Parental Relationships And History Essay, Research Paper
Relationships are often predicated on the historical context of human interaction. The Reader and Maus are stories about the way in which generational conflict is associated with the past. They also deal with the idea that exploration of cultural history introduces feelings of shame, guilt and blame. Artie of Maus is constantly in friction with the life he might have lived as a Jew in an anti-Semitic world and the one he lives as the converse of his Holocaust survivor father. The Reader s Michael Berg is perpetually attempting to displace himself from the guilt of Germans citizens of the Reich. Although the novels illustrate that victims and perpetrators are on antithetic sides of oppression, they provide reason to believe that children of victims and perpetrators live similarly. Each operates in a world of guilt and nostalgia for the history that they did not have the opportunity to define. With the devastation caused by World War II as the backdrop for their novels, Bernard Schlink and Arthur Spiegelman expose the generational conflict that occurs between the people that experience tragedy and the people that are taught it.
Maus is the autobiography of an artist living in America born to survivors of the Jewish Holocaust. In it the author, Arthur Spiegelman, explores what role the Jewish Holocaust has played in his life and how it has affected his self-image and his feelings of guilt. He does through his explanation of the book s writing process and a narration of his father s story. Artie, Maus s main character, is forced by his father to respect the Jews who escaped the Holocaust more than he respects himself. His father makes him feel guilty for spending money rather than living the way it was in the Holocaust. After he finds a wire on the street he asks Artie, Why you always want to buy when you can find? (Spiegelman116) Artie in other sections of the novel speaks of how his father would not buy school supplies for him(Spiegelman130) and how his father makes him feel bad for spending money. Thus, Artie feels guilty for doing what is normal or considered good in his generation.
This is a situation where the reasons for their, Artie and his Father s, generational conflict begin to surface. When Artie s father tells him to do something, Artie responds with his view on the situation. If the two perspectives are different, Artie gives his reasoning as to why he is correct. His father s reasoning always lies in how he acted during the Holocaust and how he survived. Artie believes he cannot fight with this argument even in situations where he knows he is correct. This makes Artie feel guilty for acting and reacting the way he does. Thus their communication leads to conflict and leaves Artie riddled with guilt. In one scene he says, I cannot forget it ever since Hitler I don t like to throw out even a crumb. Another example is when Artie and his father, Vladek, go to the grocery store, Vladek wants to return have eaten food to the grocery store. Artie says, I m not going to return a load of open boxes and partially eaten food. (Spiegelman 89) He doesn t want to return the groceries because he knows they will not be reused and they can afford to let the bad groceries go. Vladek nonetheless walks into the grocery store to return the used foods. In the grocery store it appears as if the manager and Vladek are arguing still Vladek comes to the car with the money. Artie tells him he was sure he d get kicked out of the store. Then Vladek says, he(the manager) helped me as soon as I explained to him my health, how Mala left me, and how it was in the camps. (Spiegelman 90) Vladek s ultimate reason for anything he does is how it was in the camps. This passing of guilt leads to obvious conflict because the guilty party is always at fault.
Artie is so guilty that he sometimes wishes he could have been with his father in Auschwitz and he didn t survive. This is the most interesting effect of the guilt and conflict. If Artie had gone through the pain of the Holocaust, he would not be guilty. His arguments and reasoning would be just as powerful. He tells his wife, I know this is insane, but I somehow wish I had been in Auschwitz with my parents so I could really know what they lived through. (Spiegelman 16) This leads to the question why would he what to live through a reality he says was worse than my darkest dreams. (Spiegelman 16) The answer to this is I guess it s some kind of guilt about having had an easier life than they did. Artie feels guilty about being the person he is. He feels guilty about not being what his father wanted him to be. This makes him very defensive about what his is and makes him defensive towards what his father says and does and creates conflict that permeates through his relationships with the previous generation. This is why Artie reacts so fearful towards Vladek neighbors who bring him into their house and why he draws himself as a kid when he visits the psychiatrist. Artie is therefore extremely sensitive towards his guilt and perceptive to the actions of his father.
