Vladek – the Stereotypical Jewish Person?

Last week in class we discussed Maus I by Art Spiegelman. Not a single classmate, nor the professor, could remember when they officially learned about the Holocaust. Most of us explained that we just remember knowing about it. Well, just like knowing about the Holocaust, we also tend to just know about stereotypes. I don’t remember specific moments when I learned about hurtful stereotypes, I just remember always being aware of them. Of course, there are exceptions to that. Some people remember defining moments in their life when they learned about a specific stereotype because they were associated with that stereotype. Generally however the countless stereotypes that appear in pop culture references, society, and media are often understood without knowing how, why, or when we came to know them.

One of the topics of discussion that was grazed over was the question of the stereotypical Jewish person represented by Vladek, Art’s father. The discussion that we started was about Art’s portrayal of his Father. Did Art intend to associate his father with these Jewish stereotypes or did his father really embody these stereotypes?  At one point Spiegelman talks about how his father argued over the price of a tape recorder, Vladek says to his son: “Pssh, at Korvettes you could find it for – maximum – $35.00.” So, was Art’s father truly so concerned with appearances, cost, and quality or was there some reason Spiegelman may have been embellishing these stereotypes? Did his father actually distrust anyone to do anything right? Was he really concerned about giving his son a metal coat hanger instead of a wooden one? In many ways we will never know. However, after our discussion I believe we settled on the analysis that this was a true representation of Vladek, and that Art was not embellishing for a particular purpose. That being said, does the first half of the book enhance stereotypes in a negative way? [1]

Personally, I do not think that it does. I think Maus I is not an embellished novel. Instead it is a story recorded by a man who wanted to preserve his father’s history, process his mother’s death, and understand his own life. I do not think that the stereotypical Jewish qualities possessed by Vladek in Maus I are embellishments, and to accurately analyze the reading we must be aware of our understanding of stereotypes and  personal biases.

[1] Art Spiegelman. Maus I. 1986.

[2] Images taken from LOC.gov Public Domain images.

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