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The Visual Writing Style Features In The Novel Maus

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The essay describes how readers can feel empathy for the characters in the Graphic novel Maus, A Holocaust story about the author’s father. Amplification Through Simplification allows readers to plainly see the emotions of characters to empathize with them. How? Why? Cultural Context help make the contents of the novel understandable to people as the events told by the characters is hard to comprehend without visual rhetoric.

Maus is a Holocaust graphic novel by Art Spiegelman. The graphic novel describes the tale of Vladek Spiegelman, a Jewish survivor of the holocaust that is also the cartoonist’s father. The tale of Vladek’s experience describes events before and after the Holocaust[C1] , Told from the perspective of Vladek, he recounts the experiences he had as he is interviewed. Unlike most holocaust stories that only makes you feel sympathy for people who survived the horrific and inhuman things, the graphic novel has us feel empathetic towards the people in the novel by including their lives before the holocaust. Feeling sympathetic only has one emotion to it, sorrow. Having empathy means you feel their pain as well as their joy. To have the reader feel empathetic means that you make the characters in your novel appeal to their emotions. The readers relate to the characters. And unlike other graphic novels, whose art is detailed and colored, the graphic novel is drawn in a simple cartoon style. The cartoon has people represented as anthropomorphic animals and kept in black and white. Although detailed design seems like the best way to show a graphic novel, a simple design allows for greater emphasis on expression and symbolism. People then can relate and empathize with the characters. People today will never fully understand the atrocities done to the Jewish people because Holocaust ended seven decades ago. But people could empathize them with cartoon characters with the uses of visual rhetoric like cultural context and amplification through simplification. this creates empathy with the characters. People then understand how the characters feel, and respond accordingly to the emotions

Amplification through simplification is making something more apparent by simplifying the structure. The graphic novel has simple character designs. People are portrayed as animals with dots as eyes, rough lines are used to make shadows, colors and a variety of expressions. It only takes a few well-placed lines and line impressions to change an expression from normal to intense. A simple head tilt to make the eye lower to the body or a view of the mouth instead of the eyes has us interpret different instances of extreme emotion. Spiegelman, A. (1992) curved lives are drawn on Vladek and his Father in law to convey concern and nervousness for Vladek’s wife as the police search for her as she was involved with communists. Vladek’s first girlfriend is drawn only with her mouth to show her distort as she begs Vladek to stay with her. On page 83 Vladek’s father in law has his eyes lower on his face as he recounts the public hanging. he witnessed. that while keeping the same general shape and simplicity. The same feeling occurs when Art uses simple repetitive hash lines to adds shadows to the characters, in order to group them or add to an already intense emotion. On page 17 the first love of Vladek hears that he is leaving her for a different woman and hash line strokes are put on her face. Showing the audience and intense face that makes the audience uneasy as she stares directly to the audience. Not wanting to let Vladek go, she is determined to have Vladek for herself by any means necessary.

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A sense of general placement is made because of the cartoon style. The audience interprets emotions better because of the simplified nature of the cartoon drawings, when we see that the characters are fearing for their lives as death brushes by them in the form of mass genocide. The audience doesn’t just feel sorry for them, they feel afraid like the characters in the novel feel. Pg 123, When Vladek is forced to stay inside an underground bunker for weeks without food or water the audience feels the agony that Vladek endured. We see fifteen mice in a confined space waiting and hoping for the Nazis to clear the area, all while going mad from starvation. The simplicity allows us to live the life that Vladek lived during the holocaust because when “you enter the world of the cartoon—you see yourself” McCloud, S. (1994). Maus has simple designs that focuses on the emotion of character. We empathize with the cartoons we see on the page because we take way the emotion. We put ourselves into the shoes of the characters in the novel because we try and understand the characters with our logic

Similar to expressions and logic, cultural codes also influences our emotions towards the characters. The cultural codes have meaning that also helps us understand why people would do certain actions or respond a certain way to the Holocaust. The graphic novel reduces the characters to animals. Jewish people are depicted as mice and Nazis are cats. From cultural context the audience can find it reasonable to see why the characters are drawn this way. It is a popular idiom in the English language, it involves pursuit, near captures, and repeated escapes. It is also known as a popular meaning for a predator vs prey relationship. In context to the story of Vladek, a Jewish man that repeatedly escapes the grasp of the Nazis, he is pursued and nearly gets captured multiple times. Another reason for the characters portrayed as animals is because of the “national stereotypes offers a conscious [and] reduction and simplification present in many ‘responses’ to the Holocaust.” Spiegelman, A. (1992) The Nazis treated Jewish people less like human, less like animals. Jewish people were considered the vermin of society. Hence the Nazis are animals specifically, cats, the culturally accepted predator of mice.

We abandon our notions of the human conscience. We find it more believable that “both cat and mice lack reason and conscience. As a result, the Nazi cats find no fault in the systematic killing of Jewish mice”. Oliver, A. S. (n.d.) In Maus there was a scene in which the Nazis hung Jews in public to make an example of them. They stood hung for days and the Vladek fearfully tries to find ways to keep his family and himself alive. Spiegelman, A. (1992) To the audience it would be more reasonable to see animals kill other animals. It is part of their instincts, and nature has groomed them to be this way. To show humans killing other humans would have caused the audience to feel less empathetic because human have conscience and reason. People would not understand why humans would hurt other humans. We can empathize with animal fear of being killed by other animals because it is part of nature, it happens all the time, unlike the Holocaust.

The Holocaust was something in history that marks what people could do. Art could not understand It was genocide never seen and people now are unable to empathize with those who survived. His Father could not understand why the holocaust happened. This graphic novel uses principles of visual rhetoric to help the audience empathize with Vladek as they see the story in a more digestible way. The cultural context helps us understand the story. The simple cartoon style and achromatic color scheme keeps the graphic novel stripped to its essential meanings, and our minds can interpret feelings and emotions with our imagination. We have empathy for the characters because the novel uses visual rhetoric to make the event of the holocaust understandable.


  1. McCloud, S. (1994). Understanding comics: The invisible art. New York: HarperPerennial.
  2. Spiegelman, A. (1992). Maus. New York: Pantheon Books.
  3. Oliver, A. S. (n.d.). A Different Type of Holocaust Literature. Retrieved March 14, 2019, from

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The Visual Writing Style Features In The Novel Maus. (2021, September 22). Edubirdie. Retrieved December 5, 2022, from
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