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...
(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 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.)
Set in the Dominican Republic, In the Time of the Butterflies depicts the lives of the Mirabal family between 1938 and 1994. The chapters are narrated by the four Mirabal sisters, Patria, Dedé, Minerva, and María Teresa, or Mate. Alvarez arranges events in roughly chronological order, though she excludes many years from the narrative and gives only brief treatment to the period between 1960 and 1994.
Part I: Chapters 1-4 (1938 to 1946)
The novel opens in 1994 with Dedé, the surviving Mirabal sister. She meets with an American woman who has come to interview her about her family. She recalls a time in 1943 when her father, Enrique, was predicting his daughters' futures. He tells Dedé that she will bury them all "in silk and pearls."
The second chapter is narrated by Minerva and depicts events in 1938, 1941, and 1944. Minerva and Patria go to boarding school at Inmaculada Concepción. Minerva befriends a withdrawn girl named Sinita Perozo. Sinita's male family members were murdered for opposing the Dominican dictator, Rafael Trujillo. Minerva is shocked to learn of Trujillo's cruelty, since all Dominican children are taught to revere him. In 1941, the married Trujillo seduces the most beautiful girl in Minerva's school, Lina Lovatón. After Lina becomes pregnant, Trujillo sends her to live in Miami. In 1944, Minerva, Sinita, and their friends Elsa and Lourdes perform a play for the country's...
(The entire section is 1330 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 who kills skeptics to stay in power
Sinita: Minerva’s angry classmate, who tells her about the reality of the Trujillo regime
Lina Lovatón: a classmate of the Mirabal sisters, whom Trujillo chooses as a mistress
Hilda: the outspoken, political Dominican girl befriended by Minerva
Pedrito Gonzalez: a simple farmer who falls in love with and marries Patria
Nelson Gonzalez: the son of Patria and Pedrito Gonzalez
Noris Gonzalez: the daughter of Patria and Pedrito Gonzalez
In the Time of the Butterflies, Julia Alvarez’s historical fiction novel about the three sisters who plotted to overthrow a dictator in the 1960s, opens in March 1994 in the Dominican Republic. The third-person voice narrates the story from the perspective of Dedé Mirabal, an older woman in the Dominican Republic, as she awaits a visit from an American interviewer. Dedé is frequently sought for interviews by journalists and researchers interested in how she escaped the murders that befell her three sisters. However, most of these interviews take place in November, the anniversary of the murders, not spring.
While she waits for the interviewer to arrive, Dedé reflects on her place in the family as “THE SISTER WHO SURVIVED.” Dedé hopes that if she gives the interviewer a quick tour of the house she will be satisfied and not opt to ask what for Dedé are difficult and personal questions. In addition to working at a museum, Dedé also sells life insurance.
The interviewer arrives, and Dedé takes her on a tour of the house, pausing to show the interviewer three images of her sisters. They are displayed...
(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
In chapter five, the story moves back to Dedé’s experience as she looks back at 1948 to 1959. She reflects on the spectacle her sisters’ death has now become. For instance, the family servant Fela runs a shrine to the sisters’ deceased spirits and “channels” them. She notes how Minou, Minerva’s daughter, chastises her for dismissing Fela and often visits with Fela.
The interviewer asks Dedé to continue discussing her family’s history, starting with when their political trouble began. Her past, secret attraction to Virgilio distracts Dedé. She tells the interviewer the Mirabals’ trouble under Trujillo was underway before the 1949 Discovery Day dance, where Minerva confronted Trujillo. In fact, it really started when she and Minerva befriended Virgilio. After meeting Virgilio, Minerva focused on politics.
Dedé says they met him in 1948 at the family store. Dedé was daydreaming about her cousin Jaimito, whom she was considering marrying. Two visitors appeared at the store. The first was Mario, a distributor, and the second was a man they learned was named Virgilío Morales, a university professor educated in Venezuela. Dedé was attracted to Virgilío, but he and Minerva talked easily and she recalls feeling left out. They all decided that since it was a hot day they should go play volleyball and swim. Mario took everyone to the home of their uncle, Tío Pepe, where they saw Jaimito, among others. She envied Minerva, who connected with Virgilio. Dedé was not dressed for volleyball, because she usually watched rather than played, which embarrasses her in retrospect.
Weeks passed, and the group played volleyball and socialized more than once. Dedé found out more about...
(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, Minou arrives in her car before the interviewer leaves. Minou tells Dedé she has gone to see Fela for a fortune-telling, but the deceased sisters didn’t have anything else to say, that they must be at rest. Minou asks Dedé why she didn’t join in with her sisters and so Dedé tells her the rest of the tale.
Dedé recalls the year 1960, when her sister Patria came and asked if she could bury some boxes behind Dedé’s and Jaimito’s home. Dedé said she would have to ask Jaimito and that it was unlikely. Patria asks her why she can’t decide without Jaimito, and Dedé admits she doesn’t have “that kind” of marriage. Patria asks what sort of marriage she does have and Dedé bursts into tears. When she did ask Jaimito, he told her she was to say no and also to avoid her sisters.
Her three sisters come to visit her later that year and tell her “the goat” (code for Trujillo) will be killed within three weeks, and that action groups are galvanizing. They invite her to a meeting at Patria’s. Dedé finally confesses that Jaimito has said he’ll leave her if she joins. Dedé decided she will go to the meeting, and that she will leave Jaimito. Minerva indirectly encourages her by telling her she can hear Virgilio on the radio late at night if she chooses to tune in. Dedé worries about leaving Jaimito, especially since she has three sons and she fears Jaimito would try and keep them if they separated.
Dedé goes to see a minister to talk about her marriage one last time before she leaves Jaimito. This is in defiance of Jaimito who tells her she is going “over his head.” While she waits to see a minister, she overhears the ministers talking about the movement. This causes her...
(The entire section is 3514 words.)