Amy Newell '11
Hometown: Blowing Rock, NC
Minor: Sociology and Psychology
Senior Study Title: “Resistance and Change: A Comparative Literary Analysis of Latin American Female Voices in the 20th Century”
Advisor: Dr. Geoff Mitchell
This thesis is a feminist analysis of the work of two twentieth century Latin American female poets: Alfonsina Storni from Argentina and Julia de Burgos from Puerto Rico. Focusing on the effects of the patriarchal tradition in the cultural construction of Latin America, this thesis examines how the works of these two poets sought to resist and ultimately change the expectations and norms held for women in their respective societies. The works of Storni and Burgos not only oppose the hegemonic tradition of patriarchy deeply entrenched in their societies, but they, more significantly, offer an alternative path. This alternative path is shown through the discovery of their own voice, an emerging feminine voice brought forth from the midst of a masculine dominated literary discourse. The influence of the works of Storni and Burgos has over the past century changed the literary scene for women in Latin America. This thesis seeks to explore the history of patriarchy in Latin America, how feminist discourse arose in the midst of this patriarchy, and finally a comparative analysis of the works of Storni and Burgos. Though this thesis is limited in scope, it offers an opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of how women were and are viewed in Latin American culture and society through the poetry of Storni and Burgos, which offer an alternative path to the traditional patriarchal structure, an alternative path that all are invited to follow.
Amy Newell can remember the first time she read Alfonsina Storni’s poetry. She was a sophomore in Dr. Geoff Mitchell’s Spanish 262: Introduction to Literature in Spanish class in fall 2008, and although the class read a few of Storni’s poems, one poem in particular stood out: “La loba,” or “The She-Wolf.”
“The poem is about finding one’s freedom away from the ‘flock,’ or from society,” Newell said. “It is about breaking the rules of society to follow one’s own path. It was this poem, more than anything else we studied in that class, that really sparked my interest in Latin American poetry, specifically feminist poetry.”
In fall 2009, Newell elected to take Spanish 350: Independent Study, because she wanted to explore Hispanic female writers in more depth. For the class, she decided to write about Storni in a research paper, which focused on three female writers from different time periods in Latin American literary history. When she began thinking about her Senior Study, she knew she wanted to continue that research but found that she needed to narrow down her topic.
There was no question that she would include Storni.
“Her poetry is so powerful and rebellious on so many different levels that I thought, ‘There’s no way that she could not be in my senior thesis,’” Newell said.
Mitchell, associate professor of Spanish, said he wasn’t surprised when Newell approached him with the idea for her Senior Study.
“I thought it was a great idea, and I knew she’d do a really good job on it – her independent study really solidified that she was going to be doing a very good project,” Mitchell said. “My only concern at the time was, ‘Wow, there are a lot of ladies to deal with here – how are we going to get this down to something manageable?’”
Her study abroad experience in spring 2010 in Puerto Rico helped her further narrow her focus. While studying for five months at the University of Puerto Rico, Mayagüez, Newell took a class on women in literature, which introduced her to another influential female Latin American poet, Julia de Burgos.
She also worked with a women’s group, which enabled her to work with women who were survivors of violence and participate in activities across campus to promote the awareness of violence against women.
“That to me was really influential in my understanding of how much has changed in Latin America in terms of how women are viewed, but also how much still remains to change – it was a very powerful, important part of my experience,” Newell said. “I really wanted to include a part of my study abroad experience in my thesis because it was a really important part of my life.”
In her Senior Study, Newell focused on the poetry of Storni, who is from Argentina, and Burgos, who is from Puerto Rico.
“It’s basically a feminist analysis of the way that two 20th-century Latin American female poets resisted the patriarchal structure of society and sought to change that through their poetry,” Newell said.
The thesis is divided into four chapters: the first chapter is a literature review that provides an in-depth account of the history of patriarchy as it is expressed in Latin America; chapter two examines the poetry of Storni; chapter three looks at the work of Burgos; and the final chapter offers a comparative analysis of the works of Storni and Burgos.
Newell explained that patriarchy took a strong root in Latin American society, beginning with colonization and the introduction of the Spanish language, the Catholic Church and the destruction of much of indigenous culture. The introduction of compulsory education, combined with the rise of women’s literary groups in the 19th and 20th centuries “created the space for the emergence of a feminine voice, and through this, change was slowly able to occur,” leading to the creation of several different feminisms around the world.
This emerging feminine voice is evident in the poetry of Storni and Burgos.
“The works of Storni and Burgos not only oppose the hegemonic tradition of patriarchy deeply entrenched in their societies, but they, more significantly, offer an alternative path,” Newell wrote in her study. “This alternative path is shown through the discovery of their own voice, an emerging feminine voice brought forth from the midst of a masculine-dominated literary discourse.”
Through her analysis, Newell found that over the past century, the influence of the works of Storni and Burgos has changed the literary scene for women in Latin America.
“Without the poetry of Storni and Burgos among a myriad of other voices that confronted the patriarchal tradition, little would have changed,” Newell wrote. “Without their poetry as a record of artistic expression of what life was like for Latin American women in their time period, it would be seemingly more difficult to understand the complexities of gender roles and societal expectations. By analyzing their work, it becomes apparent how Storni and Burgos strove to resist the norms and expectations for women in their society; therefore creating a new alternative path by which change could and has occurred.”
Newell said she wasn’t surprised by her findings, although she was surprised at the way the two poets used their language, especially during that time period.
"Their language was very strong, and some of the themes they brought about were not socially acceptable,” she said. “They as women in their time period took a lot of risks for writing what they did, but that makes them more notable now.”
The most challenging aspect of the project was the translation, Newell said. She wrote her thesis in English, but she had to translate the poetry from Spanish to English - and keeping the same meaning in the poetry through the translation process was very difficult. One word in Spanish doesn’t necessarily have the same meaning when it is translated literally in English, she explained.
Mitchell was so impressed with Newell’s Senior Study that he recommended it for the library’s permanent collection.
“Amy writes very, very well, and her style is easily comparable to a graduate student,” he said. “The ability to translate poetry and put it into even a semblance of what it means in other languages is a skill that takes many people years to at least get their hands around, much less master. And for someone who is an undergraduate, and as easily as she was able to do it with a little bit of help from me, that’s pretty impressive.”
Despite the challenges, Newell said she is glad she completed a Senior Study, and both she and Mitchell agree that it will help her in the future, no matter what vocational path she chooses to pursue.
“Even if she weren’t to go to graduate school, doing anything like this is, first of all, a confidence builder, and second, it trains one to think analytically – to organize thoughts and really make thoughts coherent, cogent and succinct, which is a difficult thing to do, especially when it comes down to defending the thesis in Spanish,” Mitchell said. “The whole project, I think, is an experience for life, no matter what one does.”
Newell said the Senior Study helped her grow academically, but it also provided much more.
“It really made me think on a deeper level about something,” she said. “I don’t think I even scratched the surface on this – this is 80 pages, and there’s still so much that can be researched and analyzed. I think it opened my mind to how deep you can go on an issue and how little we really understand and know.”
“I think that’s the beginning of wisdom,” Mitchell said.