In the Time of the Butterflies

In the Time of the Butterflies Essay Questions

  1. 1

    What is the purpose of Alvarez's use of violent imagery?

    The violent imagery that permeates the entire novel demonstrates the constant presence of Trujillo in his authoritarian regime, with a constant threat of violence everywhere. It is apparent already in the first chapter, as Enrique Mirabal jokes about how quickly he had four daughters: "Bang-bang-bang, their father likes to joke, aiming a finger pistol at each one, as if he were shooting them, not boasting about having sired them." The joke is about their births, so the foreshadowing of their deaths is ironic. During the ill-fated centennial performance, when Ramfis jumps up to grab the bow from the approaching Sinita before she reaches his father Trujillo, he moves "quick as gunfire." Violent diction is particularly significant in Chapter 6: as Enrique Mirabal leads Minerva down the driveway into the garden, "The moon was a thin, bright machete cutting its way through patches of clouds." This metaphor is continued when Minerva describes its light as "sharp," foreshadowing the slap she is about to receive from her father.

  2. 2

    How does Alvarez address becoming a woman?

    In Chapter 2, the title of the section "Complications" refers both to Minerva's becoming a woman physically, since this is the euphemism Sor Milagros uses for menstruation, and to growing up emotionally as she learns about Trujillo's evil for the first time the night she begins to menstruate. Maturation involves developing a more critical eye regarding oneself and one’s leaders and authority figures. 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." Patria observes her daughter, Noris, becoming a woman in Chapter 8. When Noris meets her after the mountainside is bombed, Patria notices "a change in her, as if her soul had at last matured and begun its cycles." This imagery recollects Chapter 2, in which Minerva begins her "complications" both physically and emotionally as she realizes the country is in danger, and the power and evil of Trujillo. It also is reminiscent of Maria Teresa, who in her diary entries as a young girl yearned to discover her soul.

  3. 3

    How does the theme of entrapment symbolize the authoritarian regime in the Dominican Republic?

    The dire situation of the Dominican Republic is particularly apparent through the symbol of a cage. When Minerva describes wanting to leave home to go to school, she considers herself trapped at home, and she views going to 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, "I'd just left a small cage to go into a bigger one, the size of our whole country." In the epilogue, the theme of entrapment is apparent in Dede's reaction to the telegram Mama shows her on the morning after the girls' death. It says that there has been a car accident and that they should go to the hospital in Santiago, meaning that the girls might be alive. "And my heart in my rib cage was a bird that suddenly began to sing. Hope!" The conceit of a cage can be applied to the whole island of the Dominican Republic or to one’s personal feelings. Dede has been trapped by her own fear, and the telegram gives her a bit of short-lived hope. There is also something safe and protective about a cage—regardless of the regime, thoughts are free inside oneself—and militarily, the revolutionaries from other countries are at first repelled by the Dominican Republic’s protective forces. Thus, perhaps the rabbit demonstrates some wisdom in choosing to remain entrapped and safe from harm. Yet, the difference with Trujillo’s regime is that the cage door is not open; there is not a choice.

  4. 4

    Describe the relationship between Maria Teresa and Minerva.

    Maria Teresa's devotion to and admiration of Minerva is apparent throughout her diary entries. After all, it is Minerva who gave her both her first and her second diaries, encouraging her to reflect as a way to "deepen one's soul." She demonstrates her commitment to Minerva by lying for her, corroborating her story that their Tio Mon is ill, to protect Minerva after she has been caught sneaking out of school. In lying for Minerva, Maria Teresa becomes involved in her older sister's revolutionary activities indirectly. It is the beginning of their downfall, and this is expressed as a simile of jumping into water together.

    The reader also learns about many important events in Minerva's life through Maria Teresa's diary entries. For instance, we learn in Maria Teresa's report about the speech at Salcedo Civic Hall that Minerva has gained permission to attend law school. We also learn about Minerva's marriage to Manolo, the birth of Minou, and Trujillo's denial of her license to practice law upon graduation from law school.

    The symbol of thread appears in this chapter, when Maria Teresa is discussing the connection between people with Magdalena. They decide, "There is something deeper. Sometimes I really feel it in here, especially late at night, a current going among us, like an invisible needle stitching us together into the glorious, free nation we are becoming." Being stitched together does not mean they are the same, however. When she finds out that she and Minerva are each sentenced to five years, Minerva's reaction is to laugh, but Maria Teresa's is to cry.

    In Chapter 11, Maria Teresa decides to go against her sister's wishes and does not give the OAS the letter of her personal account. She explains, "The second note with my story was lodged further up in my braid. Maybe it was the sight of that ribbon Santiclo had given me when I was so broken, [but] I just couldn't take a chance and hurt my friend." This decision demonstrates an important difference between Maria Teresa and Minerva: Minerva tells her little sister, "This isn't personal, Mate ... This is principle," but Maria Teresa sees Santiclo as more than just a symbol of what they are revolting against, because she sees him as a person and refuses to risk his being punished or even shot.

