In In The Time of The Butterflies, the butterflies (las mariposas) are Dede's sisters who were tragically murdered (and therefore martyred) because of their involvement in the Dominican Republic's underground movement. Dede, the surviving sister, is left with only the memories of her sisters. The novel begins after the sisters have died and the reader is not distracted by the drama of their deaths as they are already documented, allowing the reader to concentrate on the reasons why these sisters gave their lives for the cause.
The connotation and denotation of words refers to their implied meaning and their literal meaning, respectively. In this historical novel, based on the lives of the Mirabal sisters, Alvarez uses connotation because there is so much that is not said (but that is implied) and so much that cannot be said (for fear of their lives) because of Trujillo's dictatorship. Even his title of "El Jefe" which simply means "chief" or "boss" comes to mean so much more as he transforms from hero into tyrant.
As Minerva comes to terms with her increasing dislike for Trujillo, she tries to loosen his grip on her, complaining that his medals are hurting her. He says,
Anything else bother you about my dress I could take off?He yanks me by the wrist, thrusting his pelvis at me in a vulgar way...
Trujillo's words have sexual connotations and show his lack of respect and his inflated sense of importance. He is not expecting her to slap his face and although he responds by minimizing the slap ("a mind of her own, this little cibaena"), this, together with the inclement weather which immediately follows, signifies the changing circumstances for the girls. Trujillo will find Minerva's letters.