Both George Orwell in Animal Farm and Art Spiegelman in Maus use animals as characters in their separate portrayals of the evils of totalitarianism. This study will compare and contrast the two works, arguing that, for a number of reasons, Spiegelman's is the more successful.
In the first place, Spiegelman's book deals with actual events, not only actual historical events but events told the author by his father about his father's personal experiences as a prisoner in Hitler's concentration camps. The reader might be put off at first by the depiction of Jews and German Nazis and Poles as mice, cats and pigs, but the underlying brutal, heartbreaking human reality of the horrors faced and survived by Spiegelman's father finally has a powerful impact on that reader.
On the other hand, Orwell's portrayal of a farm taken over by animals and gradually slipping into corruption and abuse of power is a theoretical portrayal, an abstract fictionalization of horrors occurring in Stalinist Russia. While Orwell must be praised for his effort to show the dangers of totalitarianism, and while it certainly has achieved its rightful place as a literary classic because of its originality and significance, it simply did not have on this reader anything like the emotional impact which Spiegelman's book had.
Again, this is in part due to the actuality of the events portrayed in Maus. We are hearing step-by-step the terrible experience of Spiegelman's father and mother and others as they were brutalized by the Nazis. Orwell, on the other hand, offers up the idea of totalitarianism for what finally amounts not to an emotional blasting but a satirical skewering. The actual horrors of Soviet totalitarianism can be seen in such realistic works as One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch, for example, a fictional work which allows us to connect emotionally, on a human level, with Ivan as he is brutalized in the Soviet penal system. This reader simply...