The idea behind In the Time of the Butterflies originated in the 1960s when author Julia Alvarez was in the Dominican Republic. The Mirabal sisters had been murdered just three months after their father got involved with the underground against Trujillo.
A motif of the novel is the ruinous effect that dictatorship can have on a nation and its citizens, emotionally and physically. Over his 30-year reign, Trujillo killed 10,000 Haitians and 30,000 Dominicans. One of the focuses of the novel was his agenda to kill or eliminate blacks who occupy three-eighths of the Island of Hispanola, while the Dominican Republic, which occupies five-eighths of the area of Hispanola- contains a population of 70% mixed background.