Libby Hess '14

Hometown: Maryville, TN
Major: Spanish with Teacher Licensure
Senior Study Title: “Magical History: Exploring the Chilean Dictatorship through La casa de los espíritus
Advisor: Dr. Geoff Mitchell


Thesis Abstract


When Libby Hess ’14 was studying abroad in Chile, she was struck by the general hesitance of Chileans to discuss the recent military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet, whose regime began with a violent coup that overthrew the democratically elected Marxist President Salvadore Allende in 1973.

For 17 years, the military dictatorship altered the social, economic and political institutions of Chile – including literature produced during the Pinochet era.

“Although many intellectuals with Socialist leanings were forced into exile, a great number of texts written by Chilean nationals found subversive ways to criticize the Pinochet dictatorship and celebrate the Chilean culture,” said Hess, who is from Maryville, Tenn. “I began looking at literature published by Chileans living in exile and found the amazing novel La casa de los espíritus by Isabel Allende, which explores the deep connections between magic, family and femininity in an unnamed Latin American country.”

Hess decided to further explore the topic in her Senior Study, titled “Magical History: Exploring the Chilean Dictatorship through La casa de los espíritus.”

La casa de los espíritus, through the inherently Latin American genre of magical realism, follows the journey, which spans four generations of women, from reliance on magic to escape social and political constraints to full political awareness and activism,” Hess wrote in her Senior Study.

A Spanish with teacher licensure major, she also wrote a nontraditional chapter for her Senior Study, which includes a resource website for high school teachers who want to use the novel in a Spanish IV/V classroom.

“It includes lesson plans and activities based on the novel,” she said. “Through a careful study of this novel, high school Spanish students can connect the influence that a country’s history and politics has on its literature.”

Hess said the most challenging aspect of the Senior Study was finding authentic sources about the dictatorship, since few Chileans discuss or write about the topic.

Through her Senior Study, she learned about a genre of literature with which she was unfamiliar: magical realism.

“I learned about a beautiful genre of literature that is uniquely Latin American called magical realism, which incorporates fantastical elements into the plot of the story as if they were normal, everyday occurrences – it makes for a gorgeous, thought-provoking story line,” Hess said. “I highly recommend La casa de los espíritus, or The House of the Spirits. It’s OK to read the English translation!

Her advisor, Dr. Geoff Mitchell, said his student’s Senior Study was one of the most innovative projects he has seen in recent years.

“She combined language teaching pedagogy with detailed lesson plans, technology, and an interesting literary text in order to engage future students in language and culture,” said Mitchell, associate professor of Spanish at Maryville College.

Hess, who completed her student teaching in the fall, now teaches Spanish at Greenback School in Loudon County.

She said she thinks her Senior Study will help her in her career because it “reinforced my love for incorporating ‘real’ Spanish in the classroom.”

“Many students of Spanish are never exposed to the great literature and cultures from the Spanish speaking world,” she said. “I hope to be able to use the knowledge gained from my thesis as well as my website in the classroom.”

Her advisor agreed.

“Although she was initially concerned that she may not have the opportunity to use her lessons in the classroom, I pointed out that her creativity and technological expertise would enable her to adapt and modify her project to suit the students and the level,” Mitchell said.

 By Chloe Kennedy, Assistant Director of Communications