In the Time of the Butterflies

In the Time of the Butterflies Summary and Analysis of Part I - Chapter Four: Patria, 1946

This chapter takes place in 1946, when Patria is 22 years old. She relates that she has always believed in God and suspected that she was to become a nun. At the age of 14 she went to school at Inmaculada Concepcion, and everyone suspected she would be going to the convent. When she is 15, Sor Asuncion has a talk with her and tells her to "listen deeply in case He is calling." But Patria is distracted by the coming storm she can see out the window.

For a while, Patria struggles against the sexual temptation she feels, trying to listen for God's call. On Holy Thursday, she volunteers to help Padre Ignacio by washing the feet of the parishioners, as is the tradition. One of the men whose feet she washes is Pedrito Gonzales, and she knows immediately that she wants to be with him, although they do not speak. He stands out to her because of his animalistic qualities, not just in the way that he appears, but also in that she feels a certain pity for him, a need to take care of him.

In May, Sor Asuncion asks her if she has heard her calling, and at last Patria confesses that she has heard it—but it is not that she should be a nun. Patria does not return to school; instead she helps Papa with the store. They plan the wedding for February 24, before her seventeenth birthday. She is tempted to make love to Pedrito before their wedding when he pours dirt into her hand and declares his simple love for her, but she resists.

She and Pedrito move to San Jose de Conuco fifteen minutes away. She gives birth to Nelson and Noris, then becomes pregnant again. She is worried about Minerva, who is speaking out against the government. In worrying about Minerva's loss of faith, she begins to struggle with her own faith. Patria does not describe having a miscarriage other than as it is connected to losing her faith: "I realized I was giving birth to something dead I had been carrying inside me." But after losing her baby, she wonders if she is being punished for giving up on her religious calling.

Patria and Pedrito move back into their family's home with the children in August. In nursing Pedrito's spirit back to health, Patria finds herself healing as well. One night, she follows him outside when he sneaks out of bed, and she witnesses him digging what looks like a little grave. Afraid that he has reburied their dead baby in unconsecrated ground, she enlists campesinos to dig up the grave in the cemetery and check, under the pretence that she has forgotten to include the baby's Virgencita medallion. But when she sees the baby "swarming with ants," "decomposing like any animal," she is horrified and feels herself losing her faith.

Chea Mirabal decides to take all her daughters on a pilgrimage to Higuey, where there have been sightings of the Virgencita. On the drive there, Chea speaks a bit too flippantly about her husband, and Patria begins to wonder why Mama wanted to go on the pilgrimage. Mama declares, "They're all scoundrels—Dominicans, Yanquis, every last man ... yes, your father, too." She will not elaborate, but Patria understands that her father must have been unfaithful. When they reach Higuey it is filled with pilgrims, so the women decide to stay with distant relations who live there. Patria shares a bed with Chea, and after they pray the rosary, Patria asks her mother, "What's wrong, Mama? ... Another woman?" Her mother confirms it.

The next morning they set out for the chapel, lying to their hosts and saying they are fasting so as not to bother them by taking their food. They wait in line to approach the altar among hordes of other pilgrims and beggars. As Maria Teresa begins to pray, Patria feels her faith coming back to life. She imagines that when she asks the Virgin, "Where are you?" She is answered with, "Here, Patria Mercedes, I'm here, all around you. I've already more than appeared."


Here as the narrator, Patria describes herself with similes both of life and of entrapment. She describes the way that she believes in God and loves "everything that lives" as automatic or natural, "like a shoot inching its way towards the light." However, during the moment of her birth, instead of being born hands first as it looked like she might be, at the last minute she "lowered my arms the way you fold in a captive bird's wings so it doesn't hurt itself trying to fly."

Also, when Sor Asuncion summons Patria to talk about listening for her calling from God, the storm that Patria notices brewing outside is a metaphor for the complex emotional situation that calls her not to living with the purity of a nun but to fulfill a more earthly calling: "Entering that sombre study, I could see just outside the window the brilliant red flames lit in every tree, and beyond, some threatening thunderclouds." When Sor Asuncion tells her to pray to the Virgencita for guidance, she "saw the first zigzag of lightning, and heard, far off, the rumble of thunder." These are hints that she is not meant to become a nun. As Patria prays with Sor Asuncion, she remembers, "I tried hard but I could not keep my eyes from straying to the flame trees, their blossoms tumbling in the wind of the coming storm." In a sense she is of the “flesh” rather than of the “spirit.”

Pedrito similarly is described in terms of the earth, since to a large degree he represents Patria's earthly calling as opposed to a heavenly one. When she looks at him while washing his feet, she notices, "A young man was staring down at me, his face alluring in the same animal way as his feet." She calls him "my earthly groom," as opposed to God, who would be her heavenly one. He is so tied to the earth (not just because of his feet) that when he describes his love for her, he says, "You are getting a man who adores you like he does this rich soil we're standing on," and he pours a handful of dirt into her palm.

Patria uses direct address as the narrator, almost always with an exclamation, as if she is trying desperately to convince the reader of something. For instance, after describing her temptation with Pedrito, she exclaims, "You'd think there was nothing else but the private debates of my flesh and spirit going on, the way I've left out the rest of my life. Don't believe it! Ask anyone around here who was the easiest, friendliest, simplest of the Mirabal girls, and they'd tell you, Patria Mercedes."

In addition, the theme of the role of women emerges for Patria in this chapter, as she worries about Minerva getting worked up about the government. She says to her little sister, "It's a dirty business, you're right. That's why we women shouldn't get involved." But Minerva argues, "women had to come out of the dark ages."

Also, Trujillo is again compared to God; here, specifically the comparison is to Jesus. In this chapter, while Patria lies beside Minerva in the hammock, they look at the pictures of Jesus and El Jefe, hung side by side. Minerva notes, "They're a pair, aren't they?" This inspires Patria to question why God would allow their country to suffer so much at the hands of Trujillo. When she looks up to challenge the picture of Jesus, "the two faces had merged!" This experience points out the God-like role that Trujillo plays in the minds of the people. He is omniscient because of his "disciples" or spies, learning what everyone in the country is doing, and to a large degree he controls what is said and done and what the country provides its people.