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The Diary of a Young Girl | Study Guide

Anne Frank

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The Diary of a Young Girl | Themes


Themes in a diary aren't quite like themes in a novel or short story. A fiction writer's goal is to create an imaginary story, while a diarist wants to recount what actually happens in his or her real life. A novelist often chooses particular themes for effect; a diarist is less likely to do so. Still, few diaries are free of themes. Consciously or not, diarists like Anne Frank give priority to topics that are important to them, and these topics tend to recur throughout the diary, forming specific themes.

Life in Hiding

For two years Anne Frank, her family, and four other people are confined to a cramped apartment called the "Secret Annex." To avoid being discovered, they are forced to spend every day in silence. Even looking out a window is forbidden, although they find ways to do it. At first, Anne is intrigued by the novelty of the situation. But reality soon sets in, and the fear of being found by the Nazis makes the Annex a tense, often frightening, space. She and the other residents in hiding face a further challenge: being completely dependent on outside helpers who would be punished if it were discovered that they are helping Anne and the others to hide. As the months pass, Anne begins to contrast her own fate with that of the Dutch Jews who aren't lucky enough to be in hiding.

Living in hiding causes a great deal of stress for all the residents, who inevitably wind up rubbing each other the wrong way. The fear of being discovered, the lack of privacy, the clash of personalities, and the increasingly miserable food take their toll. Anne, the youngest resident in the Annex, faces special dilemmas. The situation in the Annex, with its secrecy and silence, is unnatural for a lively, young girl. In addition, Anne wants to establish her own identity, but is surrounded by adults who she feels misunderstand her, and they are all telling her what to do. She longs for the outside world, but along with the other residents, she is forced to remain inside the Annex.

World War II

War transforms every aspect of Anne's life, and she is never free of fear. At the very beginning of her diary, Anne mentions the war only in passing. On June 20, 1942, Anne describes the series of anti-Jewish decrees that the Nazis have established, beginning in 1940, to curtail basic freedoms, but she feels they are more of an inconvenience than a larger threat. On July 5, 1942, her father warns Anne that the family will soon be going into hiding and tells her, "Just enjoy your carefree life while you can." By the time Anne writes the next entry on July 8, the Franks have already moved into the Secret Annex. From then on, the war is a constant topic in Anne's diary, and she is worried for her own safety and that of the people she loves.

For a writer, a war is an endlessly intriguing topic, and Anne makes good use of her material. Her own war reporting provides some of the most affecting passages in the diary; so do her reflections on what the war means to her personally. War offers her a chance to strengthen her own character, and she's motivated by her certainty that what she's writing will be read when the war ends. For the reader, the built-in tragedy of Anne's diary is knowing that she'll never have the chance to see the impact of her words on millions of readers.

Becoming Independent

Anne must navigate the road to independence under the scrutiny of five adults in the close quarters of the Secret Annex. What would Anne do without her diary? It's her own private safety valve. Within its pages, Anne can freely complain, rage, and gossip. She can also confide the intimate details she'd normally have shared with friends as she grows up.

As her diary reveals, the adults in the Secret Annex are all too willing to give Anne instructions, supervision, and discipline. When she and Peter van Daan become infatuated, there's almost no place they can be alone. The only areas in which Anne seems independent is her education and her writing. She's responsible for devising her own curriculum and studying, and for writing in her diary regularly. Anne begins and ends the diary feeling that she is alone in the world. While she values the introspection that makes her such an observant writer, she often regrets that her relationships with other people aren't closer. Despite this, she remains fiercely committed to establishing an authentic life of her own.

Reading and Writing

In the Annex, reading is an important tool for mental survival during a terrible, and increasingly dangerous, time. In addition to reading a wide range of fiction and nonfiction, some residents even opt to educate themselves, like Anne's father, Otto, and study languages or other subjects. Anne, her sister Margot Frank, and Peter van Daan are no longer in school, so they must study to keep up their education. Anne reads a great deal on her own, however. For her, reading reinforces her connection to the outside world and points to a constructive future beyond the war. Her intensive reading also contributes to making her a stronger writer.

The entire Frank family tries their hand at writing stories and poems at various points, but Anne is the only one who keeps a diary or plans to make writing her career. Despite an unbelievably challenging environment, Anne never abandons her goal of becoming a published author. Writing is her life's blood. Writing the diary fulfills many functions for her. The diary acts as a secret space for Anne within the Secret Annex where she can be her true self, giving her some much-needed privacy to escape from the overcrowded annex. The diary, which she names "Kitty," serves as her confidant: in its pages, Anne can say exactly what she thinks and feels, and sort out her problems. Published in 1947, two years after Anne's death, the diary is an important firsthand historical account of the life of Jews and others during wartime.

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