Study Guide

The Diary of Anne Frank (play) Themes

  • Isolation

    Maybe living alone on an island doesn't sound so bad. You could hack it. You could hunt and fish and chill with Wilson.

    But we know the real fear of isolation. We get that it's not the thought of being stuck on that island all alone. Oh no, it's being stuck there with your parents that tears you up inside. Throw in your Great Aunty Shmoo and your weirdo Uncle Oop and it's bound to have you begging for the white padded room. Now try only having these guys for company for two years. We'd be terrified too.

    It's understandable, then, that Anne Frank's isolation is probably the most important theme in the play. The authors chose to focus on this aspect of the characters' situation because it's the driving force behind almost all the action that occurs. The extreme isolation the Annex crew experiences creates arguments, selfish behavior, and depression, but it also fosters a closeness and tolerance that the characters may not have ever been exposed to in their normal daily lives. As grumpy Mr. Dussel puts it, "I'm a man who's always lived alone. I haven't had to adjust myself to others. I hope you'll bear with me until I do" (1.3). Paradoxically, all the characters are alone—together.

    That's not always a good think, though. (The thought of living in that tiny attic with seven other people totally creeps us out.) The playwrights focus on the amazing survival tactics the group had to employ to survive their situation. As an audience, we are left to think and explore how we would react. What would we do in this type of crisis? How would we survive?

    Questions About Isolation

    1. Does Anne's isolation help her focus on her roommates' more positive attributes or their negative ones? How can you tell?
    2. Which of the characters deals with isolation the best? Which ones don't deal well at all?
    3. What other themes are directly related to isolation in the play?
    4. How do the stage directions and scenery help to support the theme of isolation in the play?
    5. Do you think that Anne's insights come as a result of her isolation, or in spite of her isolation? Why do you think so?

    Chew on This

    Even though they have each other, the characters show us that true isolation means being shut off from general society.

    Go, Daddy-o—Mr. Frank is the character who deals with isolation the best.

  • Fear

    You can be afraid of pretty much anything: dogs, medicine, spiders, painting a fence… People fear cramped places and open places and places they don't even know about. The fear of enclosed spaces is called claustrophobia—you know, like getting in an elevator with a bunch of other people, a few coffins, and the backseat of a Mini-cooper.

    Speaking of tight spots, the poor residents of the secret annex are literally tripping over each other in an attempt to live a "normal" life, but the fear is getting to them. One by one, they are going to have to deal with their fears as the war looms ever closer and the hazards of living on the fringe of society meet them full blast. For good reason, the fears for these people run deep and they're worth examining.

    Questions About Fear

    1. The residents all worry about being captured and losing their lives. But what else do they worry about?
    2. How does each member of the Annex deal with his or her fear differently?
    3. Is there a right or a wrong way for the Annex residents to deal with fear? Why do you think so?

    Chew on This

    It's understandable, but the residents' fear causes them to become irrational and emotional.

    By the end of the play, Anne has overcome her fears.

  • Faith

    When everything else has been taken away from us, sometimes all that's left is faith. Religion, ceremonies, songs, chants, prayers, and other aspects of faith keep us going when we feel like we can't take it anymore. Faith is probably best represented in Act 1, Scene 5 when the residents celebrate Hanukah. What blows us away is how they still find the energy to celebrate and keep things as normal as possible—if you can call living in a box "normal."

    The residents of the annex are thankful (get that, thankful) for all they have. Mrs. Frank tells them, "We are all here, alive. That is present enough." As outsiders to their situation, we might be scratching our heads at what exactly they have to be thankful for. But they are alive and they have each other, and that in itself is enough. As the Hanukah song states, "Many are the reasons for good cheer. Together we'll weather whatever tomorrow will bring."

    Faith plays an important role in the play as the residents see less and less of a way out of their meager existence. We see them now relying on the faith that has been so denied to them by the political powers that forced them into hiding. Through the play, we get to see first-hand the fantastic irony that the one thing the Nazis were trying to squash (the Jewish faith) is the only thing they truly cannot kill.

    Questions About Faith

    1. Why doesn't Anne burn her Star of David?
    2. On the eve of Hanukah, the residents of the Annex are trying to rally their spirits by being thankful that they still have their lives and some sort of food to eat. But is this enough to sustain them? How can you tell?
    3. What exactly do the residents of the Annex have to be thankful for?
    4. How do the playwrights show the residents' increasing dependence on faith as the play progresses?

