Art Spiegelman’s “Mouse,” the only graphic novel (cartoon) that won the Pulitzer Prize, is a story about wounds. He drew Nazi as cats and Jews as rats, which makes it a fable. Jews during the Second World War were rats in front of a cat. His parents who survived Auschwitz were also rats. The novel depicts wounds of the parent rats. The mother rat commits a suicide, and the father rat’s life is not so easy. Their son does not lead a rosy life either. Readers can naturally feel the pain and wounds of the rat family.
But they can also feel the irony when the father rat discriminates a black man even though he suffered through the excruciating racism of Nazi. “I can’t believe there’s a schwarzer in this car!” says the father rat when his daughter-in-law stops the car to give a black man a ride. “Schwarzer” is equivalent of “nigger” in Yiddish. He used Yiddish so that only his family would understand the word. For him, black people were “niggers” who steal other people’s belongings. He carefully watched the man to see if he stole anything from the backseat until he got off the car. The way he treated the black man was exactly the same as the way Nazi treated Jews. It was a cruel irony.
The father rat became a racist because he learned nothing from his past wounds. Jews in Israel are putting Palestinians in the same pain for the same reason. But this is not the only irony. Historically, rats often became cats and victims often became perpetrators. We might have done the same to others. But a consolation is that there are people like the author of Mouse who confess and feel ashamed of their wrongdoings.