16 Jun 2015

Spiegelman. ch4. of Maus I, “The Noose Tightens,” summary

by Corry Shores
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Art Spiegelman

Maus: A Survivor’s Tale, vol.1

Ch. 4
The Noose Tightens



Brief summary:

Vladek discusses the period when the Polish Jews from his town lost their freedoms little-by-little, until a third of his town were taken to concentration camps to die, including his own father.




[Begins in the present] Art arrives at Vladek’s with a new trench coat [recall previously Vladek threw out Art’s older one]. Vladek is disappointed, because he wanted Art to come earlier to fix a drain pipe on the roof. They argue about the fact that it is too dangerous and someone should be hired to do it. Vladek, characteristically, objects that it costs too much money.

1.72.3 4
Tonight Vladek will give his interview while riding a stationary bicycle, and Art will use a tape recorder instead of taking notes. [Cut to the past] When Vladek returned from the service, his family was still quite wealthy.

1.74[[We might notice that this is drawn from the perspective of the outside of the room. This perhaps gives us the sense that their situation is not the same as less fortunate families at this time, who may metaphorically be looking at the situation of Vladek’s wife’s family as if from a distance and through a shop window. We are looking downward, which allows us to take in the full scope and grandeur of their dining arrangement. We are also looking at it from a diagonal angle, which gives the sense of prying and trying not to be seen. Overall we get the sense of class division, or social division of some sort. The lattice of the window also appears like security bars, locking the have-nots away from the haves. There as well is a lot of distributed activity in this scene, which makes the situation lively rather than depressed.]] Vladek explains that there were twelve members of the family living at his father in-law’s house [with a single panel cut to the present.] The family explains to Vladek how rationing now creates difficulties for preparing food.


They explain they can get extra on the black market, but they must be very careful not to attract the attention of the Nazis.


Yet, Vladek seems to have been the only one worried about their future.


The next day Vladek goes into town. He meets a former customer, a tailor, who once bought cloth from Vladek. He gives Vladek a special permission note that will allow him to enter the tailor’s shop, in case Vladek ever obtains cloth to sell. Vladek then tries to collect debts from other shops, but they cannot pay, since Germans now run their businesses.


Sometime later Vladek returns to the shopping district. Nazis were rounding up people without working papers, but Vladek narrowly escaped ducking into a nearby building. The Nazis took away about half the people there. After relating this event to his father, they go to a friend who helps Vladek obtain a work card. This means he will need to pretend to work at the shop.


[Single panel cut to the present.] Vladek explains that they had to hide their nice furniture since Germans would come take them. Vladek’s father in law learns of officers who would pay well for them. But they take more than they agreed upon, and they pay nothing!

Once, Vladeck was on the street when Nazis were taking away any Jew regardless of whether they had proper papers.


Fortunately his tailor friend finds him and takes him to safety up into his apartment. The tailor knows a Pole who will hide his son, and he offers the same for Vladek’s boy, Richieu. This idea was not received well at home. Yet, perhaps they should have, since he may have survived that way [cut to present].


[Cut to the past]. Vladek’s family was then ordered to live in a different district in a small apartment.

Vladek continued his black-market business, until learning of the execution of his father-in-law’s friends for doing the same.


[[Notice how some of the hanged people are obscured by the panel showing Vladek, Anja, and their father. This brings the living and dead figures into greater intimacy and suggests how the dead are on living’s minds. The shots in the bottom panels of the shoes are also interesting, perhaps in how they humanize the figures, by showing something common like shoes, but dehumanizes them at the same time, with the dead-slack angle of the feat and the cruel situation of the bodies. We continue to see how this image has implanted itself in Vladek’s mind in the superpositioning in the next panel.]] Vladek was so traumatized by the image of the hanging people that he stayed indoors awhile [cuts to present.]



In the present, Vladek indicates that Anja wrote many diaries about her experiences during this time, and Art excitedly asks Vladek to find them. [Cut to past] Vladek then explains how he began trading jewelry, since he could hide it in their child’s stroller, which was impossible back when he traded cloth. [Single panel cut to present.] Vladek also conducted other underground business activities. He got to know a family friend with a grocery store, and he saw how the grocer would bend the rules for his customers who did not have enough ration coupons. Vladek makes a deal to sell the grocer’s “extra” goods [I do not know what makes them “extra”] to other shops. One time, Nazis caught Vladek on the streets transporting 15 kilos of sugar. Vladek lies, saying he is returning them to his grocery shop. The Nazis follow him, and when he gets back to the original grocer, Vladek treats him like an employee, and they get away with it.


[Cut to present] Vladek then explains how it got too hard to continue conducting his contraband business, and also he lost his job at the tin shop. He then takes a job at a German carpentry shop. [Cut to past.] Then the family gets a notice from the Nazis saying that old people will be sent to a special home. They were rightfully afraid of what would really happen, so they hide the grandparents in a back shed. [[Note the rodent-like burrowing strategies.]]


There were Jews who worked as police, since the idea was that the rest could be saved if some took this job. Jewish police officers sometimes came for the grandparents. [Single panel cut to present.] After trying to work around the laws, they finally had to send them, which meant they would die immediately in Auschwitz.


[Cut to present]. Vladek notes that he learned of Auschwitz very early on  [cut to past]. A couple months after the loss of their grandparents, there is a public notice from the Nazis that all Jews must show up at the stadium to show that they have proper documents and to get them stamped. Although the people mistrust the situation, they know they will need the stamp or else they will have further problems (p. 88). Vladek’s own father asks him whether or not he should go, since he has no papers and should get some, but Vladek is unsure how to advise him. In the end, he and nearly all other Jews showed up out of fear. The Nazis divided the people up, putting old people, families with many children, and people without working cards on one side, and all the rest got a stamp on their passports.


Vladek’s father originally is placed on the good side, but when he sees [I think] his daughter placed on the bad side, since she has too many children, he sneaks over to the bad side too, never to be seen again. Vladek says that the town becomes empty, since one third of the people were kept at the stadium. [Cut to present] Vladek is tired from exercising which he did while giving this portion of the interview. Art then talks to Vladek’s second wife Mala, who is in the kitchen. She recalls the same stadium event. She says her mother was taken, and, all 10,000 or so people [apparently] were stuffed into four apartment buildings. Mala’s mother survived. All the other survivors were taken away to concentration camps, but she survived by hiding, and later her job was cleaning all the filth from the apartments after the people were moved out. Nonetheless, she ended up dying in Auschwitz eventually. Art then has the idea to search the bookshelves for Anja’s diaries. They fail to find them, but instead they find many other useless things that Vladek never needed and failed to get rid of. Mala complains it is so hard to live with Vladek and insists they put it all back exactly as they found it.




Spielgelman, Art. Maus: A Survivor’s Tale, vol 1. New York: Pantheon Books, 1986.

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