The Diary of Anne Frank Themes
The main themes in The Diary of Anne Frank are repression, adolescence, and identity.
- Repression: The Franks and the Van Daans are forced into hiding by the Nazi occupation of Holland.
- Adolescence: Anne is a precocious thirteen-year-old when her family goes into hiding, but she becomes a young woman while living in the attic.
- Identity: During the years in hiding, Anne searches for her own identity.
Last Updated August 17, 2022.
The Franks, the Van Daans, and Mr. Dussel are all forced into hiding by the Nazi occupation of Holland. In her diary, Anne chronicles how the Nazis began to take away the rights of the Jews. Mr. Frank lost his business. Jews could not attend schools with non-Jews, go to the movies, or ride on the streetcars. After they go into hiding, the Franks and Van Daans learn from Mr. Dussel that the Nazis have sent all the Jews in Amsterdam to concentration camps. The families’ greatest hope for freedom comes from the Allied invasion of the continent, which is led by the Americans.
The rigor of living under such repressive circumstances is seen on a regular basis. The atmosphere in the cramped, crowded attic rooms grows increasingly tense. They cannot set foot aside or breathe fresh air. Anne cannot run, shout, or jump. Giving in to these natural impulses only gets her into trouble, as when she spills milk on Mrs. Van Daan’s coat while dancing around the room. Anne’s budding friendship with Peter is also repressed by the unnatural situation. When she wants to spend time alone with Peter, she may do so only under six sets of watchful eyes, which follow her as she crosses the room to Peter’s door. The effects of such living conditions strain everyone. In act 2, scene 4, when tensions come to a head with Mrs. Frank’s insistence that Mr. Van Daan quit the attic, Mr. Frank tells them, ‘‘We don’t need the Nazis to destroy us. We’re doing it ourselves.’’
Anne is a precocious thirteen-year-old when her family goes into hiding, but she becomes a young woman while living in the attic. Despite the unnatural, frightening circumstances in which she lives, Anne experiences normal adolescent problems, developments, and thrills. Like many teenagers, Anne has a difficult relationship with her mother. Anne believes that her mother does not respect her opinions and makes little effort to understand her. ‘‘Whenever I try to explain my views on life to her,’’ Anne tells her father, ‘‘she asks me if I’m constipated.’’ Unable to stop herself from doing so, Anne often lashes out at Mrs. Frank. Though she feels regret at causing her mother pain, it happens again and again.
Anne’s relationship with Peter most clearly shows her development into young womanhood; for example, she gets dressed up to go visit him in his room at night. The two teenagers form a close friendship, causing both sets of parents to worry about its sexual nature. With Peter, Anne is able to express her innermost feelings, to the extent that she tells him that she would like to share her diary with him. Peter and Anne also share their first kiss. In her diary, she writes about her excitement about this new relationship. ‘‘I must confess that I actually live for the next meeting.… Is there anything lovelier than to sit under the skylight and feel the sun on your cheeks and have a darling boy in your arms?’’
During the years in hiding, Anne also searches for her own identity. In talking with Mr. Frank, she reveals her ambivalence about who she is. ‘‘I have a nicer side, Father, a sweeter, nicer side,’’ she says. She feels that she is really two people, the ‘‘mean Anne’’ who comes out for everyone to see and the ‘‘good Anne’’ who stays hidden inside. Part of her problem in sorting out identity issues, which are quite typical of all teenagers, is that she has no one her own age to talk to. Margot is too...
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serious, and besides, she is always good. For the majority of time, Anne discounts Peter because he is a boy. She has only her diary to turn to, and she writes, ‘‘I feel utterly confused. I am longing … so longing … for everything … for friends … for someone to talk to … someone who understands … someone young, who feels as I do.’’ Anne must draw solely on her own self to sort out these conflicting issues and feelings. While Anne explores her identity through her relationship with Peter, she also explores it through her writing. Her diary allows her to see how much she enjoys writing, and she decides to become a writer when she grows up.
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.