The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank, Essay Example

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Essay

Introduction

My reasons for choosing Anne Frank’s legendary, The Diary of a Young Girl, go to motives both plain to me and somewhat undefined.  On a basic level, this journal is an iconic piece of literature unlike any other; the genuine reflections and feelings of the girl, never written with an intent of publication, are set against one of the most horrific eras of humanity’s history, and this is clearly a compelling element of it.  On another, I am of German background myself, and I recall very well my grandmother telling me Anne Frank’s actual story.  This gave it a kind of mythic quality to me, as I also had a sense of relating to this young girl in some way.  Even as my grandmother would talk to me about Frank, I would wonder: could that have been me, simply set in another home and in another time?  For years I have felt that there is a kinship between her and myself, and I was eager to explore how genuine this feeling was.  Then, I have also believed that so basic a form of story-telling must have within it a core of basic truth, and of a kind no fiction could reveal.  I have always been fascinated by this aspect of the story, even as it makes all readers of it violators of one girl’s intimate thoughts, and I was also curious to discover just how Anne took in of what was occurring all around her.  In reading the diary, I could grasp a culture both familiar to me and yet alien, I could see through the eyes of another “self,”  and I might understand a little of how a single human being exists within a terrifying period of history.

The Diary

Anne’s story begins in 1942, when she turns thirteen and receives the diary as a birthday gift.  She and her family have moved to the Netherlands from Germany, as Nazi persecution was making life for Jews there difficult, if not outright dangerous.  She attends an all-Jewish school in Amsterdam because of anti-Semitic policies, yet she describes very typical, adolescent concerns. Math is a problem because she talks too much, for instance.  What is most striking, however, is how this young girl, with friends and a loving family, feels that she has no one to whom she can truly reveal herself.  It is her hope that the diary will fill this role.  What becomes evident early on is that she is a complex girl, even as so much of what she documents centers on ordinary affairs of teen girls.  There are references to what Jews may not do, but there is no great sense of living as a victim, even with a family driven from its native country and to a place where their faith sets them apart.

All of this changes when the Franks, threatened by contact with German officials, go into hiding.  Anne has been prepared for this by her father, as she knows their relatives still in Germany are in greater danger.  They move into a secret chamber above Otto Frank’s office, and Anne seems to gain a better understanding of the gravity of their circumstances.  As they leave for the attic in many layers of clothing, she explains: “No Jew in our situation would dare leave the house with a suitcase full of clothes” (Frank, 2008,  p. 21).  Then, she is deeply disturbed that it is her sister Margot, and not her father, who was called by the German police; this seems to have reinforced her knowledge that the Nazis were not merely a danger to adults and men, but to all Jews.  More importantly, any semblance of leading a relatively normal life is gone, even one of being segregated.  Anne knows, every day, that secrecy is essential to the family’s survival, and this pressure takes a strain on her.  These were the pivotal war years, Amsterdam was being attacked by Germany, and the Franks took in what they could on the radio.   Still an adolescent, Anne has all the moods and petty concerns of a teen girl, yet she is forced into confronting the idea of real loss and fear.  Real danger grows every day, as the Netherlands are rocked by wartime violence, and the supplies needed by the Franks become harder to obtain.  Each day also reinforces the vital need to remain hidden.

The last diary entry is dated August 1, 1944, and it is chilling because we know that, only a few days later, the Franks were taken by the Nazis.  Consequently, there is no foreshadowing of what is to come.  Only the father survived, as Anne and Margot died of typhus in 1945, while in a concentration camp.  As noted, no other book is like the Diary of a Young Girl.  What makes it extraordinary is how very ordinary so much of it is.  There are fights with family members, crushes on boys, and adolescent reflections on the characters of those close to Anne.  At the same time, the reader cannot ever forget the surrounding circumstances, as a monstrous power was ripping Europe apart and blandly murdering millions.   If Anne Frank’s diary may be classified as any type of genre, it must be as a profoundly human study in contrasts.

It seems to me that I learned from the book as I would learn from coming to know an individual.  More exactly, and no matter how critical the era in which the story is told, it only reveals what a young girl sees and can understand.  I certainly came away with a stronger sense of how life was lived in so different a time and place.  Anne was German, like myself, and she occasionally refers to this factor of her nationality as troubling; it is difficult for any adolescent to gain a sense of identity, so her background and later change in status, and on many levels, must have been extremely confusing.  These elements of German and Dutch reality, however, are greatly outweighed by the commonality of simply being human.  If Anne is a Jewish girl in hiding in a European country, she is more a young girl from anywhere.  Culture becomes in the book both a great concern and an irrelevant matter, because Anne’s story remains that of what any teen girl will feel and do under even extreme conditions.  This is not to diminish the effects or the importance of what was going on around her, but more to reaffirm that basic human impulses take precedence over circumstances.  The boy the father does not want Anne to become attached to romantically is just as critical, if not more so, than the growing shadows of real danger outside the office walls.

This in itself is where the power of the book resides.  There are occasions when, for fear of discovery and their lives, the Franks must sit quietly for hours.  Immediately afterward, Anne feels the need to address a burning issue:  Mrs. van Daan, of the other family sheltered with the Franks, flirts with her father and she finds this intolerable.  In a stunning juxtaposition, emotional concerns belonging to the most safe of environments still carry weight when life itself is hanging in the balance.  This gives me, I think, a valuable insight into culture, yet in a way minimizing culture.   It is also an insight going to a massive irony.  As the Franks were doomed because of their being different, Anne’s diary is absolute evidence of how united all human beings are in their needs and desires.   If Anne was a German forced into an Amsterdam life, she may also have been a Latin American refugee fleeing from a tyrant’s regime.  When life becomes dangerous, individual culture becomes meaningless because we are all reduced to the essences of being human.

Conclusion

While I am glad that I finally read Diary of a Young Girl, I am not at all sure that I would recommend it.  More exactly, I believe this work is so unique, it must be approached with something like profound respect.  This is, after all, a personal diary, certainly not a work of fiction, and that translates to a responsibility on the part of the reader.  That said, if someone truly wanted to gain a perspective unlike any other, I would strongly urge the reading of it, because that perspective is both heartbreaking and strangely ordinary.   This is not a book to read to acquire a better understanding of the horrors of the Nazi party, but something that conveys the desperate urgency in all people to go on with life as best as they can.

I also feel that, while there is no distinct lesson I take away from the book, I have a broader sense of what connects us as people, which translates to a greater horror when evil disregards this primal connection.  In terms of ethics, I am on less firm ground than I was before reading, because I cannot say with any authority what is acceptable when your life and your family is in jeopardy.  Anne has only to obey and keep silent, but I think I would excuse a great deal more than this, given the situation.  This also reinforces my ultimate feeling of the book, which is that nothing is more sacred or important than the recognition of everyone’s right to live as human beings openly.  It is usually a mundane right and, in the case of a young girl, concerned largely with trivial affairs.  Nothing, however, should be allowed to suppress or endanger this very ordinariness, because that is the essence of humanity.

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