The Value of a Dollar

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"Pragmatic?  Cheap!! It causes him physical pain to part with even a nickle (131 panel 4)!"

I understand that the "cheap Jewish man" stereotype has been around far before the Holocaust. The Merchant of Venice's Shylock is the perfect example.  However, I think Vladek may have different reasons for his financial insecurity. 

Throughout Maus, it becomes apparent that one of the only reasons why he survived was because of his previous wealth.  Of course resourcefulness, youth, hard work, and luck all played a major role...but the fact that he needed to pay off friends to house Anja and himself certainly affected his trust in humanity.  Not only did the world go crazy around him - even friends and family were expected to pay for their kindness.  The readers first impression of Vladek shows his distrust in friends.  "Friends?  Your friends?  If you lock them together in a room with no food for a week...then you could see what it is, friends (6 panel 2-3)."

Time and time again, Vladek was turned away by friends and family that he had known for years.  When Mrs. Motonowa took Anja and Vladek into her home, it was clear from the beginning that she wasn't risking her life out of the goodness of her heart.  Vledek paid dearly and one day when he paid her a few cents short she wasn't able to find any bread for thier meal that day - even though she was always able to find bread.

Every single valuable pocession he owned became even more precious because it may be just the thing that bought him his life.  A gold watch, a diamond ring...these items weren't just financially valuable anymore - they were a chance for survival - a bribe for life when the goodness of humanity failed.  The people who were persecuted during the Holocaust fought a war without rules of conduct.  There were no "sides" and they had no real weapons to fight back.  For many, the rules became every man for himself. 

Vledek lost his trust in people and in his old age he still acts out his mistrust in actions that his son and modern readers find difficult to understand.  He saved old wire he found in the trash because it could be made useful, he scimps on every penny because he thinks that people only want his money.  A person just can't know how they would respond after experiencing a rejection from a friend who knows that you will die if they don't help you because you can't pay.  How would the value of a dollar change for you?  It is clear that Vledek loves his son and wants him to be finacially secure after he dies.  He makes this clear when he takes him to the bank vault and makes him a key.  He also clearly respected his father-in-law and felt indebted to him for lending and giving him so much money in his youth. 

Vledek has placed his mistrust and fear in humanity into his finances because it is easier to understand and control.  His real anger and fear is something much deeper...something much scarier that hopefully modern readers will never experience. 

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Kayla Lesko said:

I've been a slacker commenting on your blog. Sorry about that.

You make a good point. Mala makes a comment how "All our friends went through the camps. NOBODY is like him!" (131 panel 6). She never referred to what happened BEFORE the camps. Even before the Hlocaust started, Vladek was concerned with money. As the saying goes, "Money makes the world go 'round."

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