The Reader by Bernard Schlink is a story similar to Maus in that it is very concerned with the existence of guilt in post war generations. It is different in that the story is told by the child of a perpetrator not of a victim. It offers several explanations of why guilt manifests in victims and perpetrators and their children rather than narrating the experiences that form and define guilt. This is because its main character unlike Maus s has not been forced to deal with the reality of surviving and being a survivor. Artie is forced to do this everyday because of his interaction with his father and the recognition of his Semitic heritage. On the other hand, Michael Berg, the main character in The Reader, narrates only his story and attempts to give objective summaries of the past and those events he did not participate. Where he offers criticism he often gives multiple reasons as to why the events occur. Also, he speaks in this way because he is guilty about things he had virtually no part in.
For example, at one point in the novel he says, What should our second generation have done, what should it do about the knowledge of the horrors of the extermination of the Jews? (Schlink 104) The answer is that the second generation must accept it. He says, we may not compare the incomparable, we may not inquire instead accepting them as something in the face of which we can only fall silent in revulsion, shame, and guilt. (Schlink 104) This revulsion, shame, and guilt led to much conflict between the generations as many people in German society were searching for an absolution. This is why numerous trials were held to convict the so-called perpetrators. However with the conviction and punishment of some, it remained as Michael says that we of the second generation were silenced by revulsion, shame, and guilt (Schlink 104).
To this Michael says, pointing at the guilty parties did not free us from shame, but at least it overcame the suffering we went through. (Schlink 170) This was the reality of children of the postwar German society. They had to come to grips with their parents guilt. This was difficult because they could not entirely place blame on the parents and leave them to deal with the guilt. Kids love their parents. Consequently, Michael claims that there is no way to totally rid one s self of the guilt even if one detaches themselves from the entire generation of perpetrators. He rhetorically questions, Was their dissociation of themselves from their parents mere rhetoric: sounds and noise that were supposed to drown out the fact that their love for their parents made them irrevocably complicit in their crime? (Schlink 171) This included the parents of those that did not directly commit crimes. Michael states, We all condemned our parents to shame, even if the only charge we could bring was that after 1945 they had tolerated the perpetrators in their midst. Thus, Michael seems to conclude that the guilt carried by the people who lived past 1945 passed on to their children and others making it seem as if everyone should be guilty what took place. Artie from Maus has a similar perspective. When he is questioned about why Germans must listen to Holocaust stories, he replies Maybe everyone has to feel guilty. Everyone! Forever! (Spiegelman 42)
Similar to Artie in Maus, there is no way for Michael and other Germans to totally rid themselves of the guilt. Both were positioned by the pre-war generation to be voyeurs of the events. They could only read the history. There was no way to prevent the events from happening nor could they claim themselves to be directly responsible for what happened. However, they knew they felt guilt and shame and the resulting pain. In order free their guilt and anger, some individuals like Michael choose to do what the perpetrators had done to them and pass it on to others. When he was taking the seminar, he says, The more horrible the events about which we read and heard, the more certain we became of our responsibility to enlighten and accuse. (Schlink 93) Likewise, in Maus Artie says he wrote the book, shared his experience, because he wants absolution (Spiegelman 42). This is exactly what Michael drove to enlighten (Schlink 92) the taxi driver.
The Reader by Bernard Schlink and Maus by Arthur Spiegelman are stories about how generational conflict is the result of several events. Yet in the case of the post World War II generations of Jews and Germans, guilt, shame, and blame were most instrumental in the formation of generational conflict. This leads to a question that Michael asks himself in The Reader. Can the perpetrators, the victims, the survivors, and their descendants be likened? They are shown to be similar because the guilt each feels results in pain and anger which develops into generational conflict. They all share their knowledge and stories because they believe that everyone is in some way responsible for the atrocities that occurred during the war. Nevertheless, the situations have their differences. In Michael s case parental expectations, from which every generation must free itself, were nullified by the fact that these parents had failed to measure up during the Third Reich, or after it ended. (Schlink 169) Whereas, Artie s parental expectations could not be viewed disapprovingly because his parents achieved survival. In conclusion, it can be said that the children of perpetrators and victims live similarly. They both feel guilty and their guilt leads to pain and anger provoking sensitivity towards the elder generation and creating generational conflict. Despite these similarities, the situations are quite different. The descendants of perpetrators try to run from the past by placing blame and forcing guilt on others, while victims tend to cling to the past by passing their guilt to ensure that their descendants do not take the past as well as the present forgranted. Over time past tragedies develop a distinct dynamic such that a faint cloud of guilt hovers all that try empathize with the history of man.