The Diary of Anne Frank Killed Me

I was a depressed child, easy to discourage.

In the 7th grade I had a wonderful bond with my English teacher. Students were required to turn in a "journal" (kind of like a blog?) of one page or more. In my journal folder I expressed my wishes and creativity to florid feedback (kind of like blog comments?) every week. For a brief spell I had a mentor, a rare source of encouragement outside my confusing, hopeless, fighting household.

We were assigned an oral report book review, and I was excited to choose the grand, important, real Diary of Anne Frank.

It was bad enough to be in front of the blackboard, the only one standing, lips trembling. Acne. The cool kids.

Within my first sentence the whole thing went horribly wrong: "Anne Frank's diary was discovered in a garret after the Nazis captured ..." The teacher's face must have indicated it was okay for the class to get disorderly because the "ooooooo"'s rose like a mess of pigeons from the desks. Someone was in trouble. 

Would you believe that my introduction to a book report of Anne Frank counted as a spoiler? I was dinged for "giving away the ending." I tried to argue: Frank's death was not the point of the book, wasn't included IN the book, and everyone knew she was dead by the time they picked up the book. In fact, her death was alluded to on the back cover. Can you even imagine a meaningful way to tell her story without disclosing her capture?

This, my only bad grade until that point, marked the moment I gave up on writing. My own refuge had been violated, my psyche smashed in that way I would have expected from my classmates but didn't think was even possible of this particular teacher. Years of observations were confirmed: you can't trust grown ups.

(I wonder, if I'd known that I was Jewish then [whole nother post] would this story have a different ending?)

* * * Comments * * *


Abigail said...

For me it was ninth grade English. Mr Lass taught how to write a proper essay with the thesis depicted as a triangle, arguments as rectangles and conclusion as an upside down triangle. I never got it. My grade suffered and I got terrible marks on essays all through college. I was 38 before I began writing creatively and even a published book hasn't completely convinced me that writing is one of my talents.

Its scary the influence adults can have on a child.

My own are surely doomed! ;)

Prue said...

I understand where both of you are comming from. My confidence took it's fatal hit in an English exam in Year 8. 50% of the mark was a critique of an until then unseen poem. Tiger Tiger. Well, I went totally off the accepted meaning ... failed... and my love of reading poetry and writing in my own journal stopped.
Even now at 47 I start a journal and within days my teacher's very public announcement of my failure comes back to me and the pages remain blank. So many nearly empty journals adorn my shelves.

Anonymous said...

Prue, your story resonates with me so much, I nearly failed college composition because the instructor rejected my own reading of the symbolism in "Young Goodman Brown." Someone needs to explain to English teachers that if they are going to do this they need to understand that symbolism works not just universally but individually as well -- there is no "One True Meaning."

Fresh, thank you for your story today. Miep Gies deserves our respect and thanks for being one of those who tried to save the Frank and Pels families, and for delivering the diary to Anne's father. I said it earlier today but it bears repeating: my own understanding of the Holocaust was so much deeper and more personal for having read Anne's diary, but she also provided me insight into the painful process of moving from girlhood to womanhood in a society that is not friendly. I was so moved by her words that I couldn't finish reading the book, knowing that this girl with whom I felt such a close kinship did not survive.


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