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Maus by Art Spiegelman

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This was a contender for February's Reading Circle and although it didn't win, it was a popular choice.

 

So, after discussing it with the good Lady Kell, I've started this thread:



If anyone would like to discuss The Complete Maus during February, they may now do so: Hooray!

 

The discussion should really start properly in Feb, but in the meantime, please feel free to say you'd like to take part and when you have a copy of the book to hand.

 

Big thanks again to Kell, and I'll be posting all the blurb shortly.

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The Complete Maus by Art Spiegelman

 

The Blurb

The Pulitzer-Prize winning graphic novel combines Maus I: A Survivor's Tale and Maus II: And Here My Troubles Began, thus forming the complete story of Vladek Spiegelman and his wife as they attempt to survive Hitler's Europe, told by their son 'Artie' (i.e. Art Spiegelman). By addressing the horror of the Holocaust through cartoon form, Spiegelman captures the everyday reality of fear and is able to explore the guilt, relief and extraordinary sensation of survival - and how the children of survivors are in their own way affected by the trials of their parents. A contemporary classic of immeasurable significance.

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...I couldn't wait, so did lift the cover last night and read the first chapter, I really like it too. I like Mr Speiglemans accent! He's written it really well I think! Plus some of the touches in the pictures are good (don't want to say too much at this early stage!!).

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Hello my fellow Maus-kateers! (I'm SO sorry: I couldn't resist that).

 

Thank you all for your enthusiasm at starting this thread; it's so lovely to see people getting fired up about reading something a bit different!

 

As it is now February, I thought I'd post some initial questions and thought-prompters. There are no spoliers and they're quite general, as I know people have either just started reading or are still waiting for their shiny new copies.

 

You don't have answer any or all of them; I just thought it might be useful and a good way to start the discussion :D

 

So, here we go:

 

* If this is your first time reading a graphic novel, how are you finding reading the format so far? Do you find it 'easier' or more difficult than reading a purely text-based book? What do you think of Art Spiegelman's style of writing and illustration?

 

* If you're an experienced graphic novel reader, what are your first thoughts on Spiegelman's style of writing and illustration in comparison to other graphic novels you have read?

 

* One key - and often controversial - aspect of Maus, is Spiegelman's 'animalisation' of human characters. What were your first reactions to this, and why do you think Spiegelman decided to do this?

 

* One part of the Maus that, I think, gets overlooked is the prologue (pp.5-6). What do you think the significance of this might be? Do you have any ideas why Spiegelman included it?

 

* What are your initial thoughts about the character of Vladek, Art's father? Do you change your mind about Vladek between how he is depicted in the past, Holocaust narrative and how he is shown in the 'present', as an old man?

 

* This might be a better question for after we've all read it, but so far, how does Maus compare to other Holocaust narratives you may have read?

 

Happy reading!! :friends0:

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I began reading it! My first impressions were that someone had poorly translated the book. But then I realized that accents are given to people from the "old country", which I found to add definition to the characters.

 

Now, to answer one of Polka Dot Rock's leading questions:

If this is your first time reading a graphic novel, how are you finding reading the format so far? Do you find it 'easier' or more difficult than reading a purely text-based book? What do you think of Art Spiegelman's style of writing and illustration?

 

Even though I knew it would be a graphic novel (because you told us in the description of the book), surpisingly, at first, I didn't really pay attention to the illustrations, I was just reading the text and consepualizing it for myself. Then, all of a sudden I realised that there were differen't animals. I reamember glancing at one of the pictures and seeing a pig and thinking...either Spiegelman can't draw, or that's a pig... . I'm still reading, so I don't know exactly why Spiegelman would do this, but it does seem significant.

 

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Even though I knew it would be a graphic novel (because you told us in the description of the book), surpisingly, at first, I didn't really pay attention to the illustrations, I was just reading the text and consepualizing it for myself. Then, all of a sudden I realised that there were differen't animals. I reamember glancing at one of the pictures and seeing a pig and thinking...either Spiegelman can't draw, or that's a pig... . I'm still reading, so I don't know exactly why Spiegelman would do this, but it does seem significant.

