How did historical events influence the ideas in the novel? What cultural issues may have influenced, challenged, or inspired the author?
This book is obviously based on World War II. Specifically, WWII in Poland. The book was published in 1991 and it tells the story of Art Spiegelman's father as a Polish Jew and Holocaust survivor. The Holocaust and World War II are very sensitive subjects for anyone and greatly impacted and changed the lives of the millions who survived countless horrors. Vladek Spiegelman (Art's father), is the main character in the story, and his life was forever changed by the war. Of course, interviewing his father and sharing very personal memories with the world must have been challenging for Art, as it would be for anyone. Poland was one of the first and one of the hardest hit countries by World War II. Over six million innocent civilians were killed by Hitler's army.
Hitler's invasion of Poland began on September 1st, 1939, when Warsaw was thrashed by the first of many bombing raids. As the bombs fell from the sky, German armies poured out of Slovakia and Prussia to begin the land invasion. Quickly, the German air force dominated the skies, and its planes soon began direct attacks on railways, roads, Polish troops, etc. Junkers Ju-87 bombers, terrorized Polish citizens creating a state of confusion on the land that stopped the Polish army from reaching the front lines. 26 days after the invasion began, Hitler's battered target gave in and surrendered.
|View of an undamaged Polish city from the cockpit of a German medium bomber"|
One thing Art Spiegelman did in the graphic novel, was to replace the drawings of human characters with animals. In the book's case, the Jewish characters are portrayed as mice, the Germans are cats, and the non-Jewish Polish characters as pigs. While the characters are not drawn as people, the author still made them seem realistic (since they did exist), while not creating a very personal atmosphere that could generate discomfort in the audience, and in the author's family. By also representing humans with innocent wildlife, a lot of WWII's gruesome details appear to be softened, making the book easier to read and lighter. I have also found that, when reading, you do not even notice that the characters are mice, cats or pigs. They take on human qualities while still remaining physically anonymous, which was the author's intent (since he had to protect people's privacy in the novel).
History.com Staff. "Poland." History. History, 2014. Web. 11 Oct. 2014. <http://www.history.co.uk/study-topics/history-of-ww2/poland>.
Taylor, Alan. "World War II: The Invasion of Poland and the Winter War."The Atlantic. Atlantic Media Company, 26 June 2011. Web. 11 Oct. 2014. <http://www.theatlantic.com/infocus/2011/06/world-war-ii-the-invasion-of-poland-and-the-winter-war/100094/>.