Practice Analyzing and Interpreting a Diary

Practice Analyzing and Interpreting a Diary
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  • 0:01 Analyzing Diaries
  • 1:55 Background on Anne…
  • 3:04 Diary Excerpts to Analyze
  • 7:03 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kara Wilson

Kara Wilson is a 6th-12th grade English and Drama teacher. She has a B.A. in Literature and an M.Ed, both of which she earned from the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Reading someone's diary seems like a slightly scandalous thing to do, but published diaries can be analyzed, interpreted, and used as research materials. In this lesson, we'll look at how to read a diary in this way.

Analyzing Diaries

Often when we read something personal like a published diary, we get caught up in every moment described by the author. But a diary can also be treated as a text worthy of analysis. A diary is a book or log of events and experiences that is written by someone at regular intervals.

While reading a published diary, we need to:

  • Analyze the effectiveness and validity of the text by noting historical facts and events.
  • Analyze the writer's style in regards to word choice, tone (author's attitude toward the topic), use of figurative language, and/or sensory details.
  • Identify character traits and changes within the character or in the character's relationships.

Diaries often have a few format elements in common that create a sense of structure as you read the text. Entries are usually dated, arranged in chronological order, and can be addressed to someone like a letter. Some start 'Dear Diary,' or 'Dear Journal,' while others are addressed to a real, imagined, or deceased person.

Diaries contain self-reports that try to capture events, reflections, personal and often private feelings, or interactions close to the time which they occurred. Historians and literary scholars recognize that diaries offer unique perspectives on eras and events. They can be used in psychological research to study particular people or groups of people and how they interact. Scholars can use a diary as a source of historical record, since a diary is considered a primary source.

A primary source is a document or tangible object which was written or created during the time being studied. Diaries, speeches, interviews, and letters can all be considered primary sources.

Background on Anne Frank's Diary

A famous example of an authentic diary that has served as a primary source is The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank. This bestselling diary shares the thoughts and experiences of a Jewish girl during WWII. It was first published in 1947 and has been translated into over 70 languages and has sold over 30 million copies.

When Anne first started writing in her diary in 1942, it was a personal journal meant only for her. But in 1944, while in hiding, Anne and her family heard that the Dutch government wanted to collect letters and diaries after the war so that their struggles and experiences could be shared. Anne then went back and edited entries, often adding more detail. She dreamed of becoming a famous writer, but sadly died in a concentration camp a few weeks before the war ended. Thankfully, the Nazis saw her diary as meaningless so they didn't take it. Anne's father, Otto Frank, was the only one who survived from their group in hiding. He had the diary published to preserve Anne's memory and to spread awareness about what people like her endured.

Diary Excerpts to Analyze

Anne's writing style is often friendly and conversational, and it shows her dry humor despite such difficult circumstances. She has an advanced vocabulary for a thirteen-year-old and is often reflective and expressive, especially as their time in hiding increases with no known end. Here's an excerpt from October 9, 1942:

'Have you ever heard the term 'hostages?' That's the latest punishment for saboteurs. It's the most horrible thing you can imagine. Leading citizens - innocent people - are taken prisoner to await their execution. If the Gestapo can't find the saboteur, they simply grab five hostages and line them up against the wall. You read the announcements of their deaths in the paper, where they're referred to as 'fatal accidents.' '

This historical situation is described in great detail. Anne uses accurate terms such as the Gestapo, or secret police, and describes brutalities that were actually carried out. This excerpt is one of countless examples that prove its validity. It should also be noted that her handwriting, the ink, and the glue in the diary were all analyzed to prove its authenticity, since some people (namely white supremacists) have actually claimed it was made up, as was the Holocaust.

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