Maus and America’s surge of book bannings

Cameron Tollefson, Editor in Training

Written by cartoonist Art Spigelman, Maus is one of the most famous graphic novels of all time. First released as comic strips, it was later traditionally published in two parts; Maus I: A Survivor’s Tale: My Father Bleeds History in 1986, and Maus II: A Survivor’s Tale: And Here My Troubles Began in 1991. 

Since its release, it has sold over a million copies and is the only graphic novel to have won a Pulitzer Prize. 

The books are split into two interweaving plotlines. One is the real-life story of Spigelman’s father, Vladek, a Polish Jew who survived Auschwitz, an infamous Nazi concentration camp. The other is set in the modern-day, with Spigelman interviewing his father. The books switch back and forth between the past and present, illustrating the trauma and long-lasting effects of the Holocaust.

A unique aspect of Spigelman’s Maus is that it is illustrated with animals instead of people. Jews are depicted as mice, Nazis as cats, and animals such as frogs, pigs, dogs, and moths fill the remaining roles. 

For decades, Maus has been shown in schools across the country to teach about the Holocaust and the atrocities the Nazis committed. Until now. 

In January of 2022, the McMinn County Board of Education in Tennessee unanimously voted to remove Maus from their eighth-grade curriculum. The reasons cited for the ban include offensive language (such as “Goddamn,”) as well as some nudity. The board expressed concerns that the curriculum would “enable or somewhat promote this kind of stuff.”

Though the McMinn Board insisted that they were not denying the severity of the Holocaust, one of the members of the board is quoted as saying, “It shows people hanging. It shows them killing kids. Why does the education system promote this kind of stuff? It is not wise or healthy.” Another board member even admitted that he had never actually read Maus. 

The outcry was immediate. 

Several school teachers around the country have gone on record as disagreeing with the McMinn school board and expressed their support for the continued use of Maus as a teaching method. Additionally, In a matter of days, Maus became one of the highest-selling books on Amazon. A bookstore in Tennessee set up a Go Fund Me to purchase copies of the book and advertised that any student who wanted to read it could borrow Maus for free. 

In a statement, the McMinn Board doubled down and defended their position, saying that the book was banned because “of its unnecessary use of profanity and nudity and its depiction of violence and suicide.”

Art Spigelman, the author of the book, himself spoke out against the ban, stating, “[t]his is disturbing imagery. But you know what? It’s disturbing history.”

Unfortunately, Maus’s ban is not the only instance of censorship in America’s education system. Over 1,500 books were banned in the past nine months in schools across America. The vast majority of books feature LGBTQ characters and/or POC characters, and tackle issues like racism, homophobia, and transphobia. 

However, several students have refused to accept these bans. In Kutztown, Pennsylvania, a group of teens created a banned book club, dedicated to reading books that have been prohibited in schools. The group is just one of several book clubs that have popped up across the country. 

And they aren’t the only ones attempting to combat the surge of censorship. The Banned Books Book Club, created by Reclamation Ventures, a company dedicated to ending racial inequality, is a website that offers resources to help students fight against schools banning books. People can also request books for the Banned Books Book Club to send them.

The censorship in schools is a dangerous pattern that only appears to be getting worse. But, as people across America have demonstrated, the fight is far from over.