    Chew on This

    Anne writes in her diary and keeps her faith by using her imagination and embracing the power of positive thinking.

    The religious passages Mrs. Frank recites represents her increasing dependence on faith as the residents' situation becomes increasingly more dangerous.

  • Perseverance

    Picture this: a shiny brand new car. It's yours free if…

    … you can live inside it for four weeks. Here are the rules: you're only allowed two, ten-minute breaks each day to use the restroom and to take a shower. Otherwise, you're inside it every day, twenty-four hours a day, eating, sleeping, and everything in between. There are no electronics allowed during this contest—only what you can get on the radio, which by the way, only broadcasts one station: the news. Oh, and one more thing—there are three other people living in the car with you, trying to win the car too. You need to outlast them in order to win. Think you can do it?

    Does this scenario sound familiar? This is a lot like Anne Frank's story, except for the part where her life is in jeopardy at every single moment. Anne just can't tap out and say, "I'm done." Oh yeah, and she doesn't get to win a car in the end either. But if you can imagine sharing living arrangements the size of an SUV, you can imagine what it took to survive life in the annex.

    Interestingly, Anne's story is one about survival, rather than death. It's a theme that the playwrights of The Diary of Anne Frank really wanted to focus on, and we're glad they did. Anne's infectious, unrelenting positivity is pinned against the greater backdrop of hatred, violence, and fear. The fact that the residents have survived this long is a more than a miracle. It's pure persistence.

    Questions About Perseverance

    1. How do each of the residents deal with survival differently?
    2. But what does "survival" really mean for our friends in the attic?
    3. What's required of the characters in order for them to keep going, day after day?
    4. What lessons in persistence does Anne show us?

    Chew on This

    The only way the characters are able to persist in their situation is by sticking together.

    The play shows us how persistence is an uneven thing. Some days you can take on the world; some days you just want to crawl back under your bed.

  • Love

    Ooo la, la—someone's in love. We're just all a'flutter here. Our little Anneke is growing up. She's gone from teasing boys to having actual, deep conversations with them. Pardon us while we sniffle into our Kleenex.

    We're hoping you can relate. Have you had a first date yet? A junior high dance? Even if you haven't had your first crush or even spoken to that certain someone, it's bound to happen sometime. Our lesson in love is that, oddly enough, the world doesn't stop because of war. Kids grow up, fall in love, and the planet just keeps spinning. And we are very grateful for that.

    The writers of the play know just what to focus on to get the theme of love across to us. Even though Anne and Peter are scared out of their minds, and trying to deal with a very adult situation, there's still room for young love. They're typical teens trapped in an atypical situation and we're so proud of them for keeping things going while the world is stirring. Some things never change—and that's a good thing.

    Questions About Love

    1. Is Anne really in love, or is Peter the most available guy out there?
    2. Think about love from a few different angles: loving someone as a friend or family member and passionately loving someone. In which way do Anne and Peter really love each other?
    3. How is the love between Mr. and Mrs. Frank different than the love between the Van Daans?
    4. How is familial love (between sons and daughters and mothers fathers) portrayed in the play?

    Chew on This

    Anne and Peter aren't really in love; instead they experience a deep, abiding friendship.

    Anne loves her mother just as much as her father; she just struggles to understand it.

  • Morality

    Wartime takes a toll on any economy. People are expected to give up certain comforts to help the nation win. During World War II, many people in war-torn countries were expected to ration their food. They would only be allowed an allotment of bread, sugar, and other necessities. In this case, the eight people in the annex are surviving on the rations for three. They are literally starving. As Anne reflects, "We're all a little thinner" (2.1).

    People who don't eat get extremely grumpy and irritable. They lose focus, and it's hard to think about anything else but food (notice the scene where the family fights over the cake). Add to this the living conditions of a tiny townhouse for eight people and it's amazing that the annex residents are able to civil to one another.

    But does that mean all bets are off just because they're starving? Does hunger outweigh morality? Maybe morality is how we handle ourselves in a crisis, or the compassion we give to our fellow man, when we ourselves have nothing. For the residents in the Annex, morality is clear by how they handle themselves in some tough situations.

    Questions About Morality

    1. Which characters display the most compassion in the play? Which display the least?
    2. Did Miep and Mr. Kraler feel it was their moral obligation to protect the Annex residents? How do you know?
    3. How does the play help the audience think about morality during World War II?
    4. What is the moral dilemma regarding Mr. Van Daan and his choices with the food?

