The play is based on Anne's diary, a memoir about her time in hiding during the Holocaust in German-occupied Holland. The stage elements and directions provide the action and emotional state of the characters, while the scenery and props provide a backdrop for the actors. The dialogue is the chief method of characterization and plot progression for the play. The drama even provides stage setup, costumes, pronunciations and other information important for a full-on theatrical production of the play.
The title, though different than Anne's actual diary, is very similar. While the diary is called Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl, the play is titled The Diary of Anne Frank. It may seem like we're splitting hairs here even discussing why they're different but if we Shmoop it up responsibly, we can see that the playwrights were more concerned with the overall effect of Anne's diary rather than every, single one of her words. It makes sense that the diary as a whole, what it stands for, would be the central focus for the play, rather than Anne's own coming of age story.
Otto Frank's last words in the novel are "She puts me to shame" (2.5). He seems to echo the thoughts of the audience. It's simply incredible that a teenage girl under the worst circumstances could still be able to focus on the positive aspects life and humanity have to offer. Most grown adults have trouble recognizing this concept while sitting with a full belly on the couch watching their favorite TV show.
Anne's descriptions of her life before she went into hiding provide a bit of background on the setting of Amsterdam, Holland. We learn that "things got bad for the Jews" during the German occupation: "You could not do this and you could not do that." One of Anne and Peter's most hated rules were the yellow Stars of David Jews were made to wear on their clothing. Upon going into hiding, Peter burns his, saying that the stars were "Something they branded you with… That they made you wear so they could spit on you" (1.2). This brief view of Amsterdam helps us understand the forces that caused the Franks to enter into hiding.
The play's events take place in the small rooms of the "Secret Annex," a portion of Mr. Frank's office hidden behind a bookcase. The living situation is cramped and confining for the eight inhabitants. Anne gets emotional about not being able to go outside, ride a bike, or do other kid stuff. We see her youthfulness and creativity become stifled because of the close quarters. Another difficult part of living in the Secret Annex is that, since their hiding space is a portion of an office with many workers unaware of the Jews in hiding, the Secret Annex inhabitants have to be very quiet, especially during business hours.
The cramped quarters, and the fear of Nazi discovery (which could mean death for them and their protectors), take a toll on the residents. They become increasingly peevish, selfish, and irrational. The dull monotony of their lives and the 24-7 "togetherness" makes (and breaks) their relationships.
There's a lot of tough stuff in this play, but we're not talking about the reading, writing, and vocabulary. We're talking about the situation our hero, Anne, and her family are in. By that, we mean the situation of Jews in Europe in the 1940s. And by that we mean pretty much anything you've read or heard about Adolf Hitler. That's the stuff that causes severe mental indigestion.
It's true that The Diary of Anne Frank brings up things we don't want to think about, let alone dine upon on a daily basis. But, just like eating that plate of Brussels sprouts, devouring this sort of literature is what makes us stronger, mentally and spiritually, and in the end it gives us the perspective we need when things get tough. Just keep thinking, "Shmoop says it's good for me."
Anne's dream is to become a writer: "I want to be a journalist or something. I love to write" (2.3). She wants to do great things someday and wants to improve herself through her writing. Her words in her diary reflect her youth and immaturity and then gradually become more complex and thoughtful. She expresses her unique perspective on the beauty of the world. Anne's writing becomes symbolic of achieving your dreams through self-expression and practicing your craft to become better.
The residents of the Annex are surprised when Anne creates little gifts for each of them for Hanukah. The simple ceremony and lighting of the menorah reminds each of them what they have to be grateful for, even if they aren't completely sure they should be grateful for anything: "We are all here, alive. That is present enough" (1.5). Hanukah is able to smooth over the tension the group is feeling, and represents to both the residents and the audience that they have to have faith to make it through their ordeal—faith in a higher power, but also faith in each other.
