How does Maria Teresa change as a person throughout In the Time of the Butterflies?

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Maria Teresa changes throughout Julia Alvarez’s novel In the Time of the Butterflies from an individual who values material goods and popularity to someone who values love for her family. This transition is portrayed through Maria Teresa’s diary, which is divided into three time periods.

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Maria Teresa changes throughout Julia Alvarez’s novel In the Time of the Butterflies from an individual who values material goods and popularity to someone who values love for her family. This transition is portrayed through Maria Teresa’s diary, which is divided into three time periods.

The reader is introduced to Maria Teresa as a selfish, innocent, and sensitive child, who is still referred to as the “baby” by her family. Through her first series of diary entries from 1945 to 1946, Maria Teresa portrays herself as materialistic; when she is eight years old, "the only future the baby wants is one that will make her own mouth water, sweets and gifts in big boxes that clatter with something fun inside when she shakes them” (8–9). Furthermore, she is oblivious to the reality of Trujillo, as she is filled with “gullible excitement” (9). She even initially feels close to and identifies with Trujillo: “I am even born the same month he is (October) and only nine days (and forty-four years!) apart. I keep thinking it shows something special about my character” (37). However, Maria Teresa is soon exposed to the truth when she discovers that her friends have been attending secret meetings at Don Horacio’s house. Whereas before she believed “our president was like God” (39), afterwards she feels as though “he (Trujillo) is trying to catch me doing something wrong” (39). Throughout these initial diary entries, Maria Teresa remains “tenderhearted” (35), frequently personalizing incidents, bringing herself to tears.

Maria Teresa remains the sensitive sister in her second series of diary entries, from 1953 to 1958. One of the initial entries describes Maria Teresa choosing to write the letter on behalf of Mama to El Jefe regarding Papa’s death, instead of Minerva writing it, because “she [Minerva] is no good at the flowery feelings like I am” (121). However, the reader also sees a change in Maria Teresa, from the person who cared most about material items to the person who is searching for love. She is even willing to ignore the realities of her country, saying “she could be happy without answers if I had someone to love” (122). In fact, she has yet to join the underground political movement against Trujillo. She explains her feelings thusly:

I agree with her [Minerva’s] ideas and everything. I think people should be kind to each other and share what they have. But never in a million years would I take up a gun and force people to give up being mean. (123)

This quote reflects the mindset of Maria Teresa: she is aware of the realities but lacks full understanding of the need for, and difficulty of, creating change. Essentially, she is still naïve and somewhat selfish, focusing on her own happiness “to seek, forever seek, the kindred soul” (122). Even as Maria Teresa attends university in the capital, she is still more concerned about finding a soulmate and her “perceived” freedom. Despite getting upset with Trujillo at points, such as when she must honor him in her speech when elected as Miss University, she is still more worried about finding true love. Hence, upon finding true love when meeting Leandro, she simultaneously has “fallen in with this stranger’s mission, whatever it was” (141)—the underground movement. In fact, even when Maria Teresa joins the movement, she admits that she “would never be able to give up Leandro to some higher ideal the way I feel Minerva and Manolo would each other if they had to make the supreme sacrifice” (147). Upon the conclusion of the second series of diary entries, Maria Teresa remains dedicated to the movement out of love for her family and for her husband, Leandro.

Maria Teresa begins the final series of diary entries, from March to August 1960, while in prison for her involvement in the underground movement. Although she rejects a pardon, she desires to be back outside of prison with her family. She lacks the same level of dedication and commitment that Minerva has to the movement, as “I began to lose courage and wallow in dark thoughts” (236). She continues to personalize everything in her life, including elements of Trujillo’s regime and the underground movement. For example, after reciting the three “cardinal rules” (233), she insists that they should be able to ask Santiclo, because “he is so good to me, to all of us really” (234). She even has “love still in your heart for the men who have done this to you," and ultimately, she wants to return home with her family. She begins to withdraw due to “the lack of beauty” and the incident involving the manipulation of Leandro using Maria Teresa as bate. She even decides not to give the OAS committee members the diary pages about this incident out of fear that Santiclo will get in trouble. She still places her personal relationships before the movement, as she longs for home and family.

Yet, Maria Teresa dies with “ridiculous hope” (283) in her heart, after believing that Trujillo has generously granted the sisters a visit with their husbands. To the day she dies, she remains true to her own values of family and relationships over the freedom of the country.

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Maria Teresa is a dynamic character who goes through a transformation in the novel. She goes from being a shy, little girl to one of the faces of a rebellion.

When Maria is a ten-year-old, she does not understand the nature of Trujillo's regime. She believes that they are lucky to have him as a president. She leaves home with her sisters, for an education at a Catholic boarding school. Maria makes new friends and overcomes her timidity. While studying at the university in the capital, Maria gets to see a new side to the Dominican Republic, besides the church and the farm.

Maria Teresa marries Leandro Guzman, who is a part of the revolution. Maria joins the revolution as she wants to feel worthy of her husband. Together, they strive to overthrow the corrupt government and bring a democratic change. Maria loses her child in prison. She learns that a successful revolution demands personal sacrifice. Not only does Maria change her life, but she also influences the lives of those around her.

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When the narrative begins, Maria Teresa is a naive and pretty superficial little girl.  Her diary reflects the seminal events in her life, like the bag she will carry and the shoes she will wear at school.  Furthermore, she still believes in the lies of "El Jefe," (Trujillo).  In Ch 3, (my edition, pg 37) she notes in her diary, "I am taking these few days to wish El Jefe a Happy Benefactor's Day with all my heart.  I feel so lucky that we have him as a president." 

The next chapter to record Maria Teresa's thoughts show her attitudes in transition.  She begins to understand that men do not have all the answers, not the brutal Trujillo, not her deceptive father, not any of the boys she has known growing up.  Ch. 7 (pg 142) reflects this maturity.  She writes in her diary:  "Suddenly, all the boys I've known with soft hands and easy lives seem like pretty dolls I've outgrown and passed on to Minou."

By the last section devoted to her, Maria Teresa reaches an apex of maturity.  She realizes that her life can be much more complicated and traumatized than she could ever have imagined.  In Ch 11 (pg 235), Mate recalls and takes to heart her imprisoned friend's prayer, "May I never experience all that it is possible to get used to."

In her brief live, Maria Teresa ("Mate") has gone from self-centered, to  appreciating her easy life, to understanding that the tables can turn in an instant. 

 

 

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