 

Hello again!

 

Just thought I'd share a few of my thoughts thus far, particularly regarding the use of 'animals' in Maus.

 

Spiegelman has suggested that he used animal-figures as to 'cartoon' the Holocaust with human would have brought a whole heap of problem upon the creation of Maus: i.e. how realistic/detailed should the characters look, did they look like the people they were meant to portray etc. It's certainly true that by depicting every character as a particular animal, it takes the pressure off both Spiegelman and the reader by remembering who's who. He also plays with the concept, as you'll see as the book progresses...

 

What has proved controversial since Maus' first installment is Spiegelman

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One part of the Maus that, I think, gets overlooked is the prologue (pp.5-6). What do you think the significance of this might be? Do you have any ideas why Spiegelman included it?

 

I put a lot of thought into this part after reading it, Vladek says to Art after Art comes home upset because his friends left him behind when he fell, '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!', I think the significance of is Vladek trying to tell Art that during the war, there was no such things as friends everyone was looking after their own, and in some cases willing to betray friends, so Vladek is basically saying I think, that even though Art's friends have run away from him, there are worse things that 'Friends' can do to you.

 

Hope that makes sense...

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I am not very good at this but here are my thoughts so far.

 

This is my first time reading a graphic novel and I like the format. It is as easy to read as most text based books. I like the style of writing. Occasionally I have to stop and re-read something but that is usually because it is in the father

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I think the significance of is Vladek trying to tell Art that during the war, there was no such things as friends everyone was looking after their own, and in some cases willing to betray friends, so Vladek is basically saying I think, that even though Art's friends have run away from him, there are worse things that 'Friends' can do to you.

 

Hope that makes sense...

 

 

HI Gyre

 

 

Initially I had thought that the prologue was included to show the difference between fleeting friendships and those of real friends who would put themselves in danger for you.

 

However as I read more I could see that in a great many instances there was no such thing as "friendship". So you are right when you say that there are worse things that friends can do.

 

 

I also think that it shows how Vladek related everything back to the war.

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Wow! The animal question is really interesting once you start seeing other peoples views!

 

To my mind, having completely different animals 'play the parts' of different religions/nationalities it really shows the segregation of the time. Even though every person probably looked pretty similar, the division of people was very apparent. The different animals in the story capture this perfectly! Obviously the cat and mouse thing works well. I personally haven't picked up on the pigs as a negative as I adore pigs (:)) (..I can see how the Polish people wouldn't be so pleased though, now that you mention it!). Amy this " It could also be seen as comment on the faceless mass extermination of the Jews during the Holocaust: as what frequently happens to mice." made me go cold.. I guess this is one reason why we are reading it! ...plus "some critical commentators were upset at the possible suggestion of the Jews being equal to 'vermin'" ...Speigleman is talking about his own family! The critical commentators I imagine were looking for sensationalism as there is now way he would have slurred the Jewish people!

 

This is what I was thinking too Paula "Initially I had thought that the prologue was included to show the difference between fleeting friendships and those of real friends who would put themselves in danger for you." ...I think I need to read further to see if it holds true!

So far (and I'm not a very long way in..), I'm really enjoying Vladek's character as he tells the story. I think I mentioned earlier that I love his voice, the way his accent carries through in the writing and the way that he is so 'no nonsense' with his son and Mala. He also seems very determined at this early stage so I'm keen to see if this trait carries through. - I thought it was really funny when he first visited Anya's house and was checking her housekeeping skills and her tablets, such a different time!

 

I'm looking forward to reading about he and Mala's story as they seem so unhappy together, I'm wondering if they were brought together out of convenience in a way. He's so mean to her! ..and it shows on her face, have you noticed the dark circles under her eyes? - the expressions are wonderful, so much can be portrayed with just the moving of Vladek's eyebrows!!

