Symbolism in Maus

Maus is a graphic novel that relies heavily on visual metaphors and symbolism to deliver its message. Understanding these symbols and visual metaphors is essential to understanding this book. Like a literary metaphor, a visual metaphor compares two things that are different, but shares a few similarities. The only difference is, a visual metaphor does this more with images than words. Symbols are a little different. A symbol is an object, action, or idea that represents something other than itself. Symbols too can be found throughout Maus. Read on below to learn more about visual metaphors and symbolism at work in our novel.

Visual Metaphors

While visual metaphors can be found everywhere in this novel, the most obvious are the representation of different nationalities of people as an animal. Jews are depicted as mice while their arch-nemesis, the Germans, are depicted as cats. Poles are shown as pigs, French people as frogs, Americans as dogs, the British as fish, Swedes as reindeer, and gypsies (or Roma) as gypsy moths. Why does Art Spiegelman choose to represent people as animals? Most agree that by using animals this way, he was able to create an elaborate visual metaphor that adds to the story. To see how this visual metaphor works, see the image to the right.
This image helps you understand the effectiveness of these three visual metaphors. Why do you think Art Spiegleman used pigs to represent Poles? Why fish for the British? Which animals do you think he would have chosen for the Russians?

Symbolism

Along with the visual metaphors, symbols are common in Maus. A symbol is anything that represents something else. Where might some of these symbols be found in our novel? Flies make an abundant appearance in Part II. Flies appear to represent death as they often surround dead bodies. The fly is also seen buzzing around Art in the beginning of Part II. This could be representing the memories of the dead that haunt him while making his book.

Masks are another symbol used on several occasions throughout the book. Can you guess why Art uses masks? What might they mean?

The interesting thing about symbols in literature is that not everyone agrees on their meanings. While authors often intentionally include symbols in their work to bring another layer of meaning, sometimes the use of a symbol is unintentional. Does it matter? No. Symbols mean different things to different people.

What are some symbols that you can find in Maus? What do they mean to you? Proceede to the assignment page to work on finding and analyzing different symbols in Maus.