MAUS Summary and Analysis of Book II, Chapter 1

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.


Art is on vacation in Vermont, sitting under a tree and trying to decide how to draw his wife, Francoise, for her depiction in Maus. She is French, but she converted to Judaism before she married Art. He finally settles on a mouse. Just then, a friend runs up and says that Vladek has called to say that he has had a heart attack. They rush back to the house, and Art returns the call. But Vladek is not in the hospital: he only said that to ensure that Art would call him back. Mala, it seems, has left him, after taking money out of their joint account. He is almost hysterical. Art and Francoise head for the Catskills where Vladek is staying, packing light so that they have an excuse to leave.

In the car, Art tells Francoise about his complex feelings towards his father and the Holocaust. He has trouble relating to his parents' experiences, and sometimes he wishes he could have been in Auschwitz with them just so he could know what they went through. He feels guilty about having had an easier life. As a child he would sometimes think about which parent he would choose to have taken to Auschwitz; usually, he chose his father. He also tells Francoise about his complex feelings towards Richieu, the brother he never met. His parents used to keep a photo of Richieu on their bedroom wall. Existing only as a photograph and a memory, Richieu was the perfect child who could do no wrong, and Art felt himself in a strange rivalry with his "ghost brother."

They arrive at the Catskill bungalow late at night, and Vladek wakes up to greet them. He mentions that maybe they could stay the whole summer, but Art politely declines. Early in the morning, Vladek fills his son in on the details of Mala's departure. The final fight occurred at a bank, and involved issues of money, as usual. Now Mala is in Florida, where Vladek says she will try to get back the deposit on the condo they had been trying to buy. He is thinking of pressing charges. They begin to work on Vladek's papers. A few hours later, they are all very tense, and father and son seem on the verge of an argument. Francoise suggests that they go for a walk while she looks for the mistake in their calculations, and Vladek continues his story where he left off - at his arrival in Auschwitz.

At Auschwitz, the Nazis take his clothes, shave his head, and force him into a freezing cold shower. The prisoners thank God that it isn't gas. They are given clothes and shoes, many of which don't fit properly, and each prisoner receives a tattoo on the inside of his arm. There is a terrible, pervasive smell like burning rubber and fat, and there are smokestacks in the distance.

Vladek and Mandelbaum run into Abraham, who tells them that the smugglers had forced him to write the letter that brought Vladek and Anja to the camps at gunpoint. After this conversation, Vladek does not see Abraham again. However hard the Auschwitz experience is for Vladek, it is far more difficult for Mandelbaum. His pants are much too large, and his shoes are both the wrong size, one too large and the other too small. He needs to use one hand to hold up his pants and the other to hold a shoe in case he finds the chance to exchange it. He even loses his spoon when he drops it on the ground and someone else picks it up. Vladek and Mandelbaum sleep side-by-side on a single small bed.

The Polish supervisor - or Kapo - of their barracks lines up the prisoners and asks if anyone can speak English. Vladek is taken aside and left at a table full of food. After the meal, he begins to tutor the Kapo in English. He is then led into a supply closet full of clothes. He picks out some, and the guard also allows him to take a belt, spoon, and a pair of shoes for Mandelbaum. Mandelbaum is overjoyed, but soon the Germans take him to work, and Vladek never sees him again. For over two months the Kapo keeps Vladek safe, but soon he is told that he will need to be assigned to a work crew. He tells the Kapo that before the war he worked as a tinsmith.

Vladek and Art have walked to a private hotel, and Vladek says that they must sneak quietly towards the patio so that the guard does not see them. They settle at a table and join a game of bingo already in progress.


Art's conversation with his wife in the car on their way to the Catskills is one of the most thematically important sections of the book. Art feels inadequate and poorly-equipped to finish the book he has set out to draw, and he is filled with complex emotions regarding his family and the Holocaust. This section introduces for the first time the concept of "survivor's guilt" and expands upon Art's relationship to the Holocaust.

In the car, Art discusses in some detail his preoccupation with the Holocaust. Art was born in Sweden after the end of the war, and was therefore spared its horrors, but it has deeply affected his life nonetheless. He thought often about the Holocaust even as a child, often imaging or wishing that he was in the camps with his parents. These details are part of a larger theme in Maus regarding the impact of past events on the present. This idea is prevalent throughout the story, as most of the main characters continue to be affected in one way or another by the Holocaust, which took place decades before Art began drawing Book I. Vladek, for example, is unable to throw anything away because his survival at Auschwitz depended on saving any objects that might prove useful.

For Art, this nexus of past and present is best represented by his relationship with Richieu. Vladek and Anja kept a photo of Richieu on their bedroom wall, and Art always felt that he couldn't live up to his "ghost brother's" image. But this prominent role of the past in Art's current life is reflected in other ways as well. Vladek, for example, continues to be affected by the specter of the Holocaust, which has in part given rise to personal qualities - stinginess, aversion to waste, etc. - that annoy and exasperate his son. The current relationship between Vladek and Art is perpetually strained in large part because of these qualities, and the tension weighs heavily on the son.

Guilt has to this point been a common theme in Maus, as Art attempts to deal with what he perceives to be his neglect or mistreatment of both Vladek and Anja. In the car with his wife, Art discusses a different kind of guilt. As he tells Francoise: "I somehow wish I had been in Auschwitz with my parents so I could really know what they lived through! I guess it's some kind of guilt about having had an easier life than they did." This guilt, stemming from having survived the Holocaust (or in Art's case never having to live through it) can be called survivor's guilt.

Survivor's guilt originates from two main sources in the book. The first, as mentioned above, is Art. The second, as will be discussed further in the analysis of the next chapter, is Vladek. In the following chapter, Art's therapist suggests that perhaps because Vladek himself felt so guilty about surviving, he subconsciously tried to make his own son share in the guilt. The guilt of these two men is therefore closely intertwined, and provides yet one more example of the immense impact of past events on the present lives of the main characters in Maus.

Another interesting point of note occurs at the very beginning of this chapter, as Art is sitting under a tree, trying to decide what kind of animal his wife should be in the book. She is French, but she is also Jewish, having converted before marriage in order to make Vladek happy. Art attempts to draw his wife as a frog (a common and somewhat derogatory term for the French), a mouse (because she's Jewish), a poodle (presumably a reference to a "French Poodle"), and many other animals. For her part, Francoise would prefer to be identified as a mouse. But when Art confronts her with her French nationality, she pauses and suggests a bunny rabbit. Art, however, rejects this portrayal as "too cute" to apply to a nation with a deep history of anti-Semitism and Nazi collaboration.

This exchange highlights a recurring difficulty in Maus of grouping diverse groups of people into rigid categories graphically represented by different animals. France may have an unsavory history, but should Francoise be held accountable for these events? There are good reasons for the author to represent ethnicities and nationalities as different animals. The cat/mouse motif is a good metaphor for German/Jewish relations, and the representations also allow for racial issues to be dealt with graphically, saving the need for messy identifications of race and nationality within the text. (In other words, when drawing a Jew, the author does not have to write in the text that the person is a Jew; he needs only to draw him or her as a mouse). But ethnicity and nationality are highly complex issues and at times the author's categorizations might seem overly simplistic. Indeed, the author himself has similar reservations that will be expanded upon in the next chapter.