    Chew on This

    Mr. Van Daan's greed for food reflects his lack of morality.

    Miep and Mr. Kraler are the most moral characters in the play.

  • Goodness

    We want to take time to reflect on how to see the good in the world around you, in the little things and in the big. Maybe it's the peanut butter and jelly sandwich, with the crusts cut off, that your mom takes the extra time to make you in the morning. Maybe it's saving a baby bird that fell out of its nest. But maybe it's even bigger things, like standing up for someone who can't stand up for herself.

    In a nutshell, it's doing the right thing when nobody's looking. Nobody was looking at Anne Frank—especially not the Nazis when they destroyed her life, nor the rest of the world as she became one of the six million casualties of the Holocaust. But she still strived to be good. She wanted to make a difference, and that kind of thought process—as reflected in the play—is truly powerful.

    Questions About Goodness

    1. What kind of goodness does Anne see in the people around her?
    2. What can we take from Anne's outlook on life and apply to our own lives?
    3. Why does Otto Frank feel ashamed by his daughter's ability to see the world in a positive light?
    4. Do any of the other characters see "goodness" the way Anne sees it? How can you tell?

    Chew on This

    Anne's diary, and the play written about it, are more concerned with goodness than with the negative consequences of WWII.

    Goodness is never an absolute. It's something, though, to always strive for—as Anne demonstrates for us in the play.

  • Warfare

    This theme pretty much speaks for itself. It's like the sneaky shadows hiding in every corner of the play. Anne's life was so overshadowed by warfare that she ate, slept, and dreamed warfare. Unfortunately during WWII, children were grossly affected by the war. Those who weren't victims were fighting, and those who weren't fighting were displaced—lost from their families and loved ones. All in all, the 1940s was a pretty bad time for a lot of folks.

    Warfare overshadows everything the residents of the Annex do. They're forced into their situation by the political aspects of the war, and they can't leave until the war is over. They fear for their lives because of the war's aspects and it's the sole cause of their suffering and grief.

    Warfare also contributes to several other themes—we can think of it as an umbrella theme that lots of other themes fall under. Isolation, survival, and fear are the direct relations of war. We as the audience realize how lucky we are that this wasn't our life, and the play almost begs us to remember this after we leave the theater and go about our daily, peacetime lives.

    Questions About Warfare

    1. How does warfare affect the children of the Annex differently than it does the grownups?
    2. Which other characters beside the Annex residents are affected by the war?
    3. How does the play provide inside information to the audience about what life was like during World War II?
    4. What is the aftermath of the war that Otto Frank is forced to deal with?

    Chew on This

    Anne's experiences as a teenager are different than a normal teen's because she was a war victim.

    The war, or World War II specifically, is the major theme in Anne's life. It is what she most consistently worries about.

  • Youth

    Kids will be kids—unless they're hiding from the Nazis… or maybe even if they're hiding from the Nazis. One thing the playwrights try to impart to us is that there's no stopping the power of youth. Anne makes it clear that she won't stop growing up, no matter what her situation. She plays and is silly, fights with her mom, idolizes her dad, and yearns for normal teen things like girl talk, going to the movies, and friendships. She doesn't forget how to have fun, but she does manage to do a lot of growing in the two years she's stuck in the attic. She even manages to teach Peter a thing or two about how not to be a stick in the mud.

    Anne's changes are physical, mental and spiritual. She grows taller and gets her period, but she also starts to realize some important life lessons that signal her transition into being an adult. She forgives and makes peace with her mom, stops picking on Peter long enough to become a true friend to him, and realizes her true talent for writing. But she also is able to contemplate a bigger context beyond herself and her situation. She recognizes the good in the world and the spirituality it holds for her. In this, she is saved.

    Questions About Youth

    1. If Anne had survived, would she have published her diary about her experiences as a teenager?
    2. Are Anne's experiences as a teenager similar or different to those of a teenager of today?
    3. Do Margot or Peter show any growth in the play? Why or why not?
    4. Do Anne's parents recognize any of the changes in her? How can you tell?

    Chew on This

    Anne's experiences as a teenager during World War II make her more interesting than a normal teen.

    Many teens could learn a lot about their own lives by reading about Anne Frank's experiences.