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 In the Time of the Butterflies, what quotes from chapter 1 show foreshadowing and strange details?

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Chapter 1 of In the Time of Butterflies contains a lot of descriptive details that reveal hidden meanings and predict what is to come later in the novel. For example, in the beginning of the novel, there is a lot of description of Dede's flowers and plants, which she tends to while waiting to be interviewed about her sisters' deaths.

From the very first line,

She is plucking her bird of paradise of its dead branches . . .

to later on that day, when she places a silk orchid in a vase:

She still feels guilty about not continuing her Mama's tribute of a fresh blossom for the girls every day.

and then finally, when the interviewer arrives:

The slamming of a car door