In the Time of the Butterflies Critical Context
by Julia Alvarez

In the Time of the Butterflies book cover
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Critical Context

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

In the Time of the Butterflies is Alvarez’s second novel. Her first, How the García Girls Lost Their Accents (1991), chronicles the experiences of four sisters who leave the Dominican Republic for life in the United States; her third novel, Yo! (1997), continues the story of Yolanda, one of the García girls. Selected a Best Book of 1991 by Library Journal and winner of the 1991 PEN Oakland/Josephine Miles Book Award for its contribution to multicultural literature, How the García Girls Lost Their Accents focuses on the four sisters’ responses to U.S. culture. Yet Dominican life is always in the background, and sections of the novel are set on the island. These depict ordinary family life punctuated with fears that come from living in a police state. In the Time of the Butterflies continues this depiction of the impact oppressive regimes have on families and citizens. Here, however, the story shows how ordinary citizens can become politically aware and active. Therefore, although specifically about the Mirabal sisters, it is in a larger sense a story about the rise of grassroots resistance. The novel can also be viewed as part of a transnational feminist movement in literature. Alvarez’s works add to a growing body of literature by Latina writers that simultaneously addresses gender and cultural issues. Among other concerns, Alvarez depicts the Latina woman’s construction of gender identity.