Summary (Masterplots II: American Fiction Series, Revised Edition)
In the Time of the Butterflies is the fictional story of four real persons, the Mirabal sisters of the Dominican Republic. In 1960, three of the sisters, members of the underground movement opposing the regime of the dictator Rafael Trujillo, were ambushed on a lonely mountain road and assassinated. Alvarez’s novel, made up of three sections and an epilogue, intersperses chapters for each sister. All except Dedé’s are first-person narrations; Dedé does narrate the epilogue, however.
Section 1 of the novel (“1928 to 1946”) opens in 1994 with a woman interviewing Dedé about her martyred sisters. The section then describes how youthful Minerva, María Teresa, and Patria awoke to political awareness. Minerva learned of the dictator’s brutality from her schoolmate Sinita, whose family lost all of its men to Trujillo. Minerva educates young María Teresa (Mate). Patria begins to quest on her faith in God and Trujillo as a young wife plunged into a religious crisis after a stillbirth. Minerva is the first to act on her political convictions. Won over to Sinita’s hatred of Trujillo, she performs in a play covertly celebrating pre-Trujillo freedom. Near its end, Sinita, playing Liberty, suddenly walks up to Trujillo with her toy bow and aims an imaginary arrow at him. She is quickly subdued, and the tense moment passes, but Minerva has come to Trujillo’s notice.
Section 2, “1948 to 1959,” covers the years of the Mirabals’ resistance activity. Minerva meets activist Virgilio (Lío) Morales and continues in his path when he is forced to flee the country. One day, she discovers her father’s mistress and four illegitimate daughters living in poverty. She also finds letters from Lío that her father has kept from her. Shortly thereafter, Trujillo summons her to attend a dance; when he tries to hold her vulgarly close,...
(The entire section is 761 words.)
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Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
In 1994, Dede speaks to a “gringo writer” about her past. Dede, who is in her sixties, maintains a museum in the Dominican Republic in honor of her murdered sisters, who were nicknamed Los Mariposas (the butterflies). Dede acts as a guide for her guest, and when the writer leaves, Dede remembers a “clear moonlit night [in 1943] before the future began.” She is with her family and remembers her fun-loving father, her mother, and her sisters.
In 1938, Minerva is twelve years old. When she is sent to school, she learns the truth about the brutal Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo, and she is drawn into her country’s resistance movement. She meets Sinita, a charity student whose brother was killed by Trujillo. Later, she is horrified by the fate of Lina Lovaton, the beautiful seventeen-year-old whose life is ruined by Trujillo’s courtship. In 1944, at the end of their school years, Minerva, Sinita, and their friends win a recitation contest and are invited to perform before Trujillo. In the dictator’s presence, Sinita moves toward Trujillo with her bow and arrow, but Minerva’s quick thinking saves her friend
In 1945, Maria Theresa (nicknamed Mate), the family’s youngest sister, is ten years old. She comments from her child’s point of view on a variety of experiences, including catechism, first communion, problems at school, and interactions with her family. She has positive feelings toward Trujillo but gradually learns the truth from Minerva, whose participation in secret meetings intrigues Mate. When Minerva finds that Mate has recorded her activities in her diary, she tells Mate that she must bury the diary to protect Minerva and her friends.
In 1946, Patria, the oldest sister, is twenty-two. She reminisces about her past as a religious young woman at convent school. Her struggle between her hope to be a nun and her growing awareness of physical passion is decided when she meets and marries Pedrito Gonzalez. When her first child is stillborn, she feels guilt for her choice. She remembers going on a pilgrimage with her mother and sisters. She had an epiphany looking at the weary faces of other pilgrims, realizing she had been looking “in the wrong direction” before.
