Themes are the fundamental and often universal ideas explored in a literary work.
The Loneliness of Adolescence
Anne Frank’s perpetual feeling of being lonely and misunderstood provides the impetus for her dedicated diary writing and colors many of the experiences she recounts. Even in her early diary entries, in which she writes about her many friends and her lively social life, Anne expresses gratitude that the diary can act as a confidant with whom she can share her innermost thoughts. This might seem an odd sentiment from such a playful, amusing, and social young girl, but Anne explains that she is never comfortable discussing her inner emotions, even around close friends. Despite her excitement over developing into a woman, and despite the specter of war surrounding her, Anne nonetheless finds that she and her friends talk only about trivial topics.
We learn later in the diary that neither Mrs. Frank nor Margot offers much to Anne in the way of emotional support. Though Anne feels very connected to her father and derives strength and encouragement from him, he is not a fitting confidant for a thirteen-year-old girl. Near the end of her diary, Anne shares a quotation she once read with which she strongly agrees: “Deep down, the young are lonelier than the old.” Because young people are less able than adults to define or express their needs clearly, they are more likely to feel lonely, isolated, and misunderstood. Living as a Jew in an increasingly anti-Jewish society, in cramped and deprived circumstances, heightens the isolation Anne feels and complicates her struggle for identity.
Anne occasionally turns to the cats that live in the annex for affection. Noticing that Peter van Daan also plays with the cats, Anne speculates that he must also suffer from a lack of affection. Anne’s observation softens her view of Peter, whom she once considered obnoxious and lazy, and these thoughts cause her to think that they might have something in common. Their ensuing friendship and budding romance stave off their feelings of loneliness. Margot, who like the other members of the annex witnesses the changing nature of Anne and Peter’s relationship, expresses her jealousy that Anne has found a confidant. Evidently, Anne is not the only one in the annex suffering from the deprivation of friends.
Feelings of loneliness and isolation also play out in the larger scheme of the annex. All the inhabitants feel anxious, fearful, and stressed because of their circumstances, yet no one wants to burden the others with such depressing feelings. As a result, the residents become impatient with one another over trivial matters and never address their deeper fears or worries. This constant masking and repression of serious emotions creates isolation and misunderstanding between all the residents of the annex.
The Inward versus the Outward Self
Anne frequently expresses her conviction that there are “two Annes”: the lively, jovial, public Anne whom people find amusing or exasperating; and the sentimental, private Anne whom only she truly knows. As she comes to understand her actions and motivations better over the course of her writing, Anne continually refers to this aggravating split between her inward and outward character.
Anne is aware of this dichotomy from a young age. In her early diary entries she explains that though she has many friends and acquaintances, she feels she does not have one person to whom she can really open up. She regrets that she does not share her true self with her friends or family. Anne expresses frustration that she does not know how to share her feelings with others, and she fears that she is vulnerable to attacks on her character. When her relationship with Peter begins, Anne wonders whether he will be the first one to see through the outer, public Anne and find her true self beneath.
Anne struggles with her two selves throughout the diary,
trying to be honest and genuine, while at the same time striving
to fit in with the rest of the group and not create too much friction.
In her final diary entry, on August
Anne’s inner struggle mirrors the larger circumstances of the war. Both the residents of the annex and the Dutch people who help them are forced to hide themselves from the public. They must take on a different identity in public to protect their livelihood because their true identities and actions would make them targets of persecution. This is yet another manifestation of the hypocrisy of identity that Anne is trying to come to terms with in her diary.
Generosity and Greed in Wartime
Anne’s diary demonstrates that war brings out both the best and the worst traits in people. Two characteristics in particular become prominent defining poles of character in the annex—generosity and greed. The group’s livelihood depends on the serious and continual risks taken by their Dutch keepers, who are generous with food, money, and any other resources they can share.
Although the annex is hardly luxurious, the Franks and van Daans feel their situation is better than that of the thousands of Jews who are in mortal danger outside. As a result, they extend Mr. Dussel an invitation to join them and to share their limited resources—an act of true generosity. The fact that Mr. Dussel accepts the others’ offer but never makes any attempt to acknowledge or reciprocate their generosity might be attributed to the extreme circumstances. More likely, however, is that Mr. Dussel is the kind of person in whom hardship brings out the qualities of greed and selfishness. Indeed, the two people Anne most reviles, Mr. Dussel and Mrs. van Daan, share the tendency to look out for themselves far more than to look out for others.
Generosity and greed also come to bear on Anne’s feelings of guilt about being in hiding. Although by the end of their time in the annex the residents have practically run out of food, Anne feels lucky to have escaped the fate of her friends who were sent to concentration camps. She struggles with the idea that perhaps she and her family could have been more generous and could have shared their resources with more people. While Mr. Dussel and Mrs. van Daan feel that greed is the only way to protect themselves from the horrors of war, these same circumstances of hardship inspire Anne to feel even more generous.