 

It is quite chilling to read though, when they are in the 'striped pyjamas' with their one blanket, that's really how it was; and the winters are so cold. I keep thinking outside of the mice and into the real world and it's just horrible. ..it's a difficult book this one as I like to waffle on about drawings and characters, but sometimes I feel that it's just to flippant to not address the core of it.. I'm just going to write what comes into my head, I hope no-one minds (if flippant or serious) :D getting myself into a pickle!!

 

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I am reading really slowly so I don't miss anything but I am enjoying the book and reading everyone's views, I am not the most confidence about posting my views on books sometimes but it is a great atmosphere here.

 

I like Vladek too, the way he talks, the way he looks at life, his relationship with Mala is interesting, but what is more interesting is Art's obvious resistant to talk about it with his dad, maybe Art is a little afraid of opening bad memories, or should I say, even more bad memories, I find Vladek and Mala's relationship complicated. There is one part where Art says he is afraid to show his dad in a bad light (that is not the exact words, sorry), because of the way Vladek is about money, etc, but I don't think it does show Vladek in a bad light, it shows that Vladek still carries a lot of scars from the war.

 

I am away to read some more...

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I'm looking forward to reading about he and Mala's story as they seem so unhappy together, I'm wondering if they were brought together out of convenience in a way. He's so mean to her!
I'm not sure how recently it went on, but certainly a major tradition in the Jewish people in many parts of Europe was to approach a Matchmaker to find you a good wife from a good family and it would all go ahead whether or not the girl was happy with the match.

 

I am so looking forward to reading this - it sounds absolutely intriguing!

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Kell, that sounds interesting and familiar, I am pretty sure that happens, but I also think if a member of the family dies, they will match a unmarried relative with the widow/widower, I don't know, I could be wrong.

 

 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Matchmaking

 

This might shed some light...

 

:D

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Paula said:

but what is more interesting is Art's obvious resistant to talk about it with his dad,

 

...I feel he is resistant to talk to his dad on this as it's frustrating, he's dad clearly will not do anything to improve the situation, he can be so stubborn! Also, it seems Art has affection for Mala, I noticed once or twice that he has stood up for her. It is interesting, I hope he expands this bit of the plot later on!

 

Vladek still carries a lot of scars from the war.

 

I agree with this too! During the war he seems so practical and on the ball, I really admire his character and presence of mind at this difficult time. Now that he has survived, it is like he still has the survival instinct in the back of his mind, for example by saving, and finding useful items to store away. I also like his strong sense of family, that he prefers to send things to others to make sure they are ok rather than spending his money on himself...my word though he's a crabby ole fellow! :D

 

The story got a little too much for me last night and I had to stop reading.

Anya's father was taken away from the 'holding' apartment to be taken to Auschwitz. The anguish on his face and the text in this scene was unbearable. Especially when you consider that these are true events. Added to that was the taking away of the children a little bit earlier on, it makes me wonder what sort of people the soldiers were; it's one thing to carry out orders, but a whole other to be so brutal. Horrible.

 

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...I feel he is resistant to talk to his dad on this as it's frustrating, he's dad clearly will not do anything to improve the situation, he can be so stubborn! Also, it seems Art has affection for Mala, I noticed once or twice that he has stood up for her. It is interesting, I hope he expands this bit of the plot later on!

 

Great points Princess, I agree it is frustrating for Art to talk to his dad, because lets face it, the shutters come down,

then there is the part when we find out that Vladek has destroyed all of his Anja's diaries, which is hard for Art to take, in fact he calls his dad a murderer, do you think in some subconscious way that Art blames Vladek for Anja's untimely death. I think Art genuinely cares about Mala, they have a connection, a big one, namely Vladek, who at times is a lot to cope with.

 

 

I admire Vladek's will more than anything, the lenghts he went to during the war to protect everything precious to him is just incredible, he was very practical in more ways than one, at one point he tells Anja, that there are no friends, all they have is each other, a fact I think that got him through the hard times.

