A critical point about Anne Frank's diary is that it was written during the years of her adolescence. She struggled with many typical teenage problems--yearning for her own space away from adult meddling, burgeoning sexuality, and the quest for her own identity--in an enclosed space with little privacy. Anne continually questions herself and spends most of the diary trying to figure out what kind of person she is. She berates herself for her selfishness, agonizes over the fate of her friends, and tries and tries to be "good" in the way her parents would like her to be. Towards the end of the diary, she comes to the crucial conclusion that though she may not be the way others would like her to be, she is her own person and she respects herself. These discoveries make "Diary" a bildungstroman in the tradition of great coming-of-age novels like James Joyce's Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
Over and over again, Anne asks herself questions about the type of person she is: How should I feel about those on the outside, who are suffering? Am I virtuous? Am I too selfish and childish? What does it mean that Germans despise me simply because I am a Jew? Although Anne finds no easy answers to these questions, she uses them to define who she is and who she wants to be. Anne's quest for her identity is and the coming-of-age theme are the most significant themes of the book.
This theme usually comes up tangentially, but the fact that it is not central to the book has also provoked critical comment. For Anne, exposure to the question of Jewish consciousness comes mostly through her discussions with young men. For example, Harry Goldberg, Anne's boy friend at the beginnning of the book, is a member of the Zionist Youth Movement, which celebrated the Jewish heritage. But Peter Van Daan tells Anne that when the war is over, he intends to keep his Jewish heritage a secret. Anne stands somewhere between these two polar opposites in that she does not give a great deal of thought to her Jewish heritage. But her ambivalence has prompted some Jewish critics to claim that the Diary would not be such a classic if Anne had made her Jewish heritage a larger part of the book.
When Anne does comment on her Jewish heritage, it is to lambast the anti-Semitism and hatred that has forced her family to go into hiding. Although Anne does not express a full view of the historical anti-Semitism that combined with contemporary unemployment to make the Jews a pariah in Europe, that history is always lurking at the back of this book. It is important to remember that the main reason why Anne's diary is considered so important is because it stands as a testament against the hatred and anti-Semitism that caused her death.
Anne struggles with the question of "virtue" throughout the book. Her parents want her to emulate her sister Margot's virtue, which mostly consists of being quiet and self-effacing. Anne admires her father, who does not let anyone step on him, but sticks to his principles and demands that others do the same. It is important that Anne's feelings for Peter Van Daan cool when she decides to emulate her father's idea of virtue; she does not feel that her friendship with Peter is more important than the love and respect of her father.
Though Anne claims to despise politics, she cannot help but become caught up in the war. It is the war, after all, that is responsible for her family's living situation. The adults in the annex, by contrast, speak constantly about the war and their prospects after the war. Throughout the diary, the phrase "after the war..." hangs over the book, an unfulfilled wish of every annex resident. Towards the end of the diary, when the Allies begin making great progress against Germany, Anne's diary entries document every battle and every landing--a great mirror into her excitement about the prospect of leaving the annex for good.
All of the annex members struggle with the concept of duty: duty to one's country, to one's friends, and, most importantly, one's fellow annex residents. Life in the annex is a series of petty quarrels, and many of them have to do with conflicting feelings of duty towards each other. For her part, Anne struggles to be a dutiful child and to get along with everyone in the annex.
Just as the phrase "after the war" hangs unspoken over everyone in the annex, so does the phrase "the Jews outside." All of the annex residents struggle with feelings of guilt for those they have left behind to suffer under Nazi persecution. Some of them, like Mrs. Van Daan, choose to ignore it. Others, like Anne, feel bad but insist on trying to remain cheerful. The question of how the annex residents deal with their feelings about the suffering outside is intimately linked to their own feelings of fear about being captured by the Germans.
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