  5. 5

    How is the weather used to reflect the narrative?

    When Sor Asuncion calls in Patria to have a talk about listening for her calling from God, the storm that Patria sees brewing outside is a metaphor for her earthly calling, at odds with her desire to be a nun: "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." She takes it as a hint 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."

    The ominous events of the Discovery Day party are also mirrored by the weather's progression to a rain storm. When they arrive at the party, "there is a strong breeze, announcing rain." When Minerva mentions Lio's name, "suspicion clouds the gaze" of Trujillo's face; and when she refuses to dance with Manuel de Moya initially, "a cloud of annoyance crosses his face." When Minerva slaps Trujillo, it is like the clap of thunder that begins the storm: "and then the rain comes down hard, slapping sheets of it." In the midst of the storm, her family is the ship that steers her to temporary safety: "Dede and Patria are turning in all directions like lookouts on the mast of a ship."

  6. 6

    How does Patria's view of Trujillo as like God change?

    Throughout the novel, Patria compares Trujillo to God, specifically Jesus. In Chapter 4, 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 at the hands to Trujillo. When she looks up to challenge the picture of Jesus, "the two faces had merged!" This experience points out the Godlike role that Trujillo plays; he is omniscient, with his spies, penetrating everyone in the country, making almost everyone into his "disciples" or spies. In Chapter 10, Patria says, "Maybe because I was used to the Good Shepherd and Trujillo side by side in the old house, I caught myself praying a little greeting as I walked by." She wants her family back from him, and "prayer was the only way I knew to ask."

    But when Patria arrives at the capital for the release of Nelson, she feels no kinship toward him—quite the opposite: "The more I tried to concentrate on the good side of him, the more I saw a vain, greedy, unredeemed creature. Maybe the evil one had become flesh like Jesus!"

  7. 7

    How are traditional views of women challenged in the novel?

    The theme of the role of women emerges for Patria in Chapter 4, 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 "that women had to come out of the dark ages." Speaking to the interview woman, Dede addresses the theme of the role of women. She says, "'Back in those days, we women followed our husbands.' Such a silly excuse. After all, look at Minerva. 'Let's put it this way,' Dede adds. 'I followed my husband. I didn't get involved.'" She is aware that she was using the traditional female role as an excuse for not supporting her sisters, something for which she still feels guilty.

  8. 8

    How does Lio Morales affect the relationship between Dede and Minerva?

    There has always been tenseness between Dede and Minerva. Their personalities are at odds: Minerva is full of questions and mischief, while Dede is much more organized and chooses to smile and dismiss things without stirring up trouble. But it is Lio who brings out Dede's resentment toward her sister. Though she loves Jaimito, Dede is jealous of Lio's interest in Minerva. She sees them as a glamorous couple doing exciting things, while she and Jaimito are expected to end up together. She exposes them hiding in the bushes together, and she even burns Lio's letter intended for her sister. Dede tells herself it is to protect Minerva, but it is clearly also borne of jealousy that her sister might get involved in such a daring adventure with Lio.

  9. 9

    Describe how Alvarez creates the feeling that death is lurking in Maria Teresa's diary entries.

    Death seems to lurk throughout Chapter 7 in particular. Of course, Enrique Mirabal has actually died, and Maria Teresa's recurring dream revolves around a coffin. But she also uses language that calls death to mind; the chapter opens with her statement, "I feel like dying myself!" When she comes back to her diary on July 3, she writes, "Diary, I know you have probably thought me dead all these months."

  10. 10

    How is Patria tied both to heaven and to earth?

    As narrator, Patria uses similes and personification that connect her both to heaven and to earth. For a while she is torn between becoming a nun and becoming a woman focused on earthly matters. When Padre de Jesus tells her he cannot help her because he, too, is lost, she says, "I was shaking like when a breeze blows through the sacristy and the votive candles flicker." She is in the position of the prayerful candles, being shaken by nature. When she is overwhelmed by the beauty of Constanza, she personifies the land and nature as if it is tied to God: "Purple mountains reaching towards angelfeather clouds; a falcon soaring in a calm blue sky; God combing His sunshine fingers through green pastures straight out of the Psalms." Pedrito ties Patria to earth. She is attracted to him for his animal-like qualities, and when he proposes to her he pours dirt into her hand. This is also evident in the language she uses to express how she is not worried about him like she worries about her sisters: "Pedrito didn't worry me. I knew he would always have one hand in the soil and the other somewhere on me."

    Patria's struggle to reconcile heaven and earth comes to a climax in Chapter 9 as she breaks down on Mama's front lawn. She tears up the grass from the ground around her, screaming. Dede gets down on her knees and puts the ground back in place, and "in a soothing voice, she reminded her sister of the faith that had always sustained her." Dede leads Patria in reciting the Credo, helping her find refuge in heaven when Pedrito, who connects her to earth, has been taken from her.