How is silence a theme in the novel In the Time of the Butterflies?

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belarafon | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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Julia Alvarez wrote In the Time of the Butterflies in 1994; it is a historical novel about the real-life Mirabal Sisters, who plotted revolution against the Trujillo government in the 1930s Dominican Republic.

In the book, because of the oppressive nature of the government and the spies who listen and watch for subversive behavior, silence is a major theme; it occurs in the Mirabal home, in their daily life:

I knew there were up to something big, Minerva and Manolo and Leandro... I could feel it in the tension and silence that would come over them when I walked in on one of their conversations.
(Alvarez, ...Butterflies, Google Books)

--and in public:

Then there had been the silence that always followed any compromising mention of the regime in public. One could never be sure who in a group might report to the police. Every large household was said to have a servant on double payroll.
(Alvarez, ...Butterflies, Google Books)

The danger of others finding out about their plans is so extreme that everyone keeps their thoughts private. No one can speak their mind because of the threat of prison or worse. Actual silence -- not speaking of discontent -- is balanced against the government's methods of "silencing" subversion, which are known by all but not contested, because of fear. Here, silence is both the result of the dictatorship and a tool used to continue it.


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