This 'floating' use of body parts and fluid use of human and mouse anatomical characteristics is another distinct feature of the graphic style of Maus.
In this frame, we discover the source of the father's displeasure with Mala. Mala was putting Artie's coat on a wire hanger. The petty nature of this tantrum indicates the stress under which Artie's father labors. He is angry about small things, despite having recently suffered some permanent tragedies (heart problems and the suicide of his wife) and tragedies in the past. This suggest that the father projects his frustrations and anger about the past into the present and gets angry at relatively minor matters because of his inability to deal with his past experiences. It also is a clue as to why he has heart trouble.
The father's irascible character traits are underlined in the explanatory voice-over by the narrator Artie, who states "they didn't get along," regarding Mala and his father. Despite the happy depiction the couple (especially Mala) was trying to present during the first frames with their greeting of Artie, clearly there is a great deal bubbling beneath the surface. "A wire hanger you give him," grouses the father in the panel, the furrowed eyebrows even more evident than before. "I haven't seen Artie in two years -- we have plenty of wooden hangers."
The subtext behind these words indicates not only the father's displeasure at Mala and his tendency to lash out at her about inconsequential matters but also the fact that he feels a certain amount of subliminal guilt for not seeing his son for so long, which is expressed in his concern about his son's coat. The father's location in an older generation of Jewish men is now quite evident in terms of his syntax -- "a wire hanger you give him" he says, rather than "you gave him a wire hanger" -- as well as his sharp temper.
"After dinner he took me to my old room" states the narrator, and the two men/mice are seen entering the room from the back. Although this is a relatively simple frame used to advance the narrative, it too serves a function of thematic exposition. From the back, the two mice look like human beings, except for their ears. The curvature and musculature of their backs is particularly, noticeably human. "Come -- we'll talk while I pedal," says the father. His more relaxed and conciliatory tone after dinner indicates the extent to which his anger beforehand was due to stress, not to an innately bad or violent character. The father evidently has trouble regulating his emotions, as manifested in his desire to 'do something' -- in this case, engage in exercise for his heart -- while he talks to his son for the first time in two years.
Spiegelman's use of the mouse-father pedaling is both funny and touching. On one hand, it is not necessarily unusual for a man with a heart condition, like the father, to take exercise as a result of a doctor's orders to do so. On the other hand, given that mice frequently are seeing voluntarily running on wheels for exercise, the image of the mouse-man on an exercise bike like wheel is both funny and touching. Once again, the similarities between humans and mice are underlined.
In this frame, the story begins to unfold. "I still want to draw that book about you," says Artie as he sits down. The postmodern convention of the author 'talking about' the process of writing the book within the book itself is established in this frame. Artie is shown sitting down in a room with a bedroom, wearing his vest and jacket as his father gets on an exercise bike in his son's old room.
"It's good for my heart, the peddling" the father says, "but tell me how is it by you? How is going the comics business?" The awkwardness of the question about the 'comic business' indicates the father's sense of remove from his son's work. It may also exhibit some unspoken disapproval that the son is in 'the arts' rather than a more respectable profession. Evidence of Artie's normal childhood is in evidence on the walls of his room -- there are banners of sports teams and schools and other trappings of a rather normal, conventional upbringing of a young boy, despite the difficulties of his father having a normal life after the Holocaust.
In this frame, only the faces of the two mice are evident. The dialogue between Artie and his father has grown more serious, hence the 'extreme close up' of their relationship. The father's whiskered, bespectacled face is impassive, and shows no evidence of the anger or forced friendliness of the earlier panels. Artie the mouse is holding something in his hands. "The one I used to talk to you about," he says, discussing the prospective book he hoped to make of his father's life. Of all of the panels, this one is perhaps the least successful in its rendition. Artie may be holding a picture, but it is difficult to tell in the context of the frame -- the object is small and rather indeterminately rendered. Artie's face is likewise impassive, but this could partially be the fact that he is attempting to hide his emotions before opening up to his father about rendering his father's life into comic book form. Artie is sitting near a window and some form of exterior light (even though it is after dinner on a winter's day) seems to illuminate him while his father is shadowy and in darkness.
In this frame, finally, the reason for Artie's journey is made manifest. "About your life in Poland, and the war," he says, explaining that he wants to interview his father about his past, painful wartime experiences. The father's face remains shadowy and utterly expressionless, as does Artie's. This lack of expression, however, underlines the serious nature of Artie's request and his difficulty in making it to his father.
Even before the actual backstory in Maus unfolds, all of the seeds are sown regarding the character of Artie, his relationship with his father, and the flashback-style nature of the narrative arc. The reader is immediately oriented in the convention and tone of the graphic novel, which is both serious and humorous. Certain aspects of the nature of mice are mined for their ability to illustrate aspects of human existence, although other components of the behavior of the figures…