 

The part with Anja's father was just heartbreaking, it really was, I had to stop reading after the part with Art's brother, Riecheu (I hope I spelt that correctly) was awful, you never imagine anything happening to anyone like that, making that choice, to died quickly or face death when your time comes, if that make sense, it will take so much strength to make that decision.

 

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The story got a little too much for me last night and I had to stop reading.

Anya's father was taken away from the 'holding' apartment to be taken to Auschwitz. The anguish on his face and the text in this scene was unbearable. Especially when you consider that these are true events. Added to that was the taking away of the children a little bit earlier on, it makes me wonder what sort of people the soldiers were; it's one thing to carry out orders, but a whole other to be so brutal. Horrible.

 

The part with Anja's father was just heartbreaking, it really was, I had to stop reading after the part with Art's brother, Riecheu (I hope I spelt that correctly) was awful, you never imagine anything happening to anyone like that, making that choice, to died quickly or face death when your time comes, if that make sense, it will take so much strength to make that decision.

 

I went to Auschwitz I and Birkenau (Auschwitz III) in 1999, and the reports of what some of the soldiers did were... just awful. It was what happened to some of the children there that was so horrific. (The following isn't a spolier as such, I just covered it was it might be a bit distressing for some people to read).

When babies came into Auschwitz I, usually took them from their mothers and they were killed on the spot. But some of the ways they did it were just so violent and brutal. Animals weren't even treated like that...

 

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I read about that too PDR, I am ashamed to say, I thought to myself, 'I hope it was quick' x

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These are my thoughts, having finshed this wonderful book. They are a bit long, so I don't expect folk to read them all in one go. Also I have not directly acknowledged who said what before me as it's taken so long to get this on paper, but I've only directly quoted one person anyway.

 

Here goes...

 

Maus.



I loved the idea of animals portraying different cultures and religious denominations etc. I agree that its easier to follow than trying to recognise human characters by the illustrations. However, I was a wee bit confused by the Polish Pigs.It took me a while to work it out. With all literature, there is a raft of possible interpretations. The Kosher thing makes sense.It occured to me afterwards too, that we say things like 'he's just an ignorant pig', which is a terrible slur on pigs, poor things as they are very intelligent apparently, but if used as such for the books meaning, is very effective, because most of us can relate to it.

 

 

I noticed early on that the mice illustrations were bland, all the same...Hitler didn't want people to familiarise with Jews...they might like them, so they were the threatening faceless mass. If they were faceless, they could not be mourned, or missed or attributed any positive traits. Very clever. I also wondered following on from someone else's comment about mass mouse destruction, that to me, although not the same creatures, lemmings are known to fling themselves in masses over the tops of cliffs (or something similar). Although they do it deliberately, and The Jews were victims, there are paralels, if only in the idea of fleeing masses and mass destruction. The fact that they all think as one, relates to the peoples being brainwashed and acting as one...this time chasing the mass of lemmings or mice.



Probably nonense, just me and my strange mind.

 

Hitler thought they were Vermin, and thats how they were treated by everyone.



PsP said

 

"some critical commentators were upset at the possible suggestion of the Jews being equal to 'vermin'"
...Speigleman is talking about his own family! The critical commentators I imagine were looking for sensationalism as there is now way he would have slurred the Jewish people!

 

</I>



 

 

One thing that struck me about the animal illustrations is that the mice all look so cute and lovable....maybe a deliberate ploy to get the reader's sympathy, get them on side?

 

 

 

 

 

Prologue

PsP. I do not think he added this as 'his' slur ...he used it to try and get the message across that that is what Hitler thought and was the popular propaganda.


I think that gets the message across to the reader exactly what he thought of them and how he ranked them.

I agree with Gyre, but also it seems to suggest that he does not trust anyone anymore and is warning Artie not to trust others too.His issues of mistrust even extend to his family. Mala, in particlar, Artie and even Franscoise, who he does not trust to do the accounts.Because he cannot trust anyone, he cannot relax and is thus very tense and defensive. Of course degrees of trust are liable to change with circumstances, and whereas in the war he literally could not afford to trust anyone but himself, in peace time, things are different, and Artie needs to make mistakes in order to learn this version of trust, but his father is unsympathetic and blunt. He means well, but it is over the top.



