illustration of a young woman's silhouetted head with a butterfly on it located within a cage

In the Time of the Butterflies

by Julia Alvarez

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In the Time of the Butterflies Themes Lesson Plan

by Tessie Barbosa

  • Released February 06, 2023
  • Literature subject
  • 23 pages
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Grade Levels

Grade 9

Grade 10


Theme Revealed Through Contrasting Characters:

This lesson plan focuses on the characterizations of Dedé and Minerva Mirabal and their development as contrasting characters in In the Time of the Butterflies. Students will describe their personalities and contrast their thinking and behavior at key points in the text. By determining how Dedé and Minerva are developed as contrasting characters, students will be better able to describe themes in the novel.

Skills: character analysis, drawing inferences from text, interpreting diction for connotative meaning

Learning Objectives:
By the end of this lesson, students will be able to

  • identify and describe Dedé’s and Minerva’s characters and personalities;
  • analyze Dedé’s and Minerva’s characters and describe differences in their feelings, thoughts, and actions;
  • determine major themes that develop from contrasts between Dedé and Minerva.

Skills: close reading, comparing and contrasting, interpreting passages of text, drawing inferences from a text, drawing themes from a text

Common Core Standards: RL.9-10.1, RL.9-10.2, RL.9-10.3, RL.9-10.6, SL.9-10.1

Introductory Lecture:

Once a refugee of President Rafael Trujillo’s regime, Julia Alvarez wrote In the Time of the Butterflies with specific intentions in mind: She wanted to share with North American, English-speaking audiences the profound impact the Mirabal sisters had on the history of the Dominican Republic during the mid-twentieth century.

Rafael Trujillo’s dictatorial government held power in the Dominican Republic from 1930 until his assassination in 1961. As a totalitarian, Trujillo grew rich controlling the nation’s government, military, and economy. Trujillo governed unchecked and unopposed thanks to a violent police force he used to oppress the free speech and free will of the people. In the Time of the Butterflies follows the Mirabal sisters as they resist and subvert Trujillo’s regime. Though highly fictionalized, Alvarez’s depiction of the sisters offers myriad responses to the social, political, and economic oppression experienced by women living under Trujillo’s regime.

The narrative point of view shifts between the sisters with each chapter, offering an intimate glimpse into each sister’s values and motivations. Minerva develops radical idealism at home and at school, while Patria is inspired to fight due to religious conviction. María Teresa, the youngest of the four, follows her romantic desire into the revolution. Only Dedé avoids getting involved, acquiescing to her husband’s demand that she not entangle herself with her sisters’ dangerous plotting against Trujillo. As a result of her choice, Dedé is the only sister to survive the revolution. While María Teresa, Patria, and Minerva are martyrs for the national struggle for freedom, Dedé is destined to preserve their memory. As her husband reminds her, “This is your martyrdom, Dedé, to be alive without them.”

Published in 1994, In the Time of the Butterflies was the first English-language literature to concern itself with Trujillo’s dictatorship in the Dominican Republic. It broke ground for other writers, such as Junot Díaz and Mario Vargas Llosa, to deal with the same recent history. In the Time of the Butterflies earned recognition as a Notable Book from the American Library Association and was a 1995 finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award in Fiction. It has been a Book of the Month choice and was selected as a Big Read by the National Endowment for the Arts.


Our eNotes Lesson Plans have been developed to meet the demanding needs of today’s educational environment. Each lesson incorporates collaborative activities with textual analysis, targeting discrete learning objectives. We've aligned all of these lessons to particular Common Core standards, and we list the specific standard met by each lesson. The main components of each plan include the following:

  • An introduction to the text
  • A step-by-step guide to lesson procedure
  • Previous and following lesson synopses for preparation and extension ideas
  • A collection of handouts and worksheets complete with answer keys
Each of these lesson plans focuses on promoting meaningful interaction, analytical skills, and student-centered activities, drawing from the Common Core Standards for English Language Arts and the expertise of classroom teachers. Each lesson includes an instructional guide on how to present the material, engage students in an activity, and conclude the class.