Every book, article, or journal always has specific themes that summarize the information contained in such texts. Themes are important elements in any textual composition as they help the reader and listeners to understand in brief what is contained in a given textual analysis. Due to the significant role played by the theme in textual analyses, this essay will focus on discussing the central themes evident in the two readings Maus by Art Spiegelman and The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas by Ursula Le Guin. To complete this comparison and analysis, this paper will separately discuss the central themes of fear, sacrifice and suffering, language, and utopia as presented in the two texts.
As an initial summary of Maus, this textual reading presents a graphic novel by Art Spiegelman, who was an American scholar. The text was composed between 1980 and 1991 and has various themes which summarize the key information contained in the reading. In summary, this text presents an interview between Spiegelman and his father who narrates to him how he survived the Holocaust. Additionally, the story builds on the strained relationship between Spiegelman and his father and how this was related to the absence of his mother who committed suicide when he was 20 years old. Therefore, the central themes in this textual analysis that are portrayed are language, fear, and sacrifice.
The language in Maus demonstrates the unimportance of grammatically correct English and the ability to use language to lighten a dark topic. Spiegelman's father, Vladek, has extremely broken English. However, despite this difficulty in language experienced by Vladek, his knowledge of the English language enables him to accomplish several things throughout the story such as using it to meet Anja, his first wife. Additionally, he uses the language to befriend a French international during World War II and continues to communicate with his new-found friend in English after the war. In establishing this new friendship, the Frenchman shares his packages of food with Vladek which ultimately saves his life. When he moved to America, English enabled Vladek to recount his Holocaust experience to his son and the American soldiers as he could not use his mother tongue anymore in this new environment. Shifting away, Spiegelman illustrates various points throughout the story that contain humor, making a difficult topic easier to read. In the beginning of chapter one Vladek tells Art, “Better you should spend your time to make drawings what will bring you some money…” (Spiegelman, 12). Although this is not blatantly humorous, it is a slight at Art that opens the story in a light manner. Language is an important theme throughout Maus and Spiegelman does an excellent to illustrate this.
Another theme evident in this reading is fear. Spiegelman demonstrates fear in many ways through the text in the manner he reacted to events that took place before and during the period the text was composed. Having survived the Holocaust horror, Spiegelman is frightened by the death of his brother, Richieu, who was a victim of the Holocaust disaster. Chapter eight of the text begins with the description of fear that engulfed Spiegelman upon reflecting on the six million corpses of the Jews which formed the foundation of Maus' story. Upon consulting a psychiatrist, Spiegelman is informed that his father, Vladek was living with a lot of guilt inside him for surviving the Holocaust horror and for subsequently outliving his eldest son, who was swiped away by this horrific happening. Art finds it difficult to believe this and to paint his father in such an unflattering manner. Since Spiegelman had not lived in the camps by himself, he remains in fear in trying to explain the so-called separate universe as told by his psychiatrist.
One of the evident themes in this text is the sacrifice. The theme of sacrifice was majorly experienced during the Holocaust horror, where it was claimed that the six million Jewish who perished during this disaster were sacrificed. Throughout Maus, it is clear to see the effect of surviving the Holocaust has on Vladek and his appreciation of those who sacrificed. Vladek puts thought and care into each decision in his life because he knows the added value of the so-called sacrifice he and other Jews endured. Additionally, although we are made aware that Spiegelman's sacrifices were considered smaller compared to those made by his parents and grandparents, these sacrifices remain to be important milestones in Art's life. For instance, he sacrificed his vacation to go and be with his father, Vladek when his second wife, Mala left. This happened after Vladek's wife had committed suicide. While it might not be that apparent, Vladek did appreciate Art’s sacrifice of his own time to assist him. I believe sacrifice is one of the most important themes of this story because it presents itself in various ways.
Transitioning to The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas, this story is an ironic and sarcastic event that crowds its entire description. One central question one may be asked just before reading this text is whether a person would comfortably walk away in the presence of a suffering child who in one way or another may require assistance. This story describes a situation where the society prefers community happiness to individual happiness, such that when one is suffering, no one cares to come to the assistance of the child because they are satisfied with their current situations. But how can community happiness outweigh individual happiness and how can a community derive its happiness from an individual's suffering? For this discussion, the essay focuses on the following themes as portrayed in The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas by Ursula Le Guin; the language used, the relationship between happiness and suffering, and the utopia.
Language is a key theme within this story. The colorful and descriptive word choice Le Guin uses paints a vivid picture in the reader’s mind. The story begins with a scene of festivals and celebrations. “In the streets between houses and red roofs and painted walls, between old moss-grown gardens and under avenues of trees, past great parks and public buildings, processions moved” (Le Guin, 7). As the reader, you can picture yourself taking part in these great celebrations. The word choice is repetitive throughout the story and is able to keep the reader entertained. Le Guin successfully manages to use language to bring out this celebration and utopia to life, but consequently admits that this utopia is not factual just imaginary. In fact, as the author presents the story, the Omelas in question has no actual existence but only exists in the people's mindsets and states that since people are different in the society, they may imagine their Omelas and walk away from them in the pursuit of individual happiness. Thus, people are at liberty to envision their future and how they may want to be happy. What matters most is the place of perfect happiness, otherwise known as utopia.
When it comes to the relationship of happiness and suffering, Omelas is the ideal situation. Whereas Omelas describes a place of suffering, utopia on the other hand, means a place of happiness, thus the reason why people walk away from Omelas to find their own utopia. However, as evident in the text, the utopia events suddenly change into the suffering of a child who is in dire need of help. The narrator uses the suffering child's situation to strike a relationship between suffering and happiness, maintaining that it is not possible to have happiness without suffering and vice versa. Whereas the child's suffering needs immediate attention, people continue with their celebration and intend to use this as a lesson to enlighten the generations of the sufferings their ancestors went through for them to enjoy their freedom today. This theme aims at answering the question; should our happiness be justified by the suffering of others? Upon learning of the suffering child's situation, what was the reaction of the people in the utopia, did they stop the celebrations and come to the rescue of the child or did they go their separate ways, not caring? Unfortunately, the majority of people continue with their celebrations and happiness and what comes out is that an individual's happiness is built on someone else's suffering. Conversely, there are some that choose to walk away from Omelas with a newfound question of happiness and utopia.
Maus by Art Spiegelman and The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas by Ursula Le Guin present similar themes relating to their contextual descriptions. A deeper analysis of each text revealed the above information, where there were areas of consensus between themes such as suffering and language. Themes are essential elements to books and stories that help guide the reader to understand the text.
- K., Le Guin Ursula. The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas. XanEdu, 2017.
- Spiegelman, Art. Maus: a Survivors Tale. Pantheon, 2011.