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Linda Rader Overman is so proud of her former student Natalie Grill who was a winner of the Oliver W. Evans Writing Prize in Fall 2023--Well done!!

A Comparative Analysis of Spiegelman’s Maus II and Oster’s The Stable Boy of Auschwitz It has been nearly eighty years since that decis...

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Linda Rader Overman Congratulates her literature student Jake Rarick for winning award for his essay

Linda Rader Overman
Congratulates her literature student, Jake Rarick, for winning

The Henry Van Slooten Scholarship in English

at California State University Northridge

A scholarship of approximately $500.00 will be given to any student in English 258, English 259, English 275, or English 355 who has written an essay (open topic) that best demonstrates "a passion for the English language."
for his essay

Of Maus and Man by Jake R. Rarick

Out from the black smoke of the death camp crematoriums and miasmic dust of unceremonious mass graves, an immutable ghost would forever haunt the souls of witnesses and survivors, a lingering presence of guilt, loss, and despair. At the end of the second great war, the genocide of the Jews marked a grim awakening in the modern world — recognition that there are no limits as to the evil of man. After such unimaginable horror and degradation, as victims began to rebuild their broken lives, many were unable to articulate their experiences or properly express their memories — a fact which further establishes personal accounts of the Holocaust to be especially invaluable and undeniably profound. Two such compelling works are the autobiography, The Kindness of the Hangman by Henry Oster, and the graphic memoir, Maus II: A Survivor’s Tale by Art Spiegelman, which both employ a variety of elements to poignantly and eloquently communicate the importance of humor, determination, and hope in even the darkest of times. Although these unique pieces differ in structure and style, Oster utilizing direct language through his own uninterrupted perspective while Spiegelman presents a nonlinear interpretation of his father, both authors maintain a certain amount of levity so as to cushion their words for the sake of irony, accessibility, and overall effect.  
To begin, The Kindness of the Hangman is the tragic yet inspirational story of Henry Oster, a survivor of the infamous Buchenwald concentration camp, and the only remaining Jew from his hometown of Cologne, Germany. Transcribed by writer Dexter Ford, the book is an unaltered account of the life of Dr. Henry Oster, of his experience as a young prisoner of Buchenwald and Auschwitz. With uncluttered and straightforward language, Oster candidly and thoughtfully guides the reader through his youth as a Jew in Nazi Germany — a journey of inconceivable hardship, directly relayed by the very man who lived it. For example, as he describes only his own history and observations, his narrative is recognizably devoid of dialogue, save for the occasional paraphrase. In one instance, as Oster and a group of fellow boys are loaded into trucks toward Auschwitz, he depicts a scattered assortment of undefined voices: “‘Where are we going?’ ‘Are they going to put us to work?’ ‘Are they going to gas us all?’ ‘Shoot us?’” (Oster 80). Here, much is delegated to the imagination of the reader, his or her own perception of the event, which cleverly allows for an air of palpable confusion and haze, the mess of outside voices acting as a detached surrogate for the speaker’s own deliberation and concerns. Moreover, this singular point of view lends itself to a patent sense of loneliness within the text, unassuaged by the usual fulfillment of drama between characters sharing a distinct scene; in its confinement to the mind and memory of its author, the account projects the isolation and uncertainty of an existence where hatred and distrust consume the essence of many men. Therefore, without the distraction of speculative exposition or the burden of wrangling with multiple characters and their viewpoints, The Kindness of the Hangman is free to maintain a stable connection with the reader — intimate, undemanding, and enlightening, exposing the individual emotion and knowledge of an individual man. This clear and unchanging point of view contrasts with that of Maus II, wherein the author chronicles the survival and endurance of his late father.
