The Diary of a Young Girl Analysis

Anne Frank

Historical Context

Hitler's Rise to Power
Frank and the others were in hiding from June 1942 to August 1944. World War II lasted from 1939 to 1945, involving the United States, Japan, and most of Europe, including Russia. While the causes of the war are complex, historians agree that without Adolf Hitler's regime there would have been no World War II at that time.

Following World War I, Hitler began to develop his idea of a ‘‘Master Aryan Race.’’ This vision included enlarging Germany by overtaking neighboring countries. The National Socialist Party, or Nazis, believed in a totalitarian government that would, in theory, fairly distribute wealth and provide full employment.

Faced with economic hardship and political uncertainty, Germans were responsive to Hitler's impassioned speechmaking. Hitler maintained that radicals and Jews were to blame for Germany's problems, adding that the Aryan race was naturally superior and, thus, destined to rule the world. In 1933, Hitler became the chancellor of Germany, and, contrary to the terms of the Treaty of Versailles (which ended World War I), Hitler began to build his military. Because these efforts went unchallenged by other European countries, Hitler's war machine was soon well-armed. This re-armament created jobs, restored the economy, and stoked national pride, which increased public acceptance of Hitler.

Armed with a strong military, Hitler invaded Austria and Czechoslovakia in 1938 and set his sights on Poland after France and Britain declared war on Germany. The Allies, however, had not been strengthening their militaries, so they were no match for Hitler's forces. In 1939 and 1940, Hitler invaded Poland, Norway, Holland, Belgium, and France. In 1941, he broke his pact with Stalin and invaded Russia.

Hitler's social design involved banning all other political parties, censoring publications that were not pro-Nazi, and forbidding interaction between Jews and Aryans. Increasingly restrictive measures against Jews followed: they were forbidden to hold public office, teach, practice law or medicine, work in the press, or run businesses; property was seized, fines were imposed, and emigration was stifled. The Nazis were able to secure lists of all Jews in any area, so they forced them to wear identifying yellow stars. These measures...

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Form and Content

On June 12, 1942, Anne Frank celebrated her thirteenth birthday. Of the gifts that she received, the one that she liked best was a clothbound diary. Anne and her family lived in Nazi-occupied Amsterdam, and the net of genocide was closing inexorably around them. A few weeks after Anne’s birthday, her sister, Margot, was ordered to report to the reception center for a concentration camp. The family, driven to desperate measures, foresaw their future. They had prepared a space above Otto Frank’s warehouse and office at 263 Prinsengracht, where they planned to hide, aided by loyal Dutch friends. They entered their loft through a door hidden by a bookcase made in anticipation of this eventuality.

The family went into hiding in July, 1942. Anne’s diary, first published in its totality in 1989, reveals that the Frank family had planned to disappear on July 16, but that the situation in The Netherlands became so threatening for Jews that on July 9 they left their apartment and began their twenty-five-month exile at 263 Prinsengracht. In the full version of Anne’s diary, the resettlement of the Frank family, related in some detail, is accompanied by a detailed description of the rooms where the Franks and four other Jews—the Van Daan family (in real life, the Van Pels family) and Dr. Düssel—lived.

The diary, written chronologically with occasional additions and revisions made within some of the entries, exists in two versions because Anne...

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Context

Anne Frank’s diary is a chronicle of a young girl growing to womanhood. At a time when she should have been exploring her world, Anne, an optimistic, bright, gregarious adolescent, was confined with seven other people to a small, enclosed space. Sounds, light through the painted window, or any small miscue put everyone in this hiding place at risk. The concerns of this young girl focused on a society that arbitrarily singled out specific groups of people and marked them for annihilation. The organized madness that marked more than a decade of Hitler’s rule in Germany blurred the lines that usually define human morality. Under Hitler, wrong equaled right, despotism equaled patriotism.

In such a climate, the thirteen-year-old Anne began a diary that suggests extraordinary writing skills in a young woman coping with a hopeless situation by thinking and writing her way around it. Although she cannot be called a feminist writer, Anne Frank stands as a beacon to all people, especially to writers. The diary contains little rancor, because Anne believed that she would prevail in the end. Although she died, she was correct in her assumption: In the end, she has prevailed through her words. Her most lasting monument is the diary that she left behind. Translated into more than forty languages and transformed into drama, it has perhaps made those who have been exposed to it less willing to subscribe to the kind of despotism that marked the era in which Anne Frank grew to womanhood.

