A Postmodern Example of “Normative” Gender

Taking a break from looking at the ways in which postmodern fiction can play with traditional ideals about gender and sexuality, I now turn to Art Spiegelman’s famed graphic novel series Maus I & II. Imagery of the traditional family construct is repetitive throughout both parts of this novel largely due to the time period the story takes place in. Spiegelman’s representations of family and other relationships fully exemplify the traditional gender roles that have caused generations of repressed individuals. At the time Vladek was born, LGBT individuals did not receive the same acceptance or understanding that society has today, (not to imply that we’ve gained equality) that is to say that it simply wasn’t heard of. It was as the examples the audience sees through Vladek’s memoires – scenes with his family, with Anja and her family, their friends and the people they encounter – they are all examples of heteronormative relationships.

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As his audience can see in these frames, Spiegelman is conscious of the stereotypes he fears his “characters” may come across as in his graphic novel. However, the gender normative tone in his work is not something he could control given his generation. Even the time frame that Art himself occupied, as he chose to illustrate his story through the graphic novel medium, his audience can notice an absence of characters or couples who oppose traditional sexual and gender binaries. The “ideal” life of the time is similar to that which forced Bruce Bechdel to lead the closeted life he did: to find a career, get married, buy a home, have children, and retire to live happily ever after. While this did appear to work for some couples such as Art and his wife or Vladek and Anja while they were together for example, we know now that this model of life could not always have made people happy – humans simply are not all born with a uniform set of easily categorized behaviours and desires. The absence of queer identity in the past can only be explained by countless others having repressed their true identities the same way Bruce did.

Though I have a hard time critiquing this graphic novel over something so seemingly trivial when it spectacularly communicates something so grave as Hitler’s wartime Europe (especially since Spiegelman cannot really be held at fault for it), I did have a small issue with these panels:

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Although this scene was probably just included for a bit of lighthearted comic relief, Art’s wife is really the butt of the joke here. We see how soft-spoken the feminine character in this relationship is, consoling her husband only to be met with a snide remark about how she talks too much, even implying that he (having the power as the author of this novel) may have cut anything else she had said out of the recorded conversation entirely. As an audience, we cannot truly know her voice – we are forced to rely on Art to tell us the truth… but he holds a certain degree of bias himself. Her reaction to his jibe is submissive, another traditionally feminine quality.

Spiegelman’s Maus series was not written with the intention to comment on the gender and sexuality norms of the time, however it succeeds in doing so regardless simply by the manner in which they are represented: with the absence of deviation.

Works Cited:

Spiegelman, Art. Maus II. United States: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, 1993. Print.

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One thought on “A Postmodern Example of “Normative” Gender

  1. This is a great post but it feels incomplete – for example, is one example enough to prove your point here? I think a couple more examples would have done the trick. (you don’t have to post this comment!)

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