In the Time of the Butterflies

In the Time of the Butterflies Summary and Analysis of Part III - Chapter Eleven: Maria Teresa, March to August 1960

Maria Teresa is writing in a notebook smuggled in to her by Santiclo, Carmen's cousin, who is one of the guards at La Victoria. She, Minerva, and the rest of the "woman politicals" are locked in a cell with sixteen "nonpoliticals," some of whom are serving time for dangerous crimes. Minerva and another revolutionary leader, Sina, hold classes and discussions in the southeast corner. One of the nonpolitical prisoners, Dinorah, has a terrible attitude about the "rich women." But Maria Teresa befriends one of the other women, Magdalena, who also has a little daughter.

Periodically, they are taken for questioning and put through humiliating ordeals. But they keep in touch with the men in the adjacent cell by using a knocking code. In the "little school" that Minerva holds every day, they rehearse three cardinal rules: "Never believe them. Never fear them. Never ask them anything." Maria Teresa struggles with panic and tries to plan a daily schedule to "ward off the panic that sometimes comes over me." She is especially upset that Minerva convinced her to refuse to be released with some of the other politicals out of principle.

On April 2, Maria Teresa writes about the Crucifix Plot. As a demonstration of solidarity, the prisoners have been wearing crucifixes and singing. Because of the suspicion surrounding the Catholic Church, Trujillo ordered that the crucifixes be taken away. When Minerva resisted, fighting with the guards, she was put in solitary. As she is being led there, the prisoners call out, "¡Viva la Mariposa!"

On April 7, Patria, Mama, and Pedrito visit Maria Teresa and tell her that Nelson is free and Leandro is being held in La 40. Though this news is uplifting for her, Maria Teresa is still feeling very depressed. She has missed three periods and is worried that she is pregnant; moreover, the guards might make her carry her baby to term and then "give it to some childless general's wife like the story Magdalena told me. That would kill me."

But a few days later, on April 11, Maria Teresa reports, "I've either bled a baby or had a period. And no one had to do a thing about it after the SIM got to me." The reader does not find out until the end of the chapter that Maria Teresa was taken to La 40 and whipped in front of Leandro, to try to convince him to do a job for Trujillo, though it is not described what the job is. It worked; Leandro cried out, "I'll do it! I'll do it!"

Magdalena and Balbina, a deaf prisoner, nurse Maria Teresa back to health. Minerva returns from solitary, but Maria Teresa cannot bring herself to tell her sister the details of what happened to her in La 40; Magdalena is the only one she tells. At Minerva's urging, she writes the incident down. On Monday, May 23, Maria Teresa and Minerva are arraigned and sentenced to five years in prison at a "joke of a trial," with no representation.

The OAS (Organization of American States) is coming to investigate the political prisoners' situation, and Minerva urges Maria Teresa to share the incident she has written down with the OAS. Rumors spread through the prisoner community that Leandro is accused of being a traitor, and Maria Teresa worries that "The movement is falling apart with all this mistrust and gossip." Meanwhile, Dinorah is bothering the rest of the cellmates even more than usual. When Patria slips Maria Teresa a newspaper clipping reporting that the OAS is actually coming to investigate, she smuggles it out of the visiting room by braiding it into her hair. The guards are nervous that the prisoners might complain, and Maria Teresa feels bad for Santiclo.

On July 11, Maria Teresa tells Magdalena's heartbreaking story: as a young girl, she worked as a maid for a wealthy family, the de la Torres, and was repeatedly raped there. She became pregnant, and the Dona threw her out. She gave birth to Amantina, but the de la Torres took her away from her mother. When Magdalena tried to get her back, breaking into the home with a knife, she was sentenced to 20 years in prison for attempted murder. After telling the story, Magdalena kisses Maria Teresa, making her feel uncomfortable.

The OAS Peace Committee will be interviewing one prisoner from each pavilion, and the head guards choose Maria Teresa. Because the rooms will be tapped and she will not be able to speak aloud freely, Minerva tries to persuade her to smuggle in to them a personal statement about what she went through in La 40, along with a letter explaining what their conditions are really like. After her ten-minute session in the visitors' hall with seven members of the committee, Maria Teresa lets the letter containing the statement written by Minerva and Sina and signed "The Fourteenth of June Movement" fall out of her braid, and the young commissioner leading her out picks it up. However, she does not let drop the letter with her own personal account.

On August 7, Maria Teresa reports that she and Minerva will be released the next day along with the other women politicals. She feels sad to be leaving Magdalena behind; the other female inmates seem to have become her sisters. They have a little going away party.


In this chapter, Maria Teresa includes little asides in parentheses. When she discusses how most of the women break down and cry, she explains, "The alternative is freezing yourself up, never showing what you're feeling, never letting on what you're thinking. (Like Dinorah. Jailface, the girls call her.)" In reporting the second time she was questioned: "they didn't even threaten that much except to say that it was too bad a pretty lady would have to grow old in prison. Miss out on ... (A bunch of lewd comments I won't bother to repeat here.)" The whole diary is secret and must be hidden from guards, and the inclusion of these little parenthetical notes reflects the secrecy of the whole chapter.

Maria Teresa uses rhetorical questions throughout the chapter. Though the whole chapter is, obviously, Maria Teresa's narration, it is as if these sections are a special window into the questions she asks herself without speaking aloud: "And it's certain now—Leandro is not here with the rest of us. Oh God, where could he be?" In some cases, rhetorical questions are asked inside parentheses, as if Maria Teresa is including them only as an aside to the line of narrative: "[Minerva] says we don't want to create a class system in our cell, the haves and have nots. (We don't? What about when Tiny gave Dinorah a dulce de leche as payment for her favors, and she didn't offer anyone a crumb, even Miguelito?)."

The symbol of thread appears again in this chapter, when Maria Teresa is discussing with Magdalena the connection between people. 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."

Maria Teresa's style of punctuating her diary narrative with exclamations continues throughout this chapter. After her arraignment, she writes the date: "Wednesday, May 25 (125 days - 1,826 days to go - Oh, God!)." The next entry, she records, "Wednesday, June 15 (I've decided to stop counting - it's just too depressing!)." She has found out that she and Minerva are each sentenced to five years, and though Minerva's reaction is to laugh, Maria Teresa's is to cry. In commenting on the new women guards who are appointed to "impress the OAS with the prison system's delicacy towards women prisoners," Maria Teresa exclaims, "Delicacy! These women are as tough or tougher than the men."

Though the intimate bond between Minerva and Maria Teresa that has been developing throughout the novel is made clear in this chapter, 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, I don't know. But right then and there, I decided not to drop the second note. 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; she sees him as a person, and she refuses to risk his being punished or even shot.