Began. New York: Pantheon, 1986.
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