Justification for Teaching

Maus I is a graphic novel (though it may be more accurate to call it a graphic memoir) that will introduce a new kind of reading to your students. Not only will they have to analyze the written word, they'll also have to analyze the images in the book to fully understand the meanings the author is trying to convey.

Though Maus is arranged in panels with drawings much like a comic book, its themes and tone are not childish, nor is its presentation of the story. This is a text for older students. It's also an example of postmodern literature, so you may want to teach this book alongside other postmodern texts. Postmodernism can be difficult for students to wrap their heads around, so giving them some introductory information might help.

Your students will follow the emotional and tumultuous story of a recounted Holocaust experience, and will be able to discuss topics ranging from the stifling nature of oppression to the effects of that oppression on family. Page by page your students will learn the tragedies inflicted on families during times of war and destruction, and the power of pain that transforms into art.

Key Literary Elements & Techniques

  • Allegory
  • Irony
  • Foreshadowing
  • Metaphor
  • Paradox

Themes and Motifs

  • Race — By its very nature, Holocaust literature deals with issues of race and racism.
  • Oppression — The Nazi cats oppress the Jewish mice by imprisoning them in concentration camps and systematically murdering them. The depiction of the Nazis as cats and the Jews as mice reinforces that the cats are the violent aggressors in this case.
  • Family — In this novel the use of memory is key to discovering the past of Art’s family

Key Facts

  • Recommended Grade Band: 9 – 10
  • Publication Date: 1991
  • Length: 160 pages
  • Lexile Measure: N/A (Lexile Measures are not given to graphic novels)​

Awards

  • 1992 Pulitzer Prize for Special Awards and Citations – Letters
  • 1992 Eisner Award for Best Graphic Album
  • 1992 Harvey Award for Best Graphic Album

External Resources

Maus (Wikipedia)

PBS piece on the making of Maus (pbs.org)

"Why Mice?" — An interview with Art Spiegelman (The New York Review of Books)

Art Spiegelman talks about Maus 25 years after publication (The New York Times)

Your Students will love:

  • The intricate and detailed drawings that depict every scene in the novel
  • The story of Art and his family, including the tragedies and pain

Students may have problems with:

  • Reading a graphic novel for either the first time, or just in general. It may take some getting used to if a student has never encountered one before

Available from Prestwick House

See our list of resources for Maus here.

Other Prestwick House Teacher's Guides to Literature

See all our Teacher's Guide to Literature blog posts here.

Oedipus Rex