Anne and Peter develop a relationship out of mutual respect. Being forced into close quarters helps them to recognize the strengths and weaknesses of each other, but also to bring on a friendship that might not have occurred outside of the Annex. Peter appreciates Anne's creativity and her boldness: "I thought you were fine just now. You know just how to talk to them. You know just how to say it" (2.1). Anne begins to accept Peter's down-to-earth nature, but more importantly, his willingness to listen.
Both kids are dying to have another person their own age to talk to and Peter symbolizes the need for human relationships and friendship in the play. Even Margot admits that she's a little jealous that Peter and Anne have each other to talk to: "I'm jealous, jealous that you've got something to get up in the morning for" (2.1).
A big deal is made about Peter's kitty. Peter's sort of weirdly obsessed with the thing, while Anne is sad she wasn't able to bring her own cat. Mr. Frank says, "I'm glad you brought your cat" (1.2) and gives it a box to sleep in. On the other hand, Mr. Van Daan really, really hates it, and threatens to get rid of it in practically every scene. Eventually, Mouschi mysteriously disappears.
What happens to Mouschi is eerily similar to the situation of the Jews in Holland as well as the Annex residents. Many Jews would disappear each day during the Holocaust, never to be heard from again. Mr. Van Daan's attitude that the cat was eating up their precious resources is similar to that of the Nazi viewpoint about the Jews.
Because the play is taken from Anne's diary, her words intermingle with the action and dialogue of the people on stage. The diary entries are done in cool, voiceover fashion so we feel like we're actually watching Anne's diary come to life. She's the central narrator for us but, as her voice fades, we are more into watching the characters deliver their lines. Anne doesn't narrate the entire play, but rather comes in when we need her to explain or provide more information.
Anne and her family, as well as another Jewish family and a family friend, move into the secret rooms behind Otto Frank's office in Amsterdam. The families cannot leave the small rooms or make noise during the day, and they have to depend on the kindness of two of Otto's employees to bring them food and other necessary items in secret. Anne's father gives her a diary and Anne begins to record her thoughts, feelings, and daily activities in it.
The residents begin their stay in the attic by trying to resume as many normal duties and routines as possible. All three children try to keep up with their studies (even though they don't know when they'll be going back to school). Mrs. Frank makes dinner, does laundry (in the sink), and continues darning socks, just like she's always done. There's a lot of discussion, reading, and everyday boredom going on. But after a while, being shut up in a box begins to take its toll on the residents. They become selfish, irritable, and increasingly more fearful of their situation. Mr. Dussel, a Jewish dentist, joins the crew and then there's even less food available to them. Anne continues to write in her diary as a form of escape.
One night during Hanukah, the families in the Annex hear loud noises coming from the offices below them. Terrified, they listen to hear what might be going on. Peter trips over a lamp and creates a huge racket. Then the noises stop. Mrs. Van Daan goes into hysterics and Anne passes out since she is so frightened. Mr. Frank goes downstairs to investigate. He comes back to tell them that it was a thief. The person ran away when he or she heard the noise from the attic. For the time being, the danger has passed.
Peter and Anne begin having some convos in Peter's bedroom. Margot admits that she's just a bit jealous because Anne has someone to talk to. One night, Mrs. Frank catches Mr. Van Daan stealing food from the Annex storage bins and a wild uproar ensues. Mrs. Frank wants to cast out Mr. Van Daan, and it looks as though things might unravel pretty quickly. But Miep interrupts the argument to tell everyone news of the American invasion of Normandy, and this is able to lift everyone's spirits and the group resumes some sense of normalcy again.
One day, the telephone begins to ring. The group hasn't seen or heard from Miep in a few days. There's no one working in the building even though it's a Friday. Anne and Peter have a deep conversation about religion and their take on the world. Then a few cars pull up outside the Annex, and the group knows their time in hiding is at an end. The Annex residents are arrested and sent to concentration camps. Only Otto Frank survives. He returns to the Annex and Miep gives him Anne's diary.