Bringing a Culture to Life through Literature
Written by Madeleine Jepsen
Even after growing up in a Spanish-speaking household, junior Christina Dressel continues to delve deeper into learning the language through literature. A Spanish and politics double major, Christina has used Spanish-literature courses to gain a better appreciation for the culture and histories of Latin America and Spain. These courses have added an entirely new dimension to her studies.
Last semester Christina took a class on Don Quixote and spent the course reading Miguel Cervantes’ thousand-page novel in its original Spanish form. During the class, she developed a deeper appreciation for the book, which she now considers her favorite Spanish novel.
“I love the character Don Quixote,” she said. “It’s set in this weird time in Spain between the old knighthood and becoming more modern. So there’s this guy stuck in this middle time, and he’s reading all these chivalry books and thinks he’s a knight. He goes out on all these adventures, and it’s this really interesting situation between reality and his dreams.”
In addition to the title-character’s chivalrous antics, Don Quixote addresses deeper themes like religion and a rich portrayal of Spanish culture, which Christina enjoys.
“Don Quixote thinks he’s a good Christian, but he messes up all the time, and he doesn’t realize it,” Christina said. “Pride and courage come up a lot…. Cervantes has been the one I’ve been most touched by, just because he comes from Spain, and he’s really good at describing their social situation without saying it outright.”
Now Christina is exploring the culture of Latin American countries in her short stories class. The class takes a sampling of literature from each country, providing students with a glimpse into each country’s culture and history.
“I like short stories because we read stories from pretty much every country in Latin America and Spain as well,” she said. “Latin America has been dealing with Communism, and Spain has been dealing with Fascism in the past hundred-some years. It’s fascinating because you get to know what’s happening in these countries. The problems are really revealed in the literature, even if the author isn’t directly talking about them.”
Despite the serious subjects of the stories, which often depict the darkness of wartime and poverty, Christina said the insights they provide make it worthwhile, and the variety keeps things fresh from day to day.
“It’s a cool class, because every day is different,” she said. “The way I think of it is that they’re English classes, but they just happen to be in Spanish. So, you get the same elements that you get from the English liberal arts.”
Madeleine Jepsen, ‘18, studies biochemistry and journalism. Outside the classroom, Madeleine serves as a reporter and assistant editor for the Collegian. She is also involved in Catholic Society.