Vladek’s story of the Holocaust in Maus is a riveting one, but it is also one that nobody can truly understand. His life is one of such suffering that it is beyond the scope of anyone’s comprehension that has not experienced it him or herself. This is not to say, however, that it is impossible to properly empathize. During our discussion of Krik? Krak!, it was noted that all humans know suffering. Although some people’s suffering, like that of Vladek’s, is more profound than that of others, the human capacity of empathy relies only on caring. Although neither Art nor the reader can ever understand what Vladek experienced, we can feel suffering along with him.
Since we, along with Art, are unable to truly understand the conditions through which Vladek survived, we bring our own experiences and emotions to our interpretation of the story. For Art, Vladek’s accounts of his past serve as explanations for his current self. Through the stories, Art is able to see his father as he once was instead of the irritable old man as he is today. Art is also further able to understand the worship his parents had for his deceased brother and the suffering the experienced at his loss. There was guilt in Vladek’s own survival and he was left with a son who could never fathom what he had been through. Art sees his fathers past through the lens of his own childhood experiences.
I also experienced Maus in two separate ways. I read the graphic novel in full last year while I was studying abroad in Glasgow, Scotland for a comparative literature class on “the hero.” I experienced the story completely differently because I was looking for different things than I was while reading it in the context of travel literature. Instead of viewing Vladek as a hero for his survival and commitment to helping his family, I looked at him as more human, linked to others in their shared suffering. I saw how the commonality of suffering brought people together when their worlds were falling apart.
From this semester, the most fascinating thing I learned was the social norm behind tattooing in the Pacific. I found this so interesting because tattoos are seen completely differently in our own society. Instead of being a symbol for endurance and adulthood, tattoos here are seen as somewhat counter culture.