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Anne Frank was extraordinary in her vitality, optimism, hunger for knowledge, and creativity. She was also a moody, sensitive young woman who could (by her own admission) occasionally be mean to those around her... though she struggled not to be.
In other words, not only was she extraordinary, she was also just plain ol' ordinary. This makes her story all the more relatable. And all the more devastating.
Anne changed in many ways over the two years she was writing her diary. Some of these changes can be described as “growth.” She became an astute observer of politics, and of human nature, and she became a very practiced and well-educated writer. Many of her diary entries suggest a mind mature past her years, and we forget we are reading the work of a teenager.
We should also consider that some of Anne’s changes were because her so-called growth was being stunted. By the end of the diary, we barely recognize the Anne we knew from the first diary entries—and she barely recognizes herself. We see a shell-shocked, alienated, half-starved young woman. Her final diary entry is a cry of despair from someone who just can’t take anymore. Anne’s changes are complicated, and cover many elements of her personality. We’ll give you an in depth view of a few of those elements.
When Anne starts talking about her love life, things can get a little confusing, especially when it comes to the multiple Peters. Anne has just turned thirteen when we meet her. She has boys on the brain. She tells us, “You’re probably a little surprised to hear me talking about admirers at such a young age” (6/20/1942). There might be a little bragging going on, but Anne does seem to be a guy magnet.
Before she goes into hiding, she has a time-consuming relationship going on with sixteen-year-old Hello (and several handfuls of other guys desiring her company), but is in love, as we find out later, with Peter Schiff (whom Anne also calls “Petel”).
We also find out later that she asked her female friend Jacque if “as proof of [their] friendship [they] could touch each other’s breasts” (1/6/1944 –1st entry). Anne is an innocent girl, but she's super-excited by life and her sexuality.
In the space of a month, her choice of possible love interests goes from unlimited, to one: Peter van Daan, the kind, shy boy also hiding in the Secret Annex. She has no taste for Peter at first. After about seven months in hiding, Anne begins having dreams of the other Peter, Peter Schiff. The first dream (in the 1/6/1944 entry) coincides (confusingly, but naturally) with the start of her visits to Peter van Daan’s little room in the Annex.
That first dream also marks what Anne considers to be a significant change in herself. The first sentence of her “Wednesday Evening, January 19, 1944 entry”: "I (there I go again) don’t know what’s happened, but since the dream I keep noticing how I’ve changed."
As you probably noticed, the “change” (most notably) is an increased interest in romantic love and sex. A few entries later, Anne begins talking with Peter van Daan about the birds and the bees. She says “he wasn’t ever as obnoxious about this subject as the boys at school” (1/24/1944).
If Anne and Peter each had a thousand people to choose from, would they have chosen each other? Who knows. Did Anne really did love Peter van Daan? Or was she just extremely lonely? In one of her later diary entries, Anne reflects back on the nature of her relationship with Peter:
I now know well that he [Peter] was my conquest, and not the other way around. I created an image of him in my mind, pictured him as a quiet, sweet, sensitive boy badly in need of friendship and love! I needed to pour my heart out to a living person. I wanted a friend who could help me find my way again […]. I soon realized he could never be a kindred spirit […]. (7/15/1944.9)
From this entry, it seems that Anne has realized that she wanted love and companionship so desperately that she blinded herself to who Peter really was. She "created an image of him" that she loved, instead of loving the real Peter.
On the other hand, Anne's comments here may have simply been how she felt on a particularly bad day, and not how she felt overall about Peter. What's your take?
In the November 11, 1943 entry, Anne describes the loss of her fountain pen. She was holding it, and somehow dropped it into the oven. She titles the chapter “Ode to My Fountain Pen, In Memoriam.” The playful tone becomes tragically ironic since we know that Anne met a similar fate. Certainly as she's writing, Anne knows that this fate possibly awaits her. She's heard the rumors. But there’s no hint from her letters that she understands the possibly symbolic implications of the burnt up pen.
She loved her pen. She got it when she was nine years old, and had been writing her heart out with it for almost five years. In addition to horribly foreshadowing Anne’s own fate and the fate of some six million Jews, the pen's destruction cruelly symbolizes the abrupt and untimely end of Anne's budding writing career.
As we can see from her diary entries, Anne lives by writing. She uses it to fill her loneliness both in and out of the Annex. Even before she goes into hiding, Anne feels separated from others around her. She uses her writing both as an escape from people and as a bridge to close the gap.
Early in the diary when she gets in trouble for talking too much in class, she writes essays and poems comically arguing for her right to speak. In the end, this effort amuses her friends and teachers.
On the other hand, writing sometimes gets her in trouble. When her father Otto becomes concerned that her relationship with Peter van Daan is unhealthy, she writes her father a letter which deeply hurts him.
Anne makes a huge leap in empathy at this moment. She sees things from her father’s perspective. Through her writing, Anne learns something she might not have learned otherwise, painful as it was.
For Anne, writing is no idle concern. As she repeatedly states, she intends her diary for publication. She even makes a separate diary, an edited version. She's inspired to begin this editing process when she hears that accounts such as hers will be in demand when the war is over.
Anne’s writing goes through many changes as her circumstances get worse and worse. In the beginning, we see the giddy, precocious, rebellious child-like writing we might expect of a young girl with the gift of the pen. As she moves toward the end of her diary, her writings become deep musings, tragic whispers, flights of fancy, and occasionally bitter irony. In the final passage, Anne is a person torn to pieces, surrounded by people who she thinks hate her, and in despair.
