In the Time of the Butterflies

In the Time of the Butterflies Summary and Analysis of Part I - Chapter Two: Minerva, 1938, 1941, 1944

Complications, 1938

Minerva relates that she and her sisters had to ask permission for everything, including being able to go away to school. Papa gave permission for Patria to go to Inmaculada Concepcion because she wanted to become a nun, so Minerva asks if she can go along. Dede volunteers to be the one to stay and help Enrique Mirabal with his store until January.

At school, Minerva meets Sinita Perozo during the greeting of the new pupils. They make friends when Minerva offers Sinita a shiny button. Sinita is a "charity student," but Minerva defends her against the girls who tease her, and Sor Milagros allows them to choose beds next to each other. Sor Milagros gives the girls a talk about "personal hygiene," explaining what to do when they begin to menstruate. She calls it their "complications." After Minerva explains more about menstruation to Sinita, Sinita tells her she has a secret.

A couple of weeks later, Sinita reveals the secret during the night while Minerva lies beside her in bed. Trujillo destroyed her family, killing her uncles, her father, and her brother. Minerva considers, for the first time, that Trujillo is not the saint he makes himself out to be, and she feels as if she is going to throw up. When she wakes up the next morning, she realizes that she has begun menstruating: "my complications had started."

¡Pobrecita!, 1941

Minerva and her friends, Sinita, Elsa Sanchez, and Lourdes, all look up to Lina Lovaton, who is beautiful and is a couple of years older than they are. One day while they are outside playing volleyball, Lina is summoned to meet Trujillo. He has seen her playing volleyball and has insisted upon meeting her. He begins to visit the school often to see her, bringing gifts for her and for the nuns. He even throws her a huge party for her seventeenth birthday. Lina says she has fallen in love with him. But after her birthday party, Lina doesn't return to the school. Minerva learns from her Papa that she was taken to live in a big house as one of Trujillo's girlfriends.

Unfortunately, Lina became pregnant, and Trujillo's wife went after her with a knife. Trujillo was forced to ship her off to Miami where she would be safe, living all alone. Minerva and Sinita talk about how sorry they feel for her. Although Sinita exclaims that Trujillo is a devil, Minerva thinks that he is just a man. She imagines that he feels remorse and has nightmares about what he has done.

The Performance, 1944

Celebrations for the centennial of the Dominican Republic have been going on since Independence Day on February 27. To show their loyalty to Trujillo, the Mirabal family members make the celebration of Patria's twentieth birthday into a patriotic affair. At school, the girls are issued new history textbooks that paint Trujillo as the country's savior—"it was pretty disgusting." A new wing has been added to their school building. It is called the Lina Lovaton Gymnasium. There is going to be a recitation contest with a centennial theme, and Minerva, Sinita, Elsa, and Lourdes decide to enter together.

Minerva and her friends win the recitation contest. They learn that they will be sent to the capital to perform for Trujillo on his birthday. Minerva does not want to go, but Sinita begs her to go, saying that their play is not about Trujillo but about "a time when we were free. It's like a hidden protest." They decide to do the skit dressed as boys.

They drive to the capital and wait in the palace anteroom. They are ushered into the hall, where Trujillo is sitting next to his son, Ramfis, whispering. The girls begin the skit and gain confidence as the performance goes on. At the point when Sinita is supposed to step forward and show off her bow and arrow, she breaks from the script and walks toward Trujillo's chair, taking aim at him. Ramfis jumps up, grabs her bow, and asks for her name. When she says it is Perozo, he realizes what family she is from, and he orders her to untie Minerva, saying, "Use your dog teeth, bitch!" Released, Minerva begins the chant, "¡Viva Trujillo!" On the way home, they are scolded by Sor Asuncion for their behavior.


The dire situation of life in the Dominican Republic is portrayed symbolically when Minerva describes wanting to leave home. Minerva considers herself trapped at home, perceiving Inmaculada Concepcion as a kind of escape. She sees her own situation mirrored in that of the rabbits in their pens, but she realizes that she is nothing like a rabbit when the rabbit that she tries to let free refuses to leave the cage. As for her, however, "I'd just left a small cage to go into a bigger one, the size of our whole country."

The title of the section "Complications" refers to Minerva's becoming a woman physically, given that this is the euphemism Sor Milagros uses for menstruation. Growing up happens in many ways at once as one matures. Emotionally, the complications for Minerva involve learning about Trujillo's evil—on the night that she begins to menstruate. The two forms of growing up are linked with a simile. As Minerva listens to Sinita's story, "the aching in my belly was like wash being wrung so tightly, there wasn't a drop of water left in the clothes." Both kinds of complications are painful and gut-wrenching, leaving her feeling drained.

The section "¡Pobrecita!" tells the story of Lina Lovaton's tragic relationship with Trujillo. It begins with a country saying: "until the nail is hit, it doesn't believe in the hammer." This phrase about oblivious innocence expresses that Minerva does not realize the extent of the damage Trujillo can cause until one of her own classmates' lives is ruined because of him, right before her eyes. At the end of the section, when Minerva considers what has become of Lina Lovaton, a simile hearkens back to the country saying: "downstairs in the dark parlor, the clock was striking the hours like hammer blows." These sayings continue the violent imagery earlier in the novel.

More such violent imagery introduces Sinita's anecdote about Trujillo having all the men in her family killed. Although Minerva asks her to stop talking, "Sinita's story spilled out like blood from a cut." This image is a little melodramatic, but readers should remember the relative immaturity of the child’s perspective. Similarly, in explaining that she, Sinita, Elsa, and Lourdes are inseparable friends, Minerva relates, "Sor Asuncion was always joking that when we graduated in a couple years, she was going to have to hack us apart with a knife."

Indeed, as narrator, Minerva often uses simile in descriptions, and often it is violent. When Ramfis jumps up to grab the bow from the approaching Sinita before she reaches his father Trujillo, he moves "quick as gunfire." Minerva also uses less violent imagery when conveying an emotion connected with the action. For instance, after Sinita tells Minerva that Trujillo had three of her uncles shot, she "took a deep breath as if she were going to blow out all her grandmother's birthday candles." Of course, a deep breath would be needed to blow out the many candles marking the age of an old woman. But her grandmother would also be the mother of the three uncles who were shot, so this simile points out the loss of family and hope—the blowing out of all the lights—in her family. Finally, taking a deep breath signifies the emotional gravity of the story she has been telling.