Dede, in 1994, is concerned with the “deification” of her sisters. When the interviewer asks her, “When did all the problems start?” she remembers 1948, when the sisters met their radical friend, Lio. Both Dede and Minerva were attracted to him, but the family was upset when they learned Lio was a communist. Her parents’ reaction made Dede realize she was living in a police state. When Lio was forced to go into exile, he left a note for Minerva with Dede—just as her cousin Jaimito was proposing to her. Dede accepted the proposal but burned Minerva’s letter from Lio.
In 1949, Minerva has been “cooped” at home for several years, longing to be in the capital with Sinita. She is hurt that Lio left without saying goodbye, until she finds several letters. It is too late, however; Lio has gone. Minerva also discovers that her father has a second family and confronts him.
When her family is invited to one of Trujillo’s private parties, Minerva fends off the dictator’s...
(The entire section is 1328 words.)
Summary (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Alvarez had long desired to learn more about the Marabel sisters revered in the Dominican Republic. They were murdered in 1960, the same year that the Alvarez family fled to New York. In the Time of the Butterflies, based on historical facts, is an imaginative rendering of the incidents that transformed three ordinary women into unrelenting fighters against oppression.
The plot is neatly framed by the visit of an American journalist of Dominican origin to Dedé, the surviving sister. Dedé, accustomed to a stream of curious visitors to her little museum, wearily responds to the journalist’s questions. In the process, the past memories are revived and form the plot of the book. Dedé becomes the principal narrator in the story. Finally “A Postscript” by the journalist brings the narrative full circle.
Structured in three parts, with four chapters in each section and an epilogue, the narrative covers the incidents from 1938 to 1960, the year Patria, Minerva, and Maria Teresa were brutally murdered. Each part begins with Dedé’s point of view and is followed by each sister’s version of events. This technique provides smooth continuity of events and a deeper understanding of each sister’s thinking.
The first section of the book provides an overview of the Marabel household. Each sister is clearly distinguished by her traits: Patria, the eldest, is deeply religious; Minerva, the intellectual, is the most outspoken;...
(The entire section is 575 words.)
Summary and Analysis
Summary and Analysis Part 1: Chapters 1-4
Dedé Mirabal: the only Mirabal daughter (of four) spared a political murder
American Woman: the woman who comes to interview Dedé about her sisters’ deaths
Minerva Mirabal: the third Mirabal sister, who is outspoken and freedom-loving
María Teresa Mirabal (Mate): the youngest of four sisters, a sensitive girl and diarist
Patria Mirabal: the oldest Mirabal sister, an earthy woman with a deeply religious spirit
Mamá Mirabal: the daughters’ mother, a deeply religious woman
Enrique Mirabal (Papá): the daughters’ father, who runs a farm and general store
Trujillo (El Jefe): a paranoid Dominican dictator...
(The entire section is 2985 words.)
Summary and Analysis Part II: Chapters 5-8
Minou: Minerva’s daughter, raised by Dedé after the murders
Virgilio Morales (Lío ): a revolutionary who befriends Dedé and loves Minerva
Manuel de Moya: Trujillo’s Secretary of State, who helps the dictator meet women
Margarita: an illegitimate daughter fathered by Papá
Don Chiche: a relative of Mamá whose connection to Trujillo protects the family
Raul and Berto: brothers who fight over María Teresa’s attention
Manolo: political “enemy of state” whom Minerva marries
Leandro Guzmán (Palomino): a member of the underground whom María Teresa marries
(The entire section is 3867 words.)
Summary and Analysis Part III: Chapters 9–12 and Epilogue
Peña: a guard assigned to monitor the Mirabal family
Don Bernardo: an elderly neighbor who remains loyal to the family despite their troubles
Santicló: a friendly prison guard who helps the girls by transporting medicine and notes
Magdalena: Mate’s prison friend, with whom she has a lesbian encounter
Rufino: the hired driver who chaperones the sister on short trips and befriends them
Delia: a female doctor and revolutionary who has managed to remain free
Chapter nine returns to 1994 and Dedé’s conversation with the reporter. Dedé concludes the day’s interview. Slightly agitated,...
(The entire section is 3514 words.)