Form and Content

(Critical Edition of Young Adult Fiction)

The Diary of a Young Girl is written in the form of letters to Anne Frank’s imaginary friend, Kitty, telling of daily life and of her thoughts while in the “secret annex” where she and seven other Jews were in hiding after the Nazi invasion of Holland. Although cast in letters, the book is really an autobiographical narrative of Frank’s experiences as she grew up under extremely oppressive conditions. The secret annex consisted of four small rooms with a primitive bathroom and a stove for cooking, concealed at the top and back of a warehouse in central Amsterdam. The book’s original Dutch title, Het Achterhuis, means “the backhouse,” where the entire action takes place.

The Franks had emigrated to Holland in 1933 when the Nazis had come to power and begun to persecute Jews. In July, 1942, together with the Van Daan family, they moved into the secret annex, where they were later joined by Mr. Dussel. They were totally dependent on the kindness and ingenuity of Mr. Koophuis, Mr. Kraler, Miep, and Elli for food and other necessities. Beneath their attic hiding place, there was an office and warehouse, where business was carried out during the day. Consequently, the fugitives had to sit still and silent for hours on end, not daring to speak or move for fear of being discovered. For more than two years, Frank did not leave the hiding place. She longed for fresh air, nature, exercise, and the company of friends; she had only...

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Setting

Anne Frank's diary begins on Sunday, June 14, 1942, during World War II. At this time, thirteen-year-old Anne and her family live in Amsterdam, where she attends the Montessori School. As the Nazis march into Holland, they force Jews to wear identifying badges displaying the Star of David. Shortly thereafter, the Jews begin receiving "call up notices" and are sent to concentration camps. When Margot, Anne's sister, is told to report to S.S. Headquarters, her father realizes that the family must hide and arranges for them to stay at the "Secret Annexe" of the warehouse on Princengracht Street.

The three-story building faces a canal constantly patrolled by the Nazis. The first floor is a warehouse, the second floor consists of offices, and the third floor serves as a storeroom. The storeroom contains several attic rooms not visible from the street. A sliding bookcase at the bottom of the staircase separates the offices from the confined area, where the Franks hide with the Van Daan family and the dentist Mr. Dussel. It is in this setting that Anne's story unfolds.

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Discussion Topics

How does the diary format help readers feel like the writer is a good friend?

What details does Anne Frank share about herself that make her seem like an ordinary teenager?

What passages in the diary are particularly effective in making readers aware of the effects of prejudice?

How do the residents of the annex cope with the stress of life in hiding and of sharing tight living quarters with so many other people?

How does Frank place her family’s problems in the larger context of Adolf Hitler’s effort to eliminate the Jewish people?

Frank revised passages of her diary with publication in mind. What evidence is found in the text that she was thinking about an outside...

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Literary Style

Diary as Confidante
With her diary, Frank creates the friend she never had. Her diary became a person with whom she could be completely open, and in its passages, the reader sees Frank as funny, thoughtful, vindictive, angry, hateful, flippant, and optimistic. Frank initially explains that her schoolmates like her because of her outgoing personality, which frustrates her because she has never shown anyone her serious side. Her first entry states, ‘‘I hope I will be able to confide everything to you, as I have never been able to confide in anyone, and I hope you will be a great source of comfort and support.’’

Frank addresses her diary as if it were a person; she names it ''Kitty'' and writes to it as if it were an outsider. Writing about boys, she remarks on June 20, 1942, ‘‘You're probably a little surprised to hear me talking about admirers at such a tender age.'' At the end of the same entry, she concludes, ''There you are. We've now laid the basis for our friendship.’’ On July 9, 1942, she describes the hiding place, commenting, ''The hiding place was located in Father's office building. That's a little hard for outsiders to understand, so I'll explain.’’ Frank's tone suggests that she is writing letters to a person who is removed from Frank's unique situation. On July 11, 1942, she writes, ‘‘You no doubt want to hear what I think of being in hiding.'' She not only approaches her diary as if it were a separate person, but she also imagines that this person has questions and reactions to what Frank writes. On April 6, 1944, for example, Frank answers Kitty's imagined question about her hobbies and interests. On June 15, 1943, Frank fears that Kitty is at times bored with Frank's writings: ‘‘Heaps of things have happened, but I often think I'm boring you with my dreary chitchat and that you'd just as soon have fewer letters. So I'll keep the news brief.’’ When she feels that Kitty might judge her harshly, she makes a comment such as the one ending the entry on November 7, 1942: ‘‘Don't condemn me, but think of me as a person who sometimes reaches the bursting point!’’