 

 

Vladek burned Anja's diaries on a bad day(not a quote), which may well be true, but although we hear that she wrote them throughout the war, he does not give us any information about her writing after the war. Did it cease? Or, as is more likely that it continued and revealed how unhappy and desperate she was. After she died he destroyed them. Who wouldn't want to destroy evidence like that? Rather than confront it, or, have it around so that the rest of the world and Artie, in particular would realise what had gone on in the relationship, it was easier to pretend that the post war memoirs had never existed.Easier to say that the war diaries had burned because he had missed Anja so much.

 

Young Vladek was very resourceful and on the ball, obviously a bright young man. Generous of spirit, where he could be. I particularly liked the bit where he procured the shoes, belt and fork for his friend. His friend had a hard time, my heart went out to him.

His meaness comes directly from having to save every crumb, not just to eat but to barter favours or freedom. Unfortunately, many years after the war, he has not come to terms with the changing world, the wastage, the wanton exspenditure, as he sees it. This was illustrated well by his return of used foods to the supermarket. He genuinely could not see anything wrong with this, and obviously the manager had a hard time arguing with him and gave in. Vladek used his experiences to win him want he wanted. This manipulation is not good, but it is understandable, as is his meanness. I remember my grandmother and my parents all being very careful about buying things in the first place, and not wasting anything. My fathers favourite phrase was 'waste not, want not'. Many people were affected and probaly still are by that particular issue of the war.

 

Vladeks voice is great. He had learnt English as he hoped to go to America one day, but it was a very stilted English, perhaps he arrived too late in US to perfect it. But it adds a great dimension to the story. And you always know what he means.

 

 

Artie

Artie, I suspect, is one bundle of repressed angst. He does a good job of not showing it, and seems to have his life in order, but the issues around his mother, his guilt about his older brother, and his very mixed feeling towards his father, must have left their mark. Also, imagine living with a father in Vladeks state, for any length of time. It's fair to say that Artie finds it difficult to be tolerant in his fathers company, and part of that may be because he finds it difficlt to cope with his own memories of his life with his parents.

His relationship with Mala is strange. Maybe, having read the info from the page someone left about Jewish marriages, she was already known to him as an aunt. Plus, of course as someone else pointed out, there is an automatic bond between them as they are the two people who have to deal with Vladek. They support each other.

 

 

There's heaps more to say about this great book. I loved it and will definitely be recommending it to others. I have not read many books about the war, or the holocaust, as its a subject I find very painful. Not because of experience, or family experience, but because I know from news programes and documentaries how terrible it was. I managed this book though, so might make a leap and read something Like Anne Franks Diary's.

 

Thank you for introducing me to this book PDR and PSP

Vladek.


 

His memories of Anja had me convinced that their relationship was wonderful and still wonderful after the war, but why did she kill herself? The answer must be because of his behaviour, which was probably even worse then, when you consider that he has probably mellowed a bit in time. Things were obviously not right and Artie blames his father, but won't confront him directly, always changing the subject. As with all children, he perhaps thought he was to blame for his mothers problems.Vladek only has the good times to cling onto. If he was responsible for his wife's demise, and with all that preceded it, what a burden to carry. No wonder he is so tense. So he tries to convince himself and those around him that he and Anja were happy.

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I'm already up to Chapter 4: The Noose Tightens and have to say I'm really getting into this. I haven't read a graphic novel since I was about 14 or 15 years old and now I'm wondering why I ever stopped, as this one is so very good. i love the "voice" of Vladek - so very, very Jewish, with his reversal of words within sentences - I half expect him to greet his son with "Nu?" ("So?" - a catc h-all phrase, the menaing of which can change depending on the situation). I'm also enjoying the fact that each little section starts with Art visiting his father and occasionally has Vladek saying something like, "But I don't want you to write that bit in your book." It makes it feel all the more personal, yet making us one step removed from the action. The whole animals-as-people aspect makes it feel very Orwellian in approach, but having the story presented in cartoon pictures makes a difficult subject more accessible to the reader, in a way that we perhaps wouldn't be if it were only words on the page, or action on a screen.

