In the Time of the Butterflies Summary and Analysis Part 1: Chapters 1–4
by Julia Alvarez

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Summary and Analysis Part 1: Chapters 1–4

New Characters

Dedé Mirabal: the only Mirabal daughter (of four) spared a political murder

American Woman: the woman who comes to interview Dedé about her sisters’ deaths

Minerva Mirabal: the third Mirabal sister, who is outspoken and freedom-loving

María Teresa Mirabal (Mate): the youngest of four sisters, a sensitive girl and diarist

Patria Mirabal: the oldest Mirabal sister, an earthy woman with a deeply religious spirit

Mamá Mirabal: the daughters’ mother, a deeply religious woman

Enrique Mirabal (Papá): the daughters’ father, who runs a farm and general store

Trujillo (El Jefe): a paranoid Dominican dictator who kills skeptics to stay in power

Sinita: Minerva’s angry classmate, who tells her about the reality of the Trujillo regime

Lina Lovatón: a classmate of the Mirabal sisters, whom Trujillo chooses as a mistress

Hilda: the outspoken, political Dominican girl befriended by Minerva

Pedrito Gonzalez: a simple farmer who falls in love with and marries Patria

Nelson Gonzalez: the son of Patria and Pedrito Gonzalez

Noris Gonzalez: the daughter of Patria and Pedrito Gonzalez


In the Time of the Butterflies, Julia Alvarez’s historical fiction novel about the three sisters who plotted to overthrow a dictator in the 1960s, opens in March 1994 in the Dominican Republic. The third-person voice narrates the story from the perspective of Dedé Mirabal, an older woman in the Dominican Republic, as she awaits a visit from an American interviewer. Dedé is frequently sought for interviews by journalists and researchers interested in how she escaped the murders that befell her three sisters. However, most of these interviews take place in November, the anniversary of the murders, not spring.

While she waits for the interviewer to arrive, Dedé reflects on her place in the family as “THE SISTER WHO SURVIVED.” Dedé hopes that if she gives the interviewer a quick tour of the house she will be satisfied and not opt to ask what for Dedé are difficult and personal questions. In addition to working at a museum, Dedé also sells life insurance.

The interviewer arrives, and Dedé takes her on a tour of the house, pausing to show the interviewer three images of her sisters. They are displayed prominently each November, when their deaths are commemorated. The interviewer says she wants to hear “all of it” and that she is pleased that Dedé is willing. She asks Dedé how she has remained so positive after surviving a tragedy. Dedé tells the interviewer, somewhat disingenuously, that she remains happy because she focuses on the cheerful memories of the past, dwelling on those instead of on negative memories. The interviewer asks her to highlight a happy, positive moment from her past—the sort of moment she can use to keep her spirits up.

Dedé recalls an evening in 1943 when her entire family had gathered outside to relax. Mamá, Papá, and the four sisters were gathered. Papá had been drinking and was cheerful and talkative. Villagers appeared in the darkness, asking Papá to open up shop so they can get items they need; some get products for free. Dedé asked how the family can live if things are given away, and Papá said that her question reveals why the family has her. She is hard-nosed and practical, a future millionaire.

This exchange prompted the other sisters to ask about their futures, but Mamá cautioned against fortune telling. The eight-year-old María Teresa asked about her future and was told she would be a coquette, a tempter of men. Patria asked and didn’t get an answer, but said she agreed with her mother that fortunes were wrong. Minerva claimed she wanted to be a lawyer.

The conversation turned to Trujillo, the Dominican dictator, and suddenly the parents led the children inside. Dedé recalls how even then Trujillo had informers hiding, noting people’s conversations and reporting back to the government. Dedé now thinks, in retrospect, how the happy evening foreshadowed what would happen to the family. She...

(The entire section is 2,969 words.)