Irreverent Humor
Among Frank's appealing attributes is her sense of humor, which is typical of a teenager in its irreverence and sarcasm. She holds nothing back in her biting portrayals of the...

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Literary Qualities

Anne records her personal actions and feelings in warm, simple conversational language. Her images are vivid; her writing is sincere. She addresses Kitty, the diary, as a human being as she uncovers her true self. Anne describes characters' daily trials and tribulations in such detail that the reader gets to know all of them intimately. These details, combined with Anne's unaffected style, make all the more realistic a story that has captured the hearts of people throughout the world.

Anne Frank is, in a sense, an example of dramatic irony because, unlike the narrator, the reader knows how the story will end. This knowledge on the part of the reader lends a sharp poignancy to the optimism of Anne's last entry.

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Social Sensitivity

The primary social issue addressed in Anne Frank is obviously the persecution of Jews. A familiarity with the history of anti-Semitism may help the reader to better understand the events of the book. Not a new practice, anti-Semitism can be traced back to biblical times and has taken various forms throughout the history of modern man. In the Middle Ages, Jews were forced to wear "Star of David" badges to distinguish them from the rest of society. Designed to humiliate, the badge was referred to as the "Badge of Shame." Similarly, when the Nazis occupied Holland, they not only required Jews to wear the badge, they also forced Jews to turn in their bicycles. Jews could shop only during restricted hours and could buy goods only...

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Bibliography and Further Reading

Sources
Alter, Robert, Review of The Diary of a Young Girl, in New Republic, Vol. 213, No. 23, December 4, 1995, pp. 38-43.

Angier, Carole, ‘‘Spoiling a Good Story,’’ in Spectator, Vol. 278, No. 8792, February 1997, p. 30.

Berryman, John, The Freedom of the Poet, Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1976.

Ezrahi, Sidra Dekoven, By Words Alone: The Holocaust in Literature, University of Chicago Press (Chicago), 1980.

Gilman, Sander L., ‘‘The Dead Child Speaks: Reading The Diary of Anne Frank,’’ in Studies in American Jewish Literature, Vol. 7, No. 1, Spring 1988, p. 9.

Hughes, Kathleen, Review of The...

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Bibliography

(Critical Guide to Censorship and Literature)

Berryman, John. The Freedom of the Poet. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1976. Berryman’s essay “The Development of Anne Frank” reads the diary as an important document about a girl’s maturation into an adult. Berryman draws heavily upon specific examples from the diary, interpreting them well, sometimes in Freudian terms.

Bettelheim, Bruno. Surviving and Other Essays. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1979. In his essay “The Ignored Lesson of Anne Frank,” this noted child psychologist and concentration camp survivor criticizes Otto Frank for not fleeing Holland when he could and for trying to sustain some semblance of normal life for his exiled family. Bettelheim suggests that, once in...

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Bibliography

(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Frank, Anne. The Diary of a Young Girl: The Definitive Edition. Edited by Otto Frank and Miriam Pressler. New York: Doubleday, 1995. Contains passages from two versions of Frank’s diary entries in addition to the original text published in English in 1951.

Frank, Anne. Tales from the Secret Annex. Translated by Ralph Manheim and Michel Mok. 1949. Reprint. New York: Bantam, 1994. A collection of Frank’s short stories, an unfinished novel, fables, personal narratives, and excerpts from her diary excluded from the original published version.

Gies, Miep, and Alison Gold. Anne Frank Remembered: The Story of Miep Gies Who Helped to Hide the Frank Family. London: Corgi, 1988. A vital retelling by the heroic woman who protected the Franks and saved Anne’s diary.

Gold, Alison Leslie. Memories of Anne Frank: Reflections of a Childhood Friend. New York: Scholastic Press, 1997. The recollections of Hannah Pick-Goslar, one of Frank’s childhood friends who was also imprisoned with Anne and Margot Frank in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. Includes photographs.

Lindwer, Willy. Last Seven Months of Anne Frank. Translated by Alison Meersschaert. New York: Pantheon, 1991. Presents interviews with Anne’s friends at Bergen-Belsen who witnessed her deterioration and death....

