Wednesday, March 28, 2012
Anne Frank - A Coming of Age Story
Being homeschooled you sometimes miss a few things that would have been required. Like Anne Frank's Diary of a Young Girl from her 25 months of confinement in Holland while hiding from the Gestapo. This was required reading in middle school it seems, but my mom had me read The Hiding Place instead, which was traumatic enough. I also read all of David Wilkerson's books (author of Cross and the Switchblade) which deal with drug addiction and lost souls on the street. So, I was by no means lacking in a formal literary education. Yet I still raised a couple of eyebrows at work when a few coworkers heard that I hadn't read Anne Frank's diary. Since I wouldn't lose anything by reading it I decided to give it a go. Biographies aren't usually my thing but you can work your way through almost anything if you persevere, which is what I did.
Anne Frank starts her journal on her 13th birthday, a gift from her parents a month before they went into hiding. What you have for the first third of her diary is a young girl struggling with her circumstances and her anger at the world. That anger manifests itself toward her family and their roommates, the Van Daans. Anne seems like a petty, selfish and highly ungrateful girl who thinks she knows everything. In other words, she's a thirteen-year-old. Now, don't get mad at me for saying that Anne was selfish. If she had stayed in that mentality then I would have probably stopped reading the book, but she didn't. And because Anne Frank grew up and started seeing herself and her family differently, started behaving differently, I began feeling as though I knew her. She looks back at her earlier entries and grieves at the cruelty and hatred with which she addressed her mother. She wonders how that could possibly have been her writing those unforgivable words. In her January 2nd, 1944 entry, Anne says, "this diary is of great value to me, because it has become a book of memoirs in many places, but on a good many pages I could certainly put 'past and done with.'" Anne had moved on from that rage.
Somewhere near the last quarter of the book I realized something. This girl, this young and tender girl who was just about to turn 15 was going to die. Her dreams of being a writer, of finding a husband, of traveling the world, of being in love were never going to be realized. Anne died in March of 1945, only two months before the war was won and prisoners set free. Out of the 8 people she lived with in the "Secret Annexe" only her father Otto survived. You read Anne's words of these people, both kind and critical, with a different eye when you realize that they're all murdered. Had she known the future, Anne would certainly have altered her perception. She had wanted to be a better mother than her own had been to her. She wanted a Mumsie instead of a Mummy and that was what she was determined to be to her children. Except she had no children.
I read the blip at the end of the book that covered the end of Anne's life. And it's hard. Because those events weren't in Anne's words. They were from observations of other people who had known her in Auschwitz or Belsen and somehow managed to survive. All you know is that the brave, angry, and loving girl whose journal you just read wasted away to nothing and died of illness in a concentration camp. How do you reconcile that glorious young life with death? I'm a writer, but I don't write like Anne Frank. Some of her entries are very childlike but others are profound in ways I can't begin to describe. Anne Frank, had she lived, would have gone on to be a magnificent author that would have blown this world apart with her cleverness and wit. As it is she is remembered through this journal. You don't always like Anne but you do grow to love her. I see why the book is required reading among young people and I'm proud, now, to say that I have finally read The Diary of a Young Girl.