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Cat’s Cradle: 'Maus' has become essential reading again

This past week, fans of graphic novels were met with two bits of noteworthy news. First was the long-awaited return of the independent series Saga and, second, the ruling of a Tennessee School Board to remove Maus from the curriculum. Maus is the Pulitzer Prize-winning story by Art Spiegelman that recreates his discussions with his father about his experience in the Holocaust. 

The school board called the novel into question for eight curse words and one objectionable image, according to the meeting transcript. What this ban shows is a deeper issue within Americans' relationship to education and literature.

Book bans are not a new phenomenon. Books have been challenged for content, subject matter and language. The American Library Association has done great work to catalog all of the books that have been banned or challenged throughout history. 

1984a dystopian novel showing the flaws of democratic socialist regimes of Stalin — was banned in 1981 for its pro-communist and explicit content. The children’s picture book And Tango Makes Three, based on two zoo penguins that raised a chick, was deemed inappropriate for LGBTQ+ content. 

While the aforementioned LGBTQ+ comic Saga was banned for “anti-Family, nudity, offensive language, sexually explicit” content, this ban shows the irony of challenged content since the comic provides a recommended reader age, and the book is about making and finding a family. The core theme of the novel is "love, not war" with a dichotomy of sex to violence. 

Saga, like most books that appear on banned books list, points to a misunderstanding of the people who ban the material. Saga is a platform to discuss issues of race, abortion, civil war and family. 

Saga opens dialogues around these issues. It uses imagery and over-arching narratives, and audiences are capable of and forming their own opinions on subject matter. This is the role of literature: to provide a different perspective to our own.

With this all in mind, the banning of Maus rings even more hollow. Questioning the content of the book is mute since the book addresses that exact “topic.” Maus is not only a memoir but a discussion of legacy, how those around us influence our art and ways that art is used to tell a story. 

Maus furthers this concept by anthropomorphizing characters. It’s a stylistic choice that opens up a door to reflect on the way art is created and effective. The graphic memoir also provides first-hand accounts of antisemitism, concentration camps and general survival. 

While the comic's page layout lends itself to conveying this story in a unique and digestible way, eliminating the text from a curriculum is removing an essential part of Holocaust literature. 

Gwen C. Katz describes the removal as a “pajamafication” of Holocaust literature or the substitution of any “challenging book” for a palpable alternative: in this case, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

Though there are other novels that could fill the gap left by MausNight, specifically — Katz makes the point that schools turn to the “wide-appeal” novel The Boy in the Striped Pajamas. Swears are replaced with “a curse,” and the story is a fable on totalitarianism and a boy raised in Nazi Germany is the paragon of innocence, which is not at all close to reality. 

A book ban is erasure of a history or a narrative that presents scenarios that are “disagreeable.” It’s the conscious choice of policy makers to assign a fairy tale in the wake of a historic fact. However, in most cases, it’s not very effective. 

Banning a book doesn’t stop people from reading it. Instead, it draws everyone’s attention to that specific book. School boards' eternal struggle to ban novels only cements them in history as must-read books, with a week in September dedicated to it.  

Banning a book should lead us to see what is being censored and ways we can stop it. Contribute to campaigns or buy the book from a local bookstore. The banning of Maus marks a new chapter in the history of challenges to books, which will hopefully stay a chapter in the short history of book banning. 

Benjamin Ervin is a senior studying English literature and writing at Ohio University. Please note that the views and opinions of the columnists do not reflect those of The Post. Want to talk more about it? Let Benjamin know by emailing him be425014@ohio.edu.

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