illustration of a young woman's silhouetted head with a butterfly on it located within a cage

In the Time of the Butterflies

by Julia Alvarez
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What do butterflies symbolize in In the Time of the Butterflies?

Butterflies symbolize freedom, transformation, and strength in In the Time of the Butterflies.

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Butterflies symbolize freedom and transformation in the novel In the Time of the Butterflies.

It is worth noting that butterflies, which are so revered for their beauty, begin their lives as simple caterpillars. They undergo a period of metamorphosis and then endure a fairly gruesome process to emerge from the chrysalis as beautiful butterflies.

In this story, three sisters who live in the Dominican Republic under the cruel dictatorship of Rafael Trujillo become known as las mariposas, or "the butterflies." Their lives begin in a rather unextraordinary way. Their goals generally reflect the common goals of many girls everywhere—faith, education, husbands, and children.

Everything begins to shift when Minerva becomes the first "butterfly." By choosing to be a part of the militant resistance movement, she adopts life goals that are larger than her own. Mate joins her sister, helping stockpile much-needed weapons. Patria tries to avoid joining the butterflies, but after witnessing a massacre, she changes her mind.

The three butterflies are eventually arrested by the secret police and later released into house arrest. On a trip to visit their husbands, the butterflies are ambushed, killed, and placed back inside their car. They become known as martyrs because of their courage to fight Trujillo's regime.

Because of this, the butterfly symbolizes the collective and individual strength of women in the face of impossible adversity and the willingness of these women to fight for freedom despite coming from "ordinary" backgrounds. The sisters were instrumental in creating great change in their country because of their strength, and their efforts help their nation emerge with a renewed hope for freedom.

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