Write a NO MORE THAN 1000-word essay about the book Maus, the film A Serious Man, or both. Your essay can explore any major components you want but, needs to analyze how these stories understand the way we talk about what it means to be human in a world structured by race and religion, and especially what it means to tell stories about racial/religious violence. Both of these texts are clear on their thesis: to be Jewish is to suffer. This suffering is different from Fanon’s diagnosis of Black suffering or McKittrick’s idea of Blackness as a rupture in history, though. A Serious Man posits that perhaps the ultimate marking of being Jewish–this tremendous ethnic-religious community containing generations of wisdom and stories and community–doesn’t actually eliminate suffering. Jews are deeply historical, God’s chosen people, and that’s the problem for these texts. Maus is especially concerned with how people live with racialized oppression; his father was literally put in a death camp during an ethnic genocide. How does he carry these histories, this history of being Jewish that attempts to hold onto being Jewish when being Jewish literally meant death? Namely, though, as is especially clear in Book II and A Serious Man, how do we understand this with regards to white Jews? Vladek and Larry are both white, and (especially Vladek) benefit from racism and at times perpetuate it. Are Jews white in these stories? Maus wrestles with this, opening with that Hitler quote saying “The Jews are undoubtedly a race, but they are not human.” What does it mean for Jews to be “a race” and also “not human,” but also, especially in America, people with at least a solid amount of white privilege? Even as Larry lives in fear of his racist non-Jewish neighbor literally shooting him, the Gobnicks still get to live in very nice and lovely (and white) suburbs of Minneapolis. Further, more than anything else we’ve discussed, you should attempt to show how religion plays a role here, not simply one of othering in which Jews become deviant by virtue of being not Christian but also how Jews utilize Judaism as a method of forging their own identity. Anyway, that’s the trifecta we’ve had all semester here really coming into view: Religion/Race/Human are forming one another, a strange assemblage of things that form the incredibly fuzzy category of “identity.”
More than anything, though, you need to make an argument about these pieces of media that engages with their ideas about race and religion, while offering your own analysis rooted in our critical study of these categories.
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