Themes and Meanings (Masterplots II: American Fiction Series, Revised Edition)
Alvarez’s most pervasive theme is that heroism exists side by side with the mundane, that extraordinary courage can be a part of ordinary life. To emphasize this, she intertwines the story of the sisters’ political lives with stories of their courtships, motherhood, and concerns about daily trivia. On the day of their deaths, she has them gleefully splurge on new purses; one of their last acts is to make a stop for beer and lemonade.
In Dedé, she also explores themes of personal memory versus public remembrance and of the obligations of the living to the memory of the dead. After Trujillo’s regime, Dedé sacrifices her personal identity to become the living repository of her sisters’ memory. For thirty-four years, she faithfully attends events honoring the Butterflies and answers endless questions about them. She says she does this to return hope to her people by helping them to make sense of their past. Her life as their representative also seems to redeem her former noninvolvement. At times, Dedé yearns for the day when she can be her own self again. Even her career, she knows, she owes to her sisters, for many want to own life insurance sold to them by the sole surviving Mirabal sister. Yet she knows the value of keeping the memory of her sisters’ heroism alive, and she is not ready to set aside her duty.
Dedé also is still trying to manage her personal grief over the loss of her sisters. She plays back memories of their lives...
(The entire section is 406 words.)
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The disastrous effect of a dictatorship on the lives of the citizens of the Dominican Republic is the main theme of In the Time of the Butterflies. In addition, the relationships between the members of the Mirabal family shape the story. The bonds among the sisters and the social influences of the time set the goals for these brave young women. They are willing to sacrifice themselves for the good of their nation. "Political and personal themes are thus interwoven with powerful effect," wrote Elizabeth Martínez in The Progressive. Martínez also observed that a powerful theme is the "journey from traditional Catholicism to revolution—a journey made by many priests also … as in Latin American liberation theology."
Beginning during the time of their convent education, the sisters witness Trujillo's obsession with beautiful young women. Trujillo woos and wins a young woman in the convent school, eventually taking her away from the school to live in a large house outside the capital. When his wife discovers her, she is discarded, sent to Miami to live alone. Papá uses the story to lecture all four girls about the dangers of the world, explaining that "hens shouldn't wander away from the safety of the barnyard." But Papá is unable to protect Minerva at the Discovery Day Dance when Trujillo begins making advances to Minerva. Papá knows the family will pay dearly if Trujillo does not get what he wants. He delegates his responsibility by...
(The entire section is 512 words.)
As Alvarez indicates in her title, In the Time of the Butterflies, she is not just concerned with the Mirabal sisters themselves. She is concerned with an era and a way of life. To understand the impact of Trujillo's reign and the significance of the Mirabal sisters, readers must also understand the nation they inhabited. Therefore, Alvarez works to create a sense of the atmosphere of the country, its landscape, its institutions, and its people. The political environment, of course, is one of her chief topics. Trujillo's ruthless regime dominates this time period. By focusing on the country's tribulations over a long period of time, Alvarez communicates the disastrous consequences of Trujillo's rule on a nation and its citizens. She also reveals the changes the country undergoes after Trujillo is assassinated. The epilogue, in particular, stresses the traumas the country has suffered, the changes it has undergone, and the need to remember and learn from the "time of the butterflies."
Alvarez uses the Trujillo regime not only to depict the violent methods of this particular dictator but also to reveal the impact of authoritarian governments. Under Trujillo, anyone caught in "subversive" activity—even simply criticizing the government—is subject to imprisonment and, perhaps, torture and death. Dominicans, therefore, live in fear, however muted it may be....
(The entire section is 2283 words.)