In the Time of the Butterflies Summary
by Julia Alvarez

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In the Time of the Butterflies Summary

In In the Time of the Butterflies, Dedé, the last surviving Mirabal sister, frames the story of how her sisters became heroes in the Dominican Republic during the dictatorial reign of Rafael Trujillo.

  • Mate and Minerva Mirabal learn of Trujillo’s brutality and join the resistance movement to overthrow him. 
  • Mate and Minerva marry revolutionaries. Patria joins the movement after witnessing a massacre.
  • Mate, Minerva, and Patria travel to a prison where two of their husbands have been detained. They are brutally murdered on the way back from the prison.
  • Today, the Mirabal sisters are known as “the butterflies.”

Summary

Based on true events, In The Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alvarez centers around the lives of the Mirabal sisters during Rafael’s Trujillo’s dictatorship in the Dominican Republic. Each chapter of the novel is narrated from the perspective of one of the four sisters—Dedé, Patria, Minerva, and María Teresa. While Dedé’s chapters are largely told in the third person, the other three sisters’ chapters use first-person narration.

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Part 1

The first chapter introduces Dedé, the sole surviving sister of the Mirabal girls. In the present (1994), Dedé shows a portrait of her family from her youth to a woman who is interviewing her about her family’s history. After Dedé reflects upon memories of her childhood, the story shifts to Minerva’s perspective.

During adolescence, Minerva and her sister Patria attend a convent school, Inmaculada Concepción; their younger sister María Teresa also attends the school later on. Soon after arriving, Minerva becomes friends with another young student named Sinita, who shares that all of the men in her family were killed by Trujillo’s regime. Minerva thus becomes aware of Trujillo’s ethically dubious rise to power. A few years later, Minerva and several other students from the convent perform a skit for Trujillo himself.

Meanwhile, María Teresa (“Mate”)—the youngest of the Mirabal sisters—observes Minerva’s increasingly antagonistic views towards Trujillo, which she records in a series of excerpts from her diary. Patria, the eldest and most religious of the four sisters and the next narrator, leaves the convent after she becomes romantically involved with Pedrito González; they marry three days before her seventeenth birthday, and Patria soon gives birth to a son, Nelson, followed by a daughter, Noris, two years later. When her third baby is stillborn, however, she begins to question her faith in God.

Part 2

Dedé tells the interviewer about Virgilio Morales (“Lío”), a close friend of the Mirabal sisters who goes into exile after the newspapers expose him as a prominent member of a Communist organization. Minerva, who becomes especially close to Lío, discovers that her father has been hiding Lío’s letters to her, and a rift forms in Minerva’s relationship with her father.

Further on, Minerva and her family attend a Discovery Day party at one of Trujillo’s mansions. While there, Minerva meets Trujillo and is forced to dance with him. She mentions her plans to go to law school, to which he replies that women don’t belong at universities. Soon after, he makes inappropriate advances toward Minerva, and she slaps him. Fortunately, she manages to escape with her family; however, because leaving a gathering before Trujillo—now referred to as “El Jefe”—is against the law, their father, Don Enrique, is brought to the palace for questioning the following day.

Minerva and her mother, Mercedes, drive to the capital, where Minerva is also taken in for questioning. At the National Police Headquarters, she meets Trujillo’s right-hand man, who asks her about Lío. Minerva admits that she knows him. After three weeks, Enrique, Mercedes, and Minerva are taken to meet with Trujillo; luckily, he releases them.

María Teresa, who is now eighteen, writes in her diary just before Christmas in 1953 that Enrique has passed away....

(The entire section is 1,404 words.)