Posted in Reading, Teaching, Writing

ENG 111: Of Mice and Memoirs, Part I

Spiegelman, Art. Maus I. Pantheon, 1986. p. 6.

Summary

Last week I asked you to focus your journal writing on the epigraph for Maus I, first by writing a short summary and afterward by writing about how the short two-page epigraph relates to Chapter 1.

Here’s my version of that journal exercise:

In Art Spiegelman’s epigraph for Maus I, “Rego Park, N.Y., c. 1958,” he recounts the events of a summer’s day when he was ten or eleven years old. He and two of his friends are racing together on roller skates until one of Artie’s skates comes loose and he falls. Rather than waiting for Artie, the other two boys skate away, leaving him behind to be the “Rotten egg” (5). After Artie returns home, his father asks why he is crying. When Artie tells his father what happened, his father questions his son’s use of the word “friend.” He replies, “If you lock them together in a room with no food for a week . . . / . . . Then you could see what is, friends! . . .” (6).

The cutting remark that Spiegelman’s father makes as he saws wood illustrates the communication breakdown between him and Artie. Spiegelman’s depiction of that gulf foreshadows the trials he will encounter: struggling to understand his father and himself as he aims to make meaning of their lives through his comics.

Notice how the first paragraph, the summary, does not express my opinion. By definition, summaries are objective. When you write a summary, you aim to convey a text’s main ideas in your own words but without offering your own opinion.

Analysis

In the second paragraph, I turn to analysis. I connect the father’s cutting, or unkind, remark to the sawing of the wood, which is itself an act of separation—a detail that I might add to the paragraph if choose to develop my analysis.

Summary and analysis are building blocks of both academic and professional writing. We summarize to increase our understanding of texts, and we analyze them to demonstrate our ability to think critically.

For more information on summary and analysis, see pages 63-64 of A Writer’s Reference.

Writing about Maus in Your Journal

After you complete each reading assignment in Maus, summarize it in your journal. You are not required to analyze each reading, but you should make note of any questions you have and points that you would like to address in class.

What to Focus on as You Read Maus

Because Maus is a memoir and your first essay assignment for English 111 is a literacy narrative, a form of memoir, focus on this question: How can Maus serve as a model for my own memoir, my literacy narrative?

In your literacy narrative, which you will draft and revise in September, you will write on one of these topics:

  • any early memory about writing, reading, speaking, or another form of literacy that you recall vividly
  • someone who taught you to read or write
  • someone who helped you understand how to do something
  • a book that has been significant to you in some way
  • an event at school that was related to your literacy and that you found interesting, humorous, or embarrassing
  • a literacy task that you found (or still find) especially difficult or challenging
  • a memento that represents an important moment in your literacy development
  • the origins of your current attitudes about writing, reading, or speaking
  • creating and maintaining your WordPress blog
Spiegelman, Art. Maus I. Pantheon, 1986. p. 6.

Maus isn’t a precise model; it’s a book-length comic rather than an essay, but Spiegelman’s memoir serves as a guide for us as writers. Here are some points to consider:

  • Consider the title, Maus, the subtitle of the book, A Survivor’s Tale, and the subtitle of Part I, My Father Bleeds History. What does each one tell you about the book? After you decide on a topic for your literacy narrative, ask yourself what you want the title to tell the reader. Will your essay also have a subtitle? Sometimes the best title isn’t clear at the beginning of the writing process. Think about your title, but don’t get hung up on it. Return to it after you have finished drafting.
  • Study Spiegelman’s scenes. Your narrative will include one or more scenes, but yours will be created solely with words, rather than with words and drawings.  As you examine the panels in Maus, note which ones convey conflict, either a character’s inner conflict or a character’s conflict with another character. Conflict is essential to narrative.
  • Note that the epigraph for Maus could be scenes in a literacy narrative. Imagine the two scenes in paragraph form. What would Art Spiegelman add as the final paragraph to give his readers some sense of the narrative’s significance? (What did it mean to him, and what did he learn from it?)

Spiegelman, Art. Maus I. Pantheon, 1986.