People in the modern world at time tend to ignore or not to care about the past, this is a mistake made by many as you cannot move forward without knowing where you are coming from. In the book In the Time of the Butterflies, Julia Alvarez puts her effort in articulating the proper attitudes in regards to history. She suggests that the security one has, the freedom and the advancement one is experiencing should necessitate one to remember her past. This is done through the message that is passed by the characters in the book, the dictatorial regime that existed in Dominican Republic and the hard work of the citizenry.
The novel is set in the Dominican Republic and depicts lives of the Miribal family between 1938 and 1994. The book is narrated by the Maribal sisters patricia, Minerva, Dede and Maria Teresa also kown as Mate. The events are arranged in a chronological order. Dede is the surviving of the Maribal sister and she lives in America.
The novel begins in 1994 where Dede, the only surviving of the Mirabal sister, meets with Alvarez who wants to interview her about her family. She starts by recalling the time in 1943 when their father had predicted that Dede will bury all her sisters “… in silk and pearls.” The following chapter is narrated by Minerva and touches on the 1938 to 1944, this is where Minerva and Patricia begin their schooling and she become friends with Sinita Perozo, in Sinita’s family all their male members of their family were mercilessly murdered for opposing the administration of Dominican dictator, Rafael Trujillo. Minerva though young is shocked and marveled on learning of the bad leadership. We also learn that all the Dominican Republic is taught in schools to fear the leader. Later in 1941 Trujillo seduced Lina a girl who was the same school with Minerva. When Lina becomes pregnant she is sent to Miami to go live there. Minerva also gets an opportunity with her school friend to perform a play during the Independence Day celebration before Trujillo. During the play, Sinita points an arrow at Trojilla but is stopped by Trujillo’s son Ramfis. Minerva saves the day by chanting “Long live Trujillo”
In the third chapter is about Maria Teresa’s diary from 1945 to 1946. In this narrates her childhood life; the pleasures and her clothes. There is also a mention of Hilda who is a revolutionary and fights Trujillo and is Minerva’s friend. Hilda is later arrested and Maria is forced to hide the diary from the police.
In chapter four, Patria narrates the story which begins in 1946, Patria initially wanted to become a nun but later falls in love with Pedrito and latter marry. They have 2 children but their last child is born dead, Patricia losses her faith in religion due to the loss of her third child. She later regains her faith after Virgin Mary speaks to her.
In chapter five Dede talks in 1994 about Lio, who she had a romantic interest in when she was young; Lio is a doctor and also a revolutionary. Lio is forced to flee Dominican Republic after due to his activities as a revolutionist. Lio gives a letter to Dede to hand to Minerva pleading with Minerva to join Lio in exile; Dede decides to burn the letter
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In the sixth chapter Minerva narrates of how fron 1949, Inmaculada graduates and wants to join Law school. Inmaculada later discovers of how her father has 4 daughters who are illegitimate and he has been hidings letters from Lio to her. Her family latter attends an event hosted by Trujillo, Minerva slaps Trujillo because of his bad dancing. These forces the family leaves the party after it rained. Minerva forgets her purse and in the purse there was a letter from Lio and cause her father to be arrested. But he is later released after many weeks when Minerva and her mother plead with Trujillo.
In chapter seven Maria Teresa by use of her diary entries between 1953 to 1958 give an account of those years. Her father dies in 1953, Minerva joins law school and goes through lots of experiences there and she later marries Manolo Tavarez and gets a daughter and later graduates from law school. Trujillo denies Minerva a practice license as a lawyer. Minerva and Manolo undergo problems in their marriage but they end after they join an underground movement against the administration of Trujillo. The influence Maria Teresa to join the movement which she does, she is given a code name Mariposa 2 while Minerva is Mariposa 1. Mariposa. The main reason for Maria Teresa to join the movement is because of her feelings to Guzman who is one of the members of the movement. Maria Teresa is successful and married Leandro Guzman in 1958.
In chapter eight patria becomes pregnant and gets a child who she names Raul Ernesto after a Cuban revolutionary Raul Castro and Ernesto Guevara. Patria also offers her farm for the movement to meet and later heads to a retreat. While on a retreat, the place is bombed and she watches a boy die. The bombing is done by Trujillo’s forces that are after rebels that are hiding in the forests. This makes Patria to join the resistance and she convinces Pedrito to join the revolution. The revolutionist name their resistance the Fourteenth of June Movement.
Chapter nine is narrated by Dede, who though she was sympathetic of the movement she never joined because Jaimito would not allow. In 1960 Minerva, Maria Teresa, patria and their husbands and also Nelson are all arrested and Patria also loses her farm. In chapter ten Patria shows how their home is under surveillance and how she is visited in prison. Life is made easier in prison by Magrita who is her cousin and also a prison guard. Nelson is released by Trujillo.
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In chapter eleven Maria Teresa’s diary tells of event in 1960 between March to August in 1960. She narrates her story in the prison with Minerva and other non political women. In this women are in dignified and she even goes through an electric shock as her husband watch. This makes her husband to cooperate with Trujillo. When the prison is visited by organization of American States Maria is able to secretly tell them of their torture and this leads to all women getting released.
In chapter twelve, the movement is disbanded and she is in house arrest and Trujillo declares her only problem is the Maribal sisters and the Catholic Church. Manolo and Leandro are put in a far away prison where it is difficult for their wives to visit them. But the sisters visit them.
In the epilogue Dede tells of how the sisters and Rufino are killed on their way home. They are killed by soldiers who beat them and later they are pushed down a cliff while they were in their car.
The various themes in the book include; Authoritarianism, this is used by president Trujillo and his regime. During his reign people are imprisoned for simply criticizing the government and can even cause one to be tortured or even killed. People are forced to have the portrait of Trujillo in their homes and he must always be seen as a national hero. Children in schools are taught to revere the leader and hate religious leaders. The leadership controls everything the Dominican citizens do; this causes a lot of suffering to a lot of people in the country.
There is also the theme of changes in the society. In the book the theme of change is very prominent. The author focuses on the changes from the Maribal sisters to how they become revolutionary leaders. There is also a wind of change in the country even when Trujillo is alive. The Catholic Church criticizes the president and more people join to criticize the regime.
The Maribal are examples of courage. They fear nothing and draw strength from each other and their spouses. They are brave and are the central character in the book. Courage Dede lacks and chooses not to join the revolution because of her family. But we also see courage in her in instances such as when she said she is Minerva to Trujillo’s men she does this to protect her sister. She also takes care of her nephews and nieces after the loss of her sisters. There is also a show of cowardice by Trujillo and his men since he wears makeup and medals and always want to hear people telling him of how superior he is. Trujillo’s men are also cowards as they do acts that are not good and can never question him.
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The Maribal sisters cross the line that was previously not crossed by women in the society. Men held positions of authority and the place of women was in the kitchen or in domestic chores. The gender roles were clearly defined in the Dominican society, Minerva’s father was against her joining law school as she believed it was more than she could be able to handle as a woman. Also Dede though very strong and intelligent in business she is stopped from entering into business by her husband who believes women cannot manage. Dede’s husband is horrible in business and performs poorly, but after their divorce Dede does very well in business. In the book, women challenge the limitations put by the society based on gender like Minerva and most of her school friends are later successful in their careers. Dominican society was a patriarchal and the Catholic Church was the main religion.
The book clearly educates its readers that change is possible in a society for as long as all combine for a particular course. The story also shows how bad leadership anywhere in the world causes the innocent to suffer and every one must rise against such bad leadership.