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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. Of particular relevance in Maus is the guilt that is associated with the members of one's family. 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) Art's feelings of guilt over the death of his mother; 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 first panel of Book I, we are told that the two of them do not get along particularly well, and that they do not see each other often, though they live fairly close by. Art is always on edge around his father, and when they speak it feels as if an argument could break out at any moment. Indeed, arguments often do break out over, 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 his son for help with errands around the house, and Art is always loath to comply. One of the most prominent examples of this situation occurs at the beginning of Chapter 5 of Book I, in which Vladek awakens his son 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.
Art's feelings of guilt over the death of his mother are also relatively straightforward. As told in the brief "Prisoner on the Hell Planet" interlude in Chapter 5 of Book I, Art feels responsible for his mother's suicide, believing it to be a product of his own neglect. His last memory of his mother - in which she asks him if he still loves her, and he responds with a cold and dismissive "sure" - is a painful reminder of this disregard. Though this particular form of guilt does not play a major role in the story, it is noteworthy in that Art feels somewhat similar feelings of guilt towards his father, who is still alive.
After the first volume of Maus is published in 1986, four years after his father's death in 1982, Art is still consumed with guilt. The publication of Maus has not alleviated these feelings, and in some ways it has made them worse. "My father's ghost still hangs over me," Art says before walking to his appointment with Pavel. Pavel suggests that Art may be feeling remorse for portraying Vladek unfavorably. Pavel also suggests, in an interesting reversal, that perhaps Vladek himself felt guilty for having survived the Holocaust. This form of guilt, "survivor's guilt," is detailed in the next section.