Themes and Meanings
The Diary of Anne Frank receives its power from several sources. It is similar to a Bildungsroman, the poignant vision of a young woman’s coming of age, though in a place where her life is threatened. Anne understands her plight but still hopes for a future when the war is over, when she will be able to develop her talents, study art in Paris, fall in love, and have children. She confides to her diary that she longs for fame, to be always remembered. There is irony in this wish. Though she will die a short time later, in the misery of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, she is destined to become one of the most famous women who ever lived.
The values of friendship and loyalty are celebrated in the play. Two Gentiles, Miep and Mr. Kraler, assist those hidden in the annex, despite the hazards to themselves. In a sad world, these loyal people maintain a humane bond across economic and ethnic lines. Anne also lovingly remembers her friends on the outside and listens attentively when Miep brings any news of this now forbidden arena.
Although the chief action of the play takes place in wartime and all but one of its characters will not survive, the final mood is not despair. Anne’s last disembodied words, affirming the goodness of humanity, are a quote from her real-life diary, though they are rendered out of context. They became the motto of the Anne Frank Foundation, which now operates in many nations to promote peace and fight intolerance.
Throughout the world, the primary audience for this play about Jewish persecution has been Gentile. The playwrights made a conscious decision to stress a universal spiritual message. In one scene where Anne is sharing with Peter some of her most intimate thoughts, she commends the values of a spiritual life. A religion need not be Orthodox, she insists, nor need it be concerned with traditional images of an afterlife. However, a strong confidence in the divine can drive out fear and provide an awareness of a larger pattern in history that makes present trials bearable. Anne goes on to observe that Jews are not the only people who have had to suffer throughout history. She wonders if the world may be going through a phase from which it will eventually pass, as from darkness into light.
Perhaps the ultimate lesson of this play is the necessity of finding voice. In order to preserve painfully earned wisdom, especially of those who have had the misfortune to live in “interesting” times, it is essential to clothe experiences with words. Through her diary, the thoughts, feelings, and impressions of Anne Frank have been unforgettably shared with the entire world.