Dr. J. Elizabeth Clark
Maus and the Poets Against War
In today’s society, war is a huge part of our lives. In America, we have been involved in many wars most of which have taken place in other parts of the world. Today we are dealing with the war in Iraq where many of our soldiers are stationed. Based on our experiences in war, there are strong differences of opinion on the war and its motive. The graphic novel Maus by Art Spiegelman and the website Poets Against War provide a social, political and personal perspective on war and in the opinion of Carolyn Forche` it redefines social spaces by making us aware of the issues on war.
In my opinion, the relationship between war and literature compliments each other. According to Martin` Espada in his Poets Against War essay “Seers Unseen,” his ideology is that “poems and literature gives us perspective,” and “the language of poetry is powerful.” His piece states that it was the war veterans from Vietnam who “returned home to this country against that war, and have been writing of this revelation ever since.” This is an important example on the perspective war gives, because of those experiences in Vietnam, those soldiers now know how destructive war can be. It is because of that experience they gained a different perspective on war and what it is really about. This also demonstrates the fact that because of their horrendous experiences and the effects of that war they felt the need to express it in literature and to make everyone aware of what was going on in the war and the dangers and repercussions of it.
On the website Poets Against War it states that writers have the power. This is a true statement because they have the power in my view to influence and educate society on issues that may be social and political. This point brings me to the fact that poetry is a very important way to express one’s self. It is can be used in a social, political and personal way. Poets use their talents, skills, feelings and experiences to express their opposition to war. Carolyn Forche` in one of her essays “Poetry Of Witness” suggests that poets should use their talents not only to entertain, as it is widely we felt in America, but to witness and comment on social and political issues affecting society. The idea of the “social” space is to witness to things that should not be happening in society. I agree with this sentiment. The reason is that through people’s views and experiences one could learn a lot and prevent re occurrences of situations. In this case, the veterans who served in Vietnam are trying to prevent war because of their experiences. The poem “After The War” by Gerald Hubbard tells us of both his experiences as well as friends. Although he and two other siblings were lucky not to actually be involved in combat, they saw the damage and chaos that war brought into the lives of people and the country. His poem gives us a picture of the aftermath of war. “After the war and the bleeding is done, / and the young bones are bleached in the sun, / and the homes are all wrecked and the farms are all gone, / what do we tell our youth, what shall we write?” This quote is describing the aftermath of war and addresses the question, what should we do after the war; it speaks of the decomposed bodies that are left dried up in the sun and the questions children will ask and how would it all be explained.
Another poem, written by a 66 year old man Brian Bolt entitled “Dear George” tells President Bush, his feelings about the war and “all those tens of thousands of blasted civilians/ and soldiers still live/ in this poem/the earth does not /shudder and convulse/at the very sight of you/ in this poem an angry Jesus has driven/you out of the White House/in this poem /you and your mad cabinet/have been dragged to a war crimes tribunal,/ This poem is describing the anger felt by Mr. Boldt and many others directed towards President Bush. He is being held responsible for the death of tens of thousands of soldiers and civilians alike each day the war goes on. He thinks that Jesus is also angry and will drive President Bush out of the White House. In his opinion also, President Bush and his cabinet have committed war crimes and should be held accountable. These are examples of poems that show the relationship between literature and war and how through literature “the personal becomes political.” On the site there are many poems with similar content, which describes the opposition of war and in particular the war in Iraq.
In Rebecca Solnit’s piece, “Acts Of Hope” she writes about the intention behind poetry and the facts that people get discouraged. She also points out that activism changes society and observes it.” Activism is not a journey to the corner store; it is a plunge into the dark.” An example of activism according to the website Poets Against War, was when “American poets became an anti-war movement themselves when Sam Hamill declined an invitation to Laura Bush’s “Poetry and the American Voice” symposium shortly after her husband’s administration announced their “Shock and Awe” plan, and he circulated his letter of outrage. He started the poetsagainstthewar.org and had about 11,000 poems submitted by other poets.” “He then became a major spokesperson against the war and in his own right an activist who was an organizing tool for the peace movement.”
Similarly, the graphic novel, Maus, by Art Spiegelman, is a perfect example that demonstrates the relationship between literature and war. “I still want to draw that book about your life in Poland and the war” (12) Mr. Spiegelman, through his graphic novel takes us through his father’s experience in World War 2 and the horrendous treatment inflicted on the Jews by the Germans. Some may argue that a subject as serious as the holocaust and war should not be in the form of a comic, but through Mr. Spiegelman’s artistic and creative ability he pulls it off effortlessly. This book depicts the Jews and Nazi’s by drawings using animals such as mice, cats and pigs instead of humans to depict the story. In the book mice are Jews while cats are Nazis. This is sheer genius on the part of Mr. Spiegleman because the readers will get to see a visual picture along with the story and will get a better idea of what took place.
This book shows the survival of Vladek who is Spiegelman’s father and is also the main character in the novel. He relays his experiences and how he survived the war to Spiegalman. He speaks about the treatment of the Jews and the way they were discriminated against, “And they shot and killed them- they killed 600 people.” (61) And “the other prisoners get two meals a day. We Jews get only a crust of bread and a little soup.” (53). This is an example of the treatment of the Jews and the anger the Nazis felt towards the Jews. The novel describes many aspects of war and the consequences of it. In this book families are torn apart because of the war. “My daughter! How can she manage alone- with four children to take care of and what do you think he sneaked on to the bad side!” (91) In some instances situations become so unbearable that persons resorted to taking their own lives as well as family members. “I won’t go to their gas chambers and my children won’t go to their gas chambers. Always Tosha carried around her neck some poison… she killed not only herself but also the three children.” (109).
In this novel, Mr. Spiegelman is told by his father “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!” (6) This quote brings me to the point that when in war; a person could not always rely on friends or in Vladek’s case family. In the novel, it was every person for themselves, the survival of the fittest. If you could not pay for money of favors then you would not survive. “At that time it wasn’t anymore families, it was everybody to take care for himself!” (114).
The graphic novel Maus in many ways demonstrates the consequences of war. Through literature Mr. Spiegelman uses his father’s experience to enlighten his readers on the effects of war. Such effects can be death, genocide, and suicide as in Anja’s case, separation of countries, injuries, torture, and the demolition of villages; discrimination, racism and many other tragedies. War is a part of control, power, domination and self interest. The Nazis believed that they were superior to the Jews ad so they did not deserve to be treated with respect. In their opinion the Jews were responsible for the war and everything that went wrong. Also the novel points out that during the war people were starving and sad, wondering if they would survive their terrible ordeals. This makes my point that war has also a psychological effect on people. It breaks them down both mentally and physically and an example of this is Anja “she became completely hysterical” and said “oh god. Let me die too!” (122) Vladek was a strong individual who persevered and struggled to survive a terrible ordeal. Through war he lost a lot of important things in his life including his father, son, his business, stability and to some extent Anja. Because of her ordeal she became a frail unrecognizable and weak person who took her own life. War is a very bad thing in my opinion and causes a lot of pain on both sides.
In conclusion, the relationship between literature and war compliments each other. Literature and poems give us perspective; it is a very important way to express one’s self. It can be used in a social, political and personal way as demonstrated by the graphic novel Maus by Art Spiegalman and poems such as “Dear George” and “After the War” from the website Poets Against War. Poets today, continue to use their talents, skills, feelings and experiences to express their opposition to the war and to witness and comment on social and political issues affecting societies. These poets are redefining social spaces by making us all aware on the issues of war.