Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The Infinite Abyss

Art Speigelman’s Maus is the first graphic novel I have ever read. At first glance, I wasn’t sure if Speigelman’s cartoons would be able to portray the tragic events of the Holocaust. However, I was taken by surprise once I read the first page. Unlike any other book this semester, I finished Speigelman’s novel in one sitting. The cartoons coupled with short character dialogue led to an addictive read. As I traveled with Artie through his father heroic tale of survival, I learned that his father’s struggle did not end at the conclusion of World War II. Instead, Vladek’s experience has affected his life and in turn has affected his son’s life forever. It is for this reason I think Speigelman is writing this novel. He encourages readers to remember and reflect on the Holocaust. Although it happened in the past, the Holocaust still affects us all in the present.

Although a tale of sadness, evil and tragedy, Vladek’s journey within the Holocaust has shaped his identity. As Vladek fights with the manager to take back his opened box of Special K or shouts racist slurs at the hitchhiker, a reader can see that Vladek still suffers from his time spent at Auschwitz. Through Speigelman’s portrayal of his father as a flawed figure, a reader cannot help but feel pain for Vladek. It was a tragic event that has shaped Vladek and although he may have survived, Speigelman shows that there were parts of Vladek that died in the Holocaust.

All of travel, whether good or bad, affects who we are as individuals. Although Vladek’s tale is one marked by immense hardship and struggle, it is experience that has shaped him. Over the course of the semester, I wasn’t aware of the impact travel and travel literature can have on individuals. After returning from Italy in April, I never took time to self reflect. It was not until Dr. Ellis encouraged us all to look a little deeper that I began to notice how my travel experience has changed me as a person.

Art Speigelman reflects on his own humanity and begins to understand his father more once he listened to his father’s tale. Just as Speigelman becomes more self aware, I realized that the beauty of travel, even if it is experienced on the pages of a novel, can change you as a person if you allow yourself to change. Over the course of the semester, I stopped reading novels because I had to, and began reading them because I wanted to. Through my reflection at the conclusion of each novel, I learned a little more about myself. For this reason, I think travel literature is valuable on so many levels. First, travel literature allows the reader to enter the mind of the author. Second, it allows the reader to enter the journeys of each individual character. And finally, travel literature allows the reader to take the authors’ and characters’ stories, and apply their travel to their own lives.

It is for this reason I want to thank Dr. Ellis. As a senior, I can say that this was the best English class I have ever taken at Loyola. Every discussion, blog post and novel has helped me learn a little more about myself. It’s kind of ironic, but this class itself was a form of travel. I began unsure of what I would learn, but came out knowing more about myself than I could ever imagine. Rather than looking only at the surface of things, I urge myself to look a little deeper. I’ve also learned that all experiences whether good or bad hold worth and become part of our individual stories.

So, thank you again Dr. Ellis and fellow travel literature students! I'm going to end this post with a quote from one of my favorite movies, Garden State... "Good luck exploring the infinite abyss."

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