[…] I get cross, then sad, and finally end up turning my heart inside out, the bad part on the outside, and the good part on the inside, and keep trying to find a way to become what I’d like to be and I could be… if only there were no other people in the world. (8/1/1944.6)
We can find politics on nearly every page of the novel, which makes Anne’s repeated denials of interest in politics seem ironic. In her March 27, 1944 entry she says she’s been “avoiding the subject” of politics because it “interests [her] so little.” It’s possible she’s being sarcastic (she does want to be a journalist when she grows up) when she says things like this, but it’s more likely that she isn’t aware of how very involved she is with the political situation.
Even in the few pre-Annex diary entries, Anne has a feel for politics beyond what we might expect of a 13-year-old. Some of this is because of the circumstances. She knows what goes on in concentration camps, and she knows that she, her family, and her friends are in very real danger due to the political situation.
From the beginning of the diary Anne is careful to provide us with the political situation. She tries to give us what you might expect to find in a news brief, the most relevant details. For example, the postscript of her July 16, 1943 entry says, “Landing in Sicily. Another step closer to the …!” Anne sees Allied forces landing in Italy as progress toward the end of the war—an end which was, in reality, several years off.
In her January 4, 1944 entry, Anne begins to sound even more mature:
Going underground or into hiding has become as common as the proverbial pipe and slippers that used to await the man of the house after a long day at work. There are many resistance groups, such as free Netherlands, that forge identity cards, provide financial support to those in hiding, organize hiding places, and find work for young Christians who go underground.
In the May 3, 1944 entry, we can see that Anne is really thinking about political issues. She makes some strong statements, including this one:
I don’t believe the war is simply the work of politicians and capitalists. Oh no, the common man is just as guilty […] There is a destructive urge in people, the urge to rage, murder and kill. And until all humanity […] undergoes a metamorphosis wars will continue to be waged.
Whether we agree with Anne or not, we can see how important politics has become for her. Near the end of the diary, Anne’s political discussions become more detailed and complex. Anne begins to explore issues of women’s rights, and to provide more detailed analyses of the war. Anne starts to sound, at times, almost like a embittered adult who has listened to political speeches one too many times. Here’s a good example, from her June 27, 1944 entry:
Mussert [leader of the Dutch Nazi party] has announced that if the invasion reaches Holland, he’ll enlist. Is that fat pig going to fight? He could have done that in Russia long before now. Finland turned down a peace offer some time ago, and now the negotiations have been broken off again. Those numbskulls, they’ll be sorry!
We can see Anne’s intense energy in this passage, as well as her frustration with the war that drags on and on as more as more people die and suffer and as her own life becomes less bearable, even as she struggles to remain always optimistic. Still, in spite of her grisly tone, sophistication, and bluster, there remains a naïve quality to Anne’s political perspectives. Much of this is due to the fact that she is so isolated. She has many books and the radio, but still a very limited window on the world.
Anne repeatedly claims that there are two distinct sides to her: the happy, frivolous Anne and the serious, sensitive Anne. She tends to be the happy-go-lucky Anne in public, and the other Anne in private. Unlike the people with whom she lives in the Annex, we the readers get a direct view of the serious, sensitive Anne, because we are reading her private thoughts.
Let's look at how she describes the two sides of herself:
I'm split in two. One side contains my exuberant cheerfulness, my flippancy, my joy in life and, above all, my ability to appreciate the lighter side of things. […] This side of me is usually lying in wait to ambush the other one, which is much purer, deeper and finer. No one knows Anne's better side, and that's why most people can't stand me. (9/1/1944.2)
Because we see Anne's reflective, self-critical, and serious side, it can be difficult to know just how she came across to other people, especially those in the Secret Annex. We'll try, though, to piece together how others may have seen Anne. Anne's less-sensitive side shows up when we view her from her mother's perspective. For Edith Frank, living with Anne in the Annex must have been, at times, excruciating. Not only did Anne grow more emotionally distant from her mother as time passed; she came to blame her mother for her unhappiness. She made no secret of her views. Because they were trapped in small living quarters, little could be done to break the cycle.
It’s easy to imagine how Peter van Daan might have seen Anne. At first he probably admired her, but thought her an arrogant, wild child—and maybe even a little mean-spirited. As time went by, Anne's sensitivity, desire to entertain others, as well as her moodiness, writerly ways, and willingness to talk openly about sex and everything else all must have made her quite appealing to Peter. She probably also confused him and frustrated him more than a little. From Anne’s account, we suspect that he came to understand her relatively well, and was protective and sensitive toward her.
It’s a little more difficult to speculate about Margot, as we don’t see very many sides of her. We know she was afraid of Anne’s physical maturation. Anne tells us that her sister complained about Anne’s “indecent nightgown.” But all in all, Margot seems to have seen her sister in a generous light—as a complicated, talented, and rather wild girl in an awful circumstance. Margot’s letter to Anne about Peter suggests that Margot was more concerned for Anne’s happiness than for her own.
Mrs. van Daan must have seen Anne as a little pest, while Mr. van Daan seemed to be quite amused by her, the way a friendly uncle would see a precocious niece.
Mr. Dussel is an interesting case. He seemed to see Anne as a bratty child who won’t let him have his privacy.
Anne’s final passage indicates that in the end, she believed that everyone turned against her, everyone used her to vent their frustrations, and nobody understood her.
Despite being frequently criticized, Anne's constant determination to improve herself is inspiring. In her own words,
To be honest, I can't imagine how anyone could say "I'm weak" and then stay that way. If you know that about yourself, why not fight it, why not develop your character? (7/16/1944.3)
Anne was never weak. She was a strong-minded and spirited girl—and someone who spent time developing her character even though she lived in constant fear and claustrophobia.
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