While the book The Dream Life ofSukhanov by Olga Grushin and the graphic novel MULlS by Art Spiegelman are two different stories separated by time, they share two common themes. These themes of art and trauma appear many times throughout both works of fiction, Grushin and Spiegelman compliment each others novels brilliantly in the way that by looking at one novel, you can gain a better understanding for some of the choices made in the other novel. The main character of Anatoly Sukhanov, in The Dream Life ofSukhanav, faces many challenges during a time of oppression in Soviet Russia, a time when art became subject to suspicion of possible propaganda and a time when modern art began to popularize leaving surrealist art to fade away into the memories of the past The main character of Art Spiegelman, in the book Maus, also faces challenges related to art during a time of oppression of the Jews, better know as the Holocaust.
Both artists undergo trauma as a result of events that relate to their parents as well, While Sukhanov copes with the trauma of his father’s suicide and his mother’s rejection of his art, Spiegelman muddles through the trauma of his mother’s suicide and the second hand trauma he develops after listening to the tragic events his father had undergone during the Holocaust.
Considering the second hand trauma that Art Spiegelman developed in Maus, leads to a better understanding of The Dream Life of Sukhanov, and to a better understanding for the reasons why Sukhanov rejected his art Looking through the lens of Maus, we see how art became an escape for Spiegelman, it allows him to present his father‘s story in a unique and interesting perspective.
By choosing to portray his father’s trauma through the use of graphic comic strips, Spiegelman is able to capture the real emotions and horror in a way that made the audience feel safe.
The graphic strips though heart-wrenching, produce a much calmer feel than if one were to read about the Holocaust in grave detail and have to imagine it for themselves. Also, by choosing to use mice and other animals as some of the characters in the story, a softer feel or approach is given to the novel itself and almost intrigues the reader so that they read it. Graphic comic strips as well are considered a different form of art at that time in history. Many people of the state did not see an in that form and some would think it to be used as propaganda, However, Art Spiegelman’s dream of becoming a writer succeeds in light of this novel due to his unique portrayal and use of graphic imagery, However, while creating this novel, Spiegelman develops a second hand trauma of the Holocaust though his father account of it and his mother‘s suicidei.
In the novel, he presents his mother’s suicide as “The Prisoner on the Hell Planet”(102), He goes on to talk about how his “father found her in the bathroom when he got home from workinher wrists were slashed and an empty bottle of pills near—bye” (102), During the time of his mother‘s suicide, Spiegelman, only a short time before, gets released from a mental institution, The trauma of not being able to help his mother or say goodbye to her takes a major [oil on him and he remains haunted by the event for the rest of his life. Seeing his father remarry and how his behavior changes after the atrocities of the war also takes a toll on him. His father is always bickering with him. At one point in the novel, his father throws away Art’s coat without him knowing As a result, Art is shocked and has difficulty understanding his father’s reasoning for throwing something of his away without his permission However, for his father, he believes that if he does not approve of the coat or knows something better can replace it, then, he has the power do with it what he wished.
He describes Art’s coat as “such an old shabby coat. It’s a shame my son would wear such a coat! …I can give you my old one; it‘s still like new!“ (Spiegelman 71) Because his father buys himself a new coat at Alexander’s just a short time before, he believes his old one should live on through his son by giving it to him to wear. It is also a shock because his father rarely ever throws anything away, He keeps “old menus picked up on cruises, a pile of stationery from the pines hotel” and a plastic pitcher from his hospital room (95). His father‘s changes in behavior present an almost sorrowful feeling or a feeling of sympathy for his father. Art becomes traumatized by his father‘s actions and his account of the holocaust simply because it is such a tragic event and hearing about it has almost the same effect as being there would have for Art. Now that we see how the trauma and the role that art played in Maus, we can begin to look at how Sukhanov is also shaped by the traumatic experiences he encounters in his young age and how due to those experiences he rejects his art.
Sukhanov has great promise as an artist, His wife Nina also sees it and marries him for that reason, believing that he would become a successful artist and that they would be rich and famous. However, when Sukhanov was a little boy, his father committed suicide right in front of him byjumping off of a building. For a young boy to see such an act presents trauma in itself and would surely be devastating and tragic. His father’s last words were “Don’t let anyone clip your wings” (324). This metaphor symbolizes that Sukhanov should not give up on his art He should not have been subdued by the state and their politics. He should have taken matters into his own hands and worked to become the artist his wife saw in him He praises the representation of the real. while his life embodies the rational materialism of the Soviet dream. Surrealism, conversely, embodies a belief in the significance of dreams and links the creative impulse firmly with the subconscious.
It is inevitable, since this is a modern morality play that this man who has suppressed both his talent and his actual memories will be taught to believe in dreams. However, seeing how his mother and father traumatized Art, one can understand the reasons for why Sukhanov gave up his art. One reason being that his own mother rejects his art and makes him feel worthless. She “wanted to make [him] stop, to make him forget, to make it all disappear“ (324). She is afraid that Sukhanov, after seeing the dark, strange pictures he painted, that he would wind up like his fatherr His father had a hint of Schizophrenia and Sukhanov’s mother remians fearful that he too would develop such and illness if he keeps up with the paintings he was producing [ believe that by not painting, it would make matters worse for Sukhanov. He is a surrealist painter, and a good one at that.
I would think that if he didn‘t paint he would go crazy simply because art for him was an outlet from the real world, He could paint his dreams in his artwork and express his true feelings without judgment. His mother instills in him a fear of developing schizophrenia like his father, which traumatizes him so much that he is willing to give up the one thing he loves that could make him happy. Sukhanov states that “for so many years, he had thought the moment of his maturity would be rooted in suicide and defeat” (324). By allowing himself to become subject to the state’s politics and instead of worshiping the art he loves rather than criticizing it, perhaps his art would have flourished in a positive way and make it possible for him to find peace with the events that had occurred in the past His fear of not succeeding and his fear of the senseless politics around him relate to how Spiegelman felt when he was writing his father’s story He too was fearful of not succeeding in his writings and afraid that they would not be accepted by the public. One cannot live in fear no matter what is happening around them, The trauma that Art had to go through and the trauma Sukhanov experienced allowed them to succeed by using art as an escape and a way to cope with all that had happened to them, Their trauma was depicted in their art and made them who they were.
Living in fear of creating what makes you happy solely because someone tells you to, does not do you any justice nor does it allow you to be the person you truly are, In the end of each novel, we see a clear change in character whether it’s for better or worse. We see how Art was shaped by his father and mother and how he expressed himself in a unique was through graphic imagery, while Sukhanov learned from his mistake of rejecting his art and figured out that he expressed himself best in his surrealist paintings, We see that the themes of trauma and art did indeed play a major role in the choices that these characters made I believe it is with fact that looking at the trauma Spiegelman experienced, we can better understand how it might have affected Sukhanov as well and that one should never let anyone “clip their wings”.