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Yes, I liked the fact that we were taken from present i.e. Artie writing his book, to the past and back again so that we were experiencing Artie writing the book. As you say Kell, it made it more personal, or believable.The fact that Vladek didn't want certain bits included in the book, but Artie still put them in (although of course we don't know how much was left out!), seems to indicate to me that for Artie it was important in a carthartic sense, maybe as an expression of his anger or resentment towards his father. I don't think he hated his father, but definitely had alot of unvoiced issues.

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Have now just finished all of part one &, whaddaya know? "Nu?" showed up repeatedly throughout it - LOL! I also found interesting the fact that the only time human faces were given to characters was during the section where Art's previous strip about his mother's suicide in the 60s. Perhaps because it's after the war & the people are no longer catagorised in the same way as they were during the atrocities?

 

Edited to add: I also especially liked the symbolism of the roads in Nazi-occupied Poland taking the form of a swastika - very clever!

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Kell Said:

Edited to add: I also especially liked the symbolism of the roads in Nazi-occupied Poland taking the form of a swastika - very clever!

 

I noticed that too, it kind of blew me away at the time, that all roads lead to the same end, there was no escaping their fate. It was a very powerful image.

 

PP! What a wonderful post!! I find myself now with nothing to add!! Lol!!

 

I finished this book a few days ago, after putting it down for a few days as it just got too harrowing for me. You're right, with Vladek telling the story the Art, and with the additional dialogue between them, it did make the story such much more personal and affecting. That added to it being a true story and realising the long term affects that the war has had on not just individuals but generations too; incredibly moving.

 

With the animalisation.. did you notice that there weren't any British people, apart from at the very end, there seemed to be a token jeep with a British flag, and two fish driving :lol: ..why do you think we are fish? I can't figure it out. I was thinking that the animals may represent terms commonly used to describe the nationality (such as frogs for the french). A colleague told me that dogs may be used for the americans because of a phrase 'yankee dog', I haven't heard of this though. I just wondered what people thought the fish meant (if anything!). My colleague again thought it maybe because we are a predominantly christian nation and the fish is the symbol of christianity. Any thoughts? ..my mum said that the British are 'wet fish' lol!

 

..ps.. Paula, don't be ashamed to say that you hope it was quick, I think that in this instance, it is all we can do to hope. It was a terrible, terrible time, and the more I find out the more horrified I get that this could actually have taken place (and that sadly, the world may not have learnt as many lessons as it should have).

 

This book should be on national curriculums across the world!

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With the animalisation.. did you notice that there weren't any British people, apart from at the very end, there seemed to be a token jeep with a British flag, and two fish driving :lol: ..why do you think we are fish?
I was thinking about this & it was actually Dale who said "maybe it's coz of Fish & Chips being pretty much the national dish". He could be right, I suppose!

 

This book should be on national curriculums across the world!
I agree - it would certainly be a way of getting young adults interested n the subject, due to the format being one that is traditionally aimed at their age group.

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PsP said

..why do you think we are fish? I can't figure it out. I was thinking that the animals may represent terms commonly used to describe the nationality (such as frogs for the french

 

My guess, would be the religious sign of the fish, i.e Fish represents one kind of christianity, as opposed to others. I don't know much abut religion, but as I was reading your ponderings that was what occured to me.

The other obvious possibility is the fact the uk is an island and therefore surrounded by fish. Therefore anything from North Sea and channel and across uk could be considered fish.

 

Who knows. Interesting point though. I have to admit I didn't notice the Fish, nor did I notice the road symbolism either.:lol:

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