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Compare and Contrast

Early 1940s: For Frank's fifteenth birthday, she receives art history books, underwear, belts, a handkerchief, yogurt, jam, two honey cookies, a botany book, a bracelet, a sticker album, peas, candy, notebooks, flowers, and cream cheese.

Today: For her birthday, a typical fifteen-year-old girl in the United States receives such items as music CDs, hair accessories, video games, designer clothing, make-up, jewelry, gift certificates for shopping, and dinner at a nice restaurant.

Early 1940s: The hideaways' diet consists of limited portions of bread, beans, soup, turnip greens, rotten carrots, potatoes, tomatoes, lettuce, peas, pickled kale, and strawberries—but not all at once.

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Topics for Discussion

1. Why doesn't Anne's father take the family to another country?

2. What influences people like Miep, Elli, Kraler, and Koophuis to risk their lives to save others?

3. Of the eight people in hiding, whose personality changes the most in the course of the diary?

4. Mr. Dussel sees Anne as a spoiled, obnoxious chatterbox. Is this view justified?

5. Who tells the Nazis about the people in hiding?

6. Knowing that she is doomed, what is your reaction to Anne's ending the diary on an optimistic note?

7. If Anne had expected her diary to be published, would she have written differently? Would she have eliminated some personal topics?

8. Would Anne and...

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Ideas for Reports and Papers

1. Different theories on the authorship of the diary have emerged. Some say that Anne's father completely revised the text. Others contend that much material from the original diary was omitted from the published version. Research this topic, and write a paper explaining which theory you believe to be correct.

2. Elie Wiesel's book Night is a young boy's account of the Holocaust. Read Night and compare and contrast it with Anne Frank.

3. Research the Holocaust period and Hitler's rise to power. Why did people allow a dictator to rule them?

4. After the war, Nazi soldiers were brought to trial for crimes against humanity. Many tried to justify their actions by saying that they...

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Topics for Further Study

Read one of Frank's short stories. Do you think the story has literary merit? Do you believe, based on the story, that Frank would have been a good fiction writer? Are there stylistic or thematic similarities to The Diary of a Young Girl?

Imagine that Frank survived World War II and that you are looking forward to attending a lecture given by her at a local university. Choose any theme you deem appropriate and write her lecture. Consider how she may or may not have changed since her teenage years in the Secret Annex. Also speculate on what she would be doing today had she lived.

Research the Jim Crow laws, which sustained racial segregation in the American South during the first part of the twentieth...

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Related Titles / Adaptations

Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl has been adapted both to the stage and to film under the title The Diary of Anne Frank. The adaptations follow the basic ideas of the diary and capture the spirit of the young girl. The play, adapted by Albert Hackett and Frances Goodrich, enjoyed a successful Broadway run beginning in 1955 and won a Pulitzer Prize, as well as the New York Drama Critics Circle Award as the best new American drama. Based on the Hackett and Goodrich script, George Stevens directed a film version released by Twentieth Century Fox in 1959. Starring Millie Perkins as Anne, Joseph Schildkraut as Otto Frank, and Shelley Winters as Mrs. Van Daan, the movie was both a commercial and a critical success,...

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Media Adaptations

The Diary of a Young Girl was adapted for the stage by the screenwriting team of Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett. The play, Diary of Anne Frank, was first performed in New York City in 1955, and the play was published by Random House in 1956. The play won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1956. Another stage adaptation was made for the English stage in 1955.

In 1959, a film adaptation was made by Twentieth-Century Fox. It was called The Diary of Anne Frank. A television movie version was made in 1980, starring Melissa Gilbert.

Spoken Arts released a recording of some passages of the diary in 1974, and Caedmon did the same in 1977, which was read by Julie Harris.

A...

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What Do I Read Next?

Judy Blume's classic Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret (1971) is about twelve-year-old Margaret, who faces the many challenges and fears of adolescence. Margaret is half-Jewish and half-Gentile, and she struggles to make decisions about her religious beliefs.

Anne Frank's short stories are collected in Anne Frank's Tales from the Secret Annex (1959). These stories are inspired by her experiences while she and her family were in hiding.

In Anne Frank Remembered: The Story of the Woman Who Helped to Hide the Franks (1987), Miep Gies and Alison Leslie Gold describe what it was like to know Frank while the group was in hiding.

Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett's stage...

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