In the Time of the Butterflies

Summary and Analysis of Part I - Chapter Three: Maria Teresa, 1945 to 1946

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Maria Teresa's narration is in diary form. She received the diary from Minerva for her First Communion. She finds it difficult to reflect. She reports that the girls at school steal the diary and make fun of her. Maria Teresa interprets her First Communion as meaning that now she really has a soul, and she asks Minerva what that even means. Maria Teresa also talks to the diary as if it is her friend. She also notes that she is "advanced" for her age, since she has three older sisters, and that she does not much like Inmaculada Concepcion.

In December, Maria Teresa records taking the train home for the holidays with Minerva. On the train, Minerva explains about menstruation and sex. A young man who has been following them, saying Minerva is "the most beautiful woman he'd ever seen," offers them cashews, and he comments on the drawing of a penis that Minerva has been showing to Maria Teresa.

At home, Patria has brought over her two children, Noris and Nelson, and is pregnant with a third. Maria Teresa makes "resolves" for the new year, including not scaring Nelson with scary stories. She goes shopping in Santiago with Mama and Minerva, who talks Mama into letting her buy a new swimsuit. Maria Teresa's cousins, Berto and Raul, come to visit with Tia Flor. Even at her young age, Maria Teresa thinks they are very "special-minded," especially Berto, who brought them roses.

On Three Kings Day, Minerva awkwardly mentions that they ought to celebrate Benefactor's Day at the cemetery. Maria Teresa does not understand what she means. On Benefactor's Day, Maria Teresa takes "these few minutes to wish El Jefe Happy Benefactor's Day with all my heart. I feel so lucky that we have him for a president."

Back at school in January, Maria Teresa feels homesick and lonely. In February, she is summoned to the principal's office to vouch for Minerva, who has been sneaking out of school. Minerva says it is to visit their sick uncle, Tio Mon, in La Vega, and Maria Teresa corroborates her lie. Later, she confronts her older sister, angry that she had to lie. Eventually, Minerva tells her that she, Elsa, Lourdes, and Sinita have been meeting secretly at Don Horacio's house, who is Elsa's grandfather. Knowing about Minerva's meetings, Maria Teresa begins to question Trujillo's benevolence. Tio Mon appears at the school unexpectedly, totally healthy, and Minerva must rush him away before he can give away that she was lying about his illness.

Minerva is now hanging around with the revolutionary Hilda, of whom Maria Teresa disapproves. Sor Asuncion says that Hilda has a bad attitude, and Maria Teresa thinks she is an orphan. In June, guards come looking for Hilda, who is hiding at Inmaculada Concepcion, pretending to be a student. In July, Minerva graduates and Patria miscarries, losing her son. She and Pedrito are staying at Mama's house until she recovers emotionally.

The diary ends with a rushed entry in which Maria Teresa explains that she must hand the book over to Minerva because it mentions Hilda. Hilda has been caught in the convent, and Minerva is burying everything that mentions her friend's name so as not to be implicated. Maria Teresa promises that "it won't be forever, my dear Little Book, I promise."

Analysis

Because Maria Teresa's chapters are narrated in diary form, her voice is affected by her age at the time. In this chapter, she is eleven and twelve years old. Although she does not understand some of what is going on, the reader can gather information from her reports. For instance, on Three Kings Day, when Minerva mentions that they should celebrate Benefactor's Day in a cemetery, Maria Teresa says, "I guess I do have a reflection. Why should we celebrate Benefactor's Day in the cemetery? I asked Minerva, but she said it was just a bad joke, forget she said so." The reader understands Minerva's meaning even if Maria Teresa does not.

Maria Teresa's devotion to and admiration of Minerva are apparent in this chapter, as she notes. Minerva is the one who gave her the diary, encouraging her to reflect as a way to "deepen one's soul." After her First Communion, when Maria Teresa asks Minerva what it means to really have a soul, "Minerva says a soul is like a deep longing in you that you can never fill up, but you try." She also demonstrates her commitment to Minerva by lying for her, corroborating the story that Tio Mon is ill and that this is why Minerva has been sneaking out of school.

In lying for Minerva, Maria Teresa indirectly becomes involved in her older sister's revolutionary activities. It is the beginning of their downfall, and this is expressed in a simile of jumping into water together: "She took both my hands in hers as if we were getting ready to jump together into a deep spot in the lagoon of Ojo de Agua ... I pictured myself on a hot day falling, slowly and deeply, into those cold layers of water. I held on tight to my sister's hands, no longer afraid of anything but that she might let go." Maria Teresa gradually learns more and more about the revolutionary activities, including the reason for Hilda’s presence.

Maria Teresa's ideas about Trujillo change considerably during this chapter. On Benefactor's Day, she writes, "I feel so lucky that we have him as a president." But after Minerva tells her about the revolutionary meetings she is going to, Maria Teresa writes, "Everything looks just a little different ... Before, I always thought our president was like God, watching over everything I did." He might be always watching through his spies, but the constant judgments concern not human rights and human morality, as God’s judgments might. Trujillo is judging adherence to his authoritarian regime. The comparison of Trujillo to divinity is a theme that runs throughout the novel. He is compared to God from the perspective of an innocent child, but as she matures she learns that this is not the right way to look at the nation’s leader.

Finally, diction that evokes death appears throughout Maria Teresa's diary, setting a somber tone and in some ways foreshadowing the events to come. For example, when Minerva tells Maria Teresa about her revolutionary gatherings, Maria Teresa writes, "I swear my older sister will be the death of me!" When Minerva suggests that they should celebrate Benefactor's Day in the cemetery, "the room went silent as a tomb."