Vladek’s aggravating personality traits are a product of his experiences during the Holocaust. Do you agree?
Maus is a book written by Art Spiegelman documenting his father’s treacherous journey through the Holocaust. His father, Vladek, is portrayed as a character with an aggravating personality, stingy, selfish and cynical. Vladek’s aggravating disposition is a product of his experiences during the Holocaust. His selfishness can be attributed back to his experiences in that ordeal where he had to take things to survive, even if it meant taking from others. His distrust and cynicism can be seen as a direct result of his being betrayed by his friends, and his obsession with money can be linked to how money helped him survive in the holocaust. However, Vladek’s personality is not shaped by the Holocaust but is definitely affected by it.
Vladek’s self-serving character is a legacy of his traumatic experiences in an environment where ‘every man is for himself’. The pragmatic principal of putting one’s self interest ahead of others governs almost every living soul during the Holocaust. An example of Vladek’s egoistic behaviour is when he climbed onto someone’s shoulders to hang a hammock for him to lie on to prevent himself from being killed or trampled when people were shoved onto a train to the concentration camp. This is an example of the necessity to be selfish, for his survival. Another example of Vladek’s selfishness is when Vladek wants to give Art a new coat, believing that “It’s a shame my son would wear such an [old shabby] coat.” The irony is that he seems to be doing not for his on Art but for he himself. Instead of getting Art a new coat out of love, he gets Art a new coat out of preserving his own image. This is indicative of the selfish nature of Vladek. What is worse is that he later says, “I have for you a warmer one. I got at Alexander’s a new jacket, and I can give to you my old one; it’s still like new!” This shows that Vladek did not even buy Art a new jacket but instead buying himself a new jacket and giving Art his old one.
Vladek can also be described as extremely cynical and distrustful which is because during the holocaust he has been betrayed by many people he thought to be friends. This is shown when Vladek and Anja pay smugglers recommended to them by Mrs Kawka to take them to Hungary, but are betrayed and handed over to the Nazis. ‘In Katowice, it was only to them the smuggler phoned’. Experience such as this results in Vladek’s loss of faith in friendship. This can be illustrated early in the prologue, when young Art tells his father that he has fallen from his skate while playing with his friends in the schoolyard but his friends have left without him. It is obvious that his friends do not have any malicious intent, but Vladek responds cynically, lecturing his son, ‘Friends? Your Friends? If you lock them together in a room with no food for a week… Then you could see what it is, Friends!’ This unexpected sceptical remark does not comfort Art at all, and is definitely unwarranted.
Moreover, Vladek is stingy and greatly concerned about money, which can be attributed to him having nothing in the holocaust, and needing to save to survive. His obsession with money can be seen as a consequence of how money has saved him so many times from being caught in the Holocaust, through bribery and influence. ‘All 12 of our household were given now to live in 2 and a half small rooms, but most people had even less space, but father-in-law and Wolfe had a little influence.’ Vladek’s miserliness is shown in the extreme methods he uses to save money. Francoise comments on it by saying, ‘Since gas is included in the rent, he leaves a burner lit all day to save on matches’. His stinginess may have also stemmed from his needing to save the smallest things to survive. An example of this is how Vladek had to save bread to exchange for cigarettes to bribe the guards with.
Not all of Vladek’s experiences, however, can be attributed back to the Holocaust. For example his great interest in money occurred before the Holocaust as shown with his relationship with Lucia Greenberg. At the start of the book it is shown that he chooses Anja over Lucia Greenberg because the former is wealthier. When Vladek describes Lucia he says, ‘Her (Lucia) family was nice, but had no money, even for a dowry’. However, when describing Anja he says ‘The Zylberberg family was very well off – millionaires’. This shows money is an influencing factor in Vladek’s decision to marry Anja. However, his stinginess is definitely made more prominent and serious by his Holocaust experience.
Vladek’s aggravating personality traits are definitely the product of the holocaust. Vladek believes because of his survival, these traits are positive traits, and he must pass them on to Art as to help him survive in life. His selfishness is a product of the ‘every man for himself’ mentality. His stinginess is a result of his belief in the power of money in bettering the chance of survival through bribery. His cynicism is because of the betrayals Vladek has suffered. ‘Maybe Auschwitz made him like that’.