In the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alvarez

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At a Glance

  • Bélgica Adela "Dedé" Mirabal-Reyes, who is the only surviving Mirabal sister.
  • Patria Mercedes Mirabal, who is the eldest Mirabal sister.
  • María Argentina Minerva Mirabal, who is the most revolutionary of the Mirabal sisters.
  • María Teresa Mirabal, a.k.a. Mate, who is the youngest Mirabal sister, speaks through her diary.
  • Pedrito Gonzales, Patria's husband, who is imprisoned during the revolution.
  • Manolo, Minerva's husband, who is gunned down after Minerva's death.
  • Leandro Guzman Rodriguez, María Teresa's husband, who gets out of politics after Manolo's death.
  • Rafael Leonidas Trujillo Molina, the dictator of the Dominican Republic, who reigned from 1930 until his assassination in 1961. 

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The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Alvarez uses each of the four Mirabal sisters to demonstrate different routes to resistance against political oppression. Minerva, the next to youngest and the most passionately political of the sisters, is the most intellectually savvy. She understands that Trujillo’s oppression is part of a larger issue of patriarchy. Prevented for years from attending law school, then denied a license to practice once she earns her degree, she knows firsthand the restrictions on women in Trujillo’s dictatorship. She also understands that her own father exercises a similar authority, able to approve or withhold education for his daughters and covertly keeping his second family of daughters in poverty. She responds with passionate, often dramatic, acts. Mate, the youngest, becomes Minerva’s disciple, but not her duplicate. Mate is a romantic, drawn to resistance work by the adventure. She follows her heart, not her head, and fully commits to the underground when she falls in love with a young revolutionary. Patria, the eldest, is devout and devoted to her family. She begins to question her loyalty to Trujillo as the result of a religious crisis brought on by a stillbirth early in her marriage. Her grief leads her to question everything in which she once had faith, including God and Trujillo, but she does not join Minerva and Mate in their resistance work until years later. When her son Nelson begins to become involved, she expresses her tacit support of his cause by naming her new child after two Cuban freedom fighters. Her real conversion comes, however, when she witnesses a massacre of young rebels. A youth who is about the age that her stillborn son would have been is shot right before her. She has an epiphany: These rebels are her sons. She joins the movement as the third Butterfly.

Dedé’s role, in some ways, is the most complicated. The second oldest, she is the most domestic and the most opposed to resistance activities. Her loyalty to her sisters never wavers, though, and her silence about what she knows of their involvement in the underground makes her somewhat complicitous in their work. She blames her reluctance to join the resistance on her husband, who orders her to have nothing to do with the movement and refuses to let Patria bury boxes of weapons on...

(The entire section is 4,299 words.)