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Double Major’s SURI Project Encompasses Spanish and Psychology

woman working on laptop

Cadet Marilyn Cardenas-Paredes ’21 works on her project exploring the connections between “El obsceno pájaro de la noche” (“The Obscene Bird of Night”) and “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” VMI photo courtesy of Cardenas-Paredes.

For many cadets, just getting through a long and complex novel in English would be a challenge. But this summer, Cadet Marilyn Cardenas-Paredes ’21 not only succeeded in finishing one of the most difficult books written in Spanish, but she also completed a Summer Undergraduate Research Institute project about it.

Cardenas-Paredes, a double major in modern languages and cultures and psychology, is a native speaker of Spanish. But even that massive advantage was only some help when she tackled Chilean novelist José Donoso’s “El obsceno pájaro de la noche” (“The Obscene Bird of Night”) and compared it to another book written in English: Ken Kesey’s “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.”

Despite being written in different languages by authors with different cultural backgrounds, the books share many similarities, including themes of abnormal psychology and narrators who are either mute or pretending to be mute.

“In their novels, Donoso and Kesey include these characters with neurotic and psychotic symptoms to emphasize the streams of consciousness we experience every day in an exaggerated light,” Cardenas-Paredes explained. “Even though characters like Mudito [the deaf-mute narrator of ‘El obsceno pájaro de la noche’] demonstrate paranoid schizophrenic symptoms such as delusions and hallucinations and disorganized thinking, we can relate to the characters in the novels in many ways. We share most of the same fears and desires.”

In her research, Cardenas-Paredes focused on the distinction between the conscious and the unconscious in the human mind, how schizophrenia contributes to the novels, and the concept of being made a freak.

Cardenas-Paredes noted that thanks to her choice of SURI projects, she’s been able to merge her interests in Spanish and psychology. She admitted that during the school year, the double major keeps her quite busy with 20 credits or more each semester, but it also brings extra rewards.

“Additionally, I receive more leadership opportunities: I am a cadet-in-charge for the Psychology Club and will hopefully become the president of Sigma Delta Pi [a national honor society for Spanish students] in the fall,” Cardenas-Paredes wrote in an email over the summer.

Guiding Cardenas-Paredes’ work along the way has been her academic adviser, Col. Kathleen Bulger-Barnett, Ph.D., professor of modern languages and cultures (Spanish). Bulger-Barnett noted that few undergraduates tackle “El obsceno pájaro de la noche.”

“In my opinion, ‘El obsceno pájaro de la noche’ is one of the three most difficult novels in all of Spanish-American fiction,” Bulger-Barnett wrote in an email. “Many readers are unable to finish it … It demands persistence and patience from its reader.”

Bulger-Barnett also commented that Cardenas-Paredes’ scholarship might generate interest in Donoso’s novel.

“Her application of abnormal psychology to these novels is a great contribution to a broader understanding and comprehension of the narrative,” Bulger-Barnett noted. “In our culture, many people are familiar with ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,’ or they have seen the film. I think her project could increase readership of ‘El obsceno pájaro de la noche’ and her study serves as a helpful guide along the way.”

As her 1st Class year begins, Cardenas-Paredes finds herself eager to continue her research, but not sure how to do so because she’s already completed her capstone project for Spanish and her capstone project for psychology will require the use of statistical analytic software, which doesn’t lend itself easily to literary analysis.

“Still, I have told Colonel Bulger-Barnett various times that I will definitely tackle this project again,” Cardenas-Paredes wrote. “I do not know when, but the novels are always on my mind, and I am still so interested with all the ideas I have.”

After VMI, Cardenas-Paredes hopes to commission into the Air Force and attend law school before becoming a Judge Advocate General’s Corps officer.

  • Mary Price VMI Communications & Marketing