Interpreting multiple perspectives within his memoir, Spiegelman is able to examine his relationship with his father while simultaneously analyzing himself as an artist. This less direct connection to the Holocaust, conjoined with the fact that Spiegelman portrays Jewish prisoners as anthropomorphic mice, somewhat hinders the work from being as attached and emotionally genuine as the firsthand narration of Oster. Nevertheless, the dark comic book, Maus II, is a complex interweaving of father and son, through which the author can transition from alternate points of view in a blurring of time and space. At a moment in the story where Spiegelman questions his own identity and his authority to display his father in such a distinct, cartoonish fashion, he draws himself as a child, struggling to understand the hell through which his father, Vladek, had endured in Auschwitz. In speaking to his psychiatrist, he notes, “Some part of me doesn’t want to draw or think about Auschwitz. I can’t visualize it clearly, and I can’t begin to imagine what it felt like” (46, 1A). Explaining the experiential disconnect between his subject, the macabre drawings and authentic accents in dialogue represent an inability to decipher his father in a manner that fairly recreates his life through words and graphics. Indeed, Spiegelman broods on this throughout the memoir, wrestling diligently to understand the truth of the Holocaust, to do his father justice in his representation. His dual perspectives offer the reader the relatable cause of comprehending and empathizing with the immense suffering of a victim like Vladek, an accessible form that ties together profoundly separate worlds. Contrary to the typical structures of a historical narrative, Spiegelman approaches a personal and ambiguous psychology, tackling an abstract sense of guilt along with the complexity of the writing process itself — a cogent amalgamation of enthralling, cinematic scenes that perform as a noticeably cathartic exercise for the author. Overall, the multiple perspectives of the book provide for a mosaic of observation that form together to explain the complex relationship between a father and son, the hardship of a Holocaust survivor, and the hurdles in discussing either.  
Though the tales of Maus II and Kindness of the Hangman differ substantially in structure and perspective, both discuss the sadistic nature of the Nazis while still maintaining a life affirming levity. In fact, Spiegelman and Oster show an optimistic sense of humor despite and due to the dehumanization and dread of the past. With Spiegelman’s work, for instance, cartoon mice take the place of Jews while the Nazis are represented as cats; playing off a symbolic cat and mouse dynamic, along with a jab at the dehumanization of the Jews during the Holocaust, the comic adds a sinister yet somewhat fantastical, removed tone. As the book opens, a joking Spiegelman is spending his summer with his wife, Francoise — a scene of joy and humor in which they joke and discuss how he should draw her: as a mouse or frog, she being both French and Jewish (Spiegelman 11). By beginning such a nightmarish tale with a loving and lighthearted picnic conversation, Spiegelman eases the reader into his life. Similarly, Oster begins his story with a patient description of his childhood, that his “was a comfortable, normal life” while joking about what clothes he wore (Oster 9-10). In these introductions, both authors contrast moments of peace with imminent doom; these scenes and images add to the accessibility of each piece, resisting any inclination to overwhelm the reader by directly burying their text in bitter lamentation or concern for humanity. Besides this, both authors maintain their humor throughout each tale. Later in Maus II, Spiegelman draws himself sitting at his desk, atop a mangled pile of corpses, juxtaposed with butting reporters who reduce him to the size of a child (42, top). These symbols, mixed with a perturbed irony, challenge his feelings of guilt by coating them in a dark, shocking humor. Meanwhile, Oster is less bold in his approach than is Spiegelman, who adds a liveliness and adorability through his cartoons. As Oster speaks of his past, his simple and conversational tone makes his work just as accessible as Spiegelman’s comic book. The chapter titles, for example, are mostly sarcastic or playfully euphemistic considering the material within them. Rock and roll song titles sneak their way into a few of the chapters, while chapter twelve is cleverly titled, “The Calculus of Soup” (51). Though most of his humor is evidently subtle but striking, these titles keep things light, like interwoven signposts that act as amusing distractions for the reader. In the end, both stories incorporate playful language, without detracting from their messages. As these tales prove, humor is a powerful weapon against tragedy, something that allows for readers to access an important work that they might not otherwise have been able to stomach or understand. 
Overall, though Oster and Spiegelman utilize similar methods to tell their woeful histories of mass extermination, Maus II is concerned more with an interpretation of character while The Kindness of the Hangman is most focused on plot, unfiltered and authentically conversational in tone. Eloquently, both are tales that express potent historical truth and purpose, asking solemnly that the reader not forget the lessons within. The differing perspectives provided by both stories are crucial for humanity’s understanding of the Holocaust, their diversity a representation of the diversity of people as a whole.
Works Cited:
Oster, Henry, and Dexter Ford. The Kindness of the Hangman. Manhattan Beach, CA: Higgins        Bay Press. 2014. Print.  
Spiegelman, Art. Maus II: A Survivor’s Tale: And Here My Troubles Began. New York: Pantheon    Books. 1991. Print.