MAUS Summary and Analysis of Book I, Chapter 2

Note: Maus jumps back and forth often between the past and the present. To facilitate these transitions in this summary, the Holocaust narrative is written in normal font, while all other narratives are written in italics.

The Honeymoon

Art visits his aging father again in Rego Park. When he arrives, Vladek is dividing his pills into daily doses. In all, he takes over thirty pills a day, including six for his heart, one for diabetes, and more than twenty-five vitamins. He tells his son that prescription medications are only "junk food," and that to stay healthy, he must fight on his own. They sit at the table, and Vladek continues his story.

Before Vladek and Anja met, she had one other boyfriend, a Communist from Warsaw. A short while after their wedding, he returns to his apartment to find that the police have just arrested the seamstress next door. Anja had been decoding and relaying Communist messages from her old friend, and when she got word that the police would be coming, she took the messages over to her neighbor to hide. When the police arrived, they found the package and arrested the neighbor. The neighbor spends three months in jail, but is eventually released due to lack of evidence. After that incident, Vladek is ready to end his marriage, and he makes Anja promise that she will no longer consort with Communists.

Anja's father gives Vladek a factory to provide for his daughter and what he hopes will soon be their family. Their first child, Richieu, is born in 1937. He will not live through the war. Soon after giving birth Anja becomes terribly depressed, and Vladek takes her to an upscale sanitarium in Czechoslovakia. On the train, they look out the windows and see swastikas on flags in town centers and hear stories of rampant anti-Semitism. They are the first signs of the brewing Nazi storm. The sanitarium is beautiful, and Vladek takes good care of his ailing wife. They stay there for three months, and when they return she is much better.

When they return home, Vladek's father-in-law tells them that their factory was robbed while they were away. Everything was taken, though Vladek does not think that there were any anti-Semitic motives. Within a few months, though, they set up another factory, and soon things are again going well. They have a two-bedroom apartment and a Polish nurse. But anti-Semitic riots are brewing, and the situation is beginning to look ominous. The Nazis are stirring anti-Semitic sentiments amongst the Poles. Anja comments that, "when it comes to the Jews, the Poles don't need much stirring up." Their Polish nurse is offended and tells the Spiegelmans that she considers them family, but when things really begin to get bad, even the nurse will turn against them (see Book I, Chapter 6).

In 1939, Vladek receives a letter from the government drafting him into the army. He is sent west, to the German front.

Vladek drops his pills, blaming his eyes: one is made of glass, and the other has a cataract. He tells his son the story of when he was in the hospital for eye surgery. His surgeon left him to give lectures on television, and when his eye started bleeding, he was forced to run through the hospital looking for another doctor. Art seems uninterested.


Art now visits his father "quite regularly," but it is clear that he is doing so mostly to hear his father's story. The first words out of Art's mouth when he sits down with his father are about Vladek's past, and for the most part it is all they talk about. At the end of the chapter, Vladek begins to talk about something else (his experiences with various eye diseases and doctors), and Art appears completely uninterested. Indeed, there are many times throughout Maus when Vladek begins to speak about a topic other than the Holocaust, but Art always quickly shifts the focus back to the past. This fact likely contributes to the guilt that Art continues to feel with regards to his neglect of his father.

This chapter provides further insight into Vladek's personality and the ways in which the Holocaust has shaped his life and his son's. Vladek takes a variety of pills and is clearly not healthy, suffering from both heart disease and diabetes. Doctor-prescribed medication for these two ailments together totals seven pills, yet Vladek takes about thirty pills every day, the remaining pills comprised of various vitamins that he has read about in his "prevention magazines." As an explanation, he tells Art that "I must fight to save myself." This determination recalls his fight for survival during the Holocaust, another example of how the Holocaust, though forty years in the past, continues to have an effect on Vladek's personality and actions.

As the Holocaust is never completely out of Vladek's mind, it is not surprising that the Holocaust has also had a strong impact on his only son. In the prologue, we saw that Vladek mentioned the Holocaust to his son even when it was not particularly relevant (see Book I, Chapter I). In Chapter 2, we get the sense that even when the Holocaust is not mentioned explicitly, its influence is never far from Vladek's actions as a parent. While speaking with his son Vladek accidentally knocks over his bottle of pills, and his instinctual reaction is to blame Art. Later on, in Chapter 2 of Book II, Art's therapist suggests that Vladek feels guilty about surviving the Holocaust and takes this guilt out on his son. This incident with the pills is just one example; Art's childhood was likely filled with similar situations.

Chapter 2 also introduces the reader to the strict racial self-segregation that existed in pre-war Poland. In the sanitarium, we are confronted with images of striking racial diversity: Jews, Poles, French, Germans, and others share the same restaurant and dance floor. This diversity is the exception, rather than the norm. In this chapter - and throughout the pages of Maus - all of Vladek's friends and acquaintances from pre-war Poland are Jewish. Non-Jewish Poles only appear within these pages as policemen or governesses, or in other lower-class, "blue collar" positions. It is clear that the Jews in Poland were on the whole wealthier than their non-Jewish countrymen. There are also many signs of a growing conflict between these classes. Communism, a theory that supports the idea of a classless state in which the common people control the means of production (factories, tools, materials, etc), has gained a foothold in the country, and Vladek returns from the sanitarium with Anja to find that his factory has been robbed. Anti-Semitism is also on the rise, indicating that the social, class-based unrest that is brewing is beginning to find a target in the Jews.