Suggested Essay Topics
Part I: Chapters 1-4
1. The first four chapters of In the Time of Butterflies outline ways in which the four Mirabal sisters have placed their faith in the people and institutions around them. Outline the nature of their beliefs about their family, their father, the church, romance, and their country’s politics and leader, Trujillo. Trace one sister’s beliefs and how they are altered or deepened by what they learn about their family, relationships, and their country.
2. Dedé is the story’s primary narrator because she is the sole survivor of her sisters’ eventual political murders. How does she feel about her role as the remaining survivor, and how does her behavior toward the interviewer reflect her feelings? How do her feelings about others’ idolatry of her sisters reflect her own feelings? How does her status as a “modern” woman indicate that she has grown beyond the time period in which she was raised, yet also clash with her desire to preserve the past for others?
Part II: Chapters 5-8
1.The Mirabal sisters are given several reasons to distrust men, starting with their father’s affair and discovery of his second family. How does their relationship with their father and knowledge of Trujillo’s treatment of women impact their choice of spouse, view of the government, and roles within marriage? Outline each sister’s feelings about men, and their subsequent feelings about their roles as women in Dominican society.
2. The 1949 Discovery Day dance, at which Minerva encounters Trujillo, is a pivotal event in the novel. Outline how Minerva’s encounter with Trujillo and her family’s decision to leave the dance foreshadow the beginning of the Mirabals’ mistreatment under the Trujillo regime. In what ways was Minerva diplomatic, and in what ways impolitic? How do her father’s choices impact the family’s fate? How did Minerva’s strong will establish itself before Trujillo, creating a personal competition between them?
Part III: Chapters 9–12 and Epilogue
1. The Trujillo regime and his SIM police try to get to the sisters through comments or physical abuse of their husbands. Provide examples of how SIM officials use information or physical torture to extract information or responses from Patria and Mate. Explain how this impacts the sisters and what these techniques say about the regime’s weaknesses and level of cruelty.
2. Throughout the novel, the Trujillo regime has grown increasingly oppressive for the Mirabal family. Trace the ways in which the regime delves further and further into the Mirabal family’s lives, noting what the regime does with their property, how it controls information about prisoners, demands letters and obeisance to Trujillo, manipulates the media, plants spies and wiretaps the Mirabal home, and imprisons the sisters. How do these measures succeed at controlling the Mirabals? How do they fail?