Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 780
Young children often have imaginary friends. As they mature, they replace these spectral companions with real playmates. Anne Frank, after she followed her family into hiding, never enjoyed this luxury. Her diary became her friend, her retreat from a microcosm imposed upon her and the seven other Jews imprisoned in the loft because of Hitler’s master plan of genocide against Jews and other groups. Even before the Franks entered the loft, Anne had named her diary “Kitty.” The day that she received the diary, she wrote that she expected great support from it because she would use it to confide things that she had never been able to tell anyone she had known.
As the diary begins, the young girl writes about herself more than about others, but her scope broadens. As the diary continues, the reader encounters a bright, vibrant adolescent growing into womanhood; in the face of what eventually happens to Anne, the coming-of-age takes on an almost mocking tone for the reader.
Few can read this diary as Anne Frank wrote it. She, unlike her readers, was innocent of the outcome of her family’s twenty-five-month exile. Her last entry, an introspective, self-analytical assessment, is dated August 1, 1944. The dreaded Grüne Polizei made its raid on the Franks’ loft on August 4. By the end of the following March, all of the Franks except Otto were dead. Margot succumbed to typhus at the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, probably in early March, 1945. The same illness killed Anne a week or two later.
No matter how much detachment readers bring to The Diary of a Young Girl, any reading of it is inevitably overshadowed by the specter of death that hung over Jews in Hitler’s Germany and the satellites that it occupied. The book and the subsequent film and stage versions tweak the consciences of those exposed to the story.
Writing with no audience in mind, Anne Frank achieved a voice at once authentic and extraordinarily touching. In the pages of her diary, one is privy to the deepest thoughts of a young girl growing up. Readers are struck by how rapidly Anne Frank matures emotionally and intellectually, having maturity thrust upon her because she has nothing except her imagination to divert her. Introspection becomes her favorite pastime, self-analysis her perpetual game. In a situation in which privacy was impossible, Anne retreated to the privacy of her diary and there made tentative sallies into the young womanhood that most girls of her age make by associating with friends, playing games, seeing films, and dating. These normal outlets were foreclosed, forcing Anne to invent her own.
Given the Frank family’s future and the final outcome of their exile, one discovers ironies in Anne’s diary that are simultaneously chilling and ingratiating. For example, in her entry for December 24, 1943, Anne writes of news that Mrs. Kleiman, one of her family’s Dutch protectors, brings about her daughter, Jopie, also an adolescent. Anne is jealous at hearing how Jopie plays hooky from school, has friends, and belongs to clubs. In this same entry, however, she acknowledges how much luckier she is than many Jewish children of her age.
According to survivors, Anne Frank was a conciliator even during her final months in the concentration camp. Within the confines of exiles’ meager space, Anne becomes Peter Van Daan’s confidante. Peter’s parents frequently argue, which upsets their son. In her entries of March 4 and 6, 1944, Anne speaks warmly about Peter and insightfully of her concerns about his parents. She wonders whether he will fall in love with her; her exuberance in telling Kitty about him suggests that Anne has a heavy crush on this only boy in her sphere. In subsequent weeks, Peter and Anne become closer still and engage in the teenage flirtations expected of young people.
The Van Daans’ cat, Mouchi, enters exile with them, giving them another small mouth to feed but providing them with some diversion. One soon realizes, however, that is it dangerous for the exiles to keep Mouchi: Once when Mouchi relieves itself in a pile of shavings rather than in its litter box, its urine drips through the ceiling of the old building and into a bag of potatoes stored below. No great harm is done, but had the drip been into the warehouse rather than into another part of the loft, everyone’s safety would have been compromised.
Writers create microcosms within which to unfold their stories. Anne Frank’s microcosm was almost as confined as the one that Jean-Paul Sartre created for his play Huis-clos (1944; No Exit, 1946), but Anne did not manufacture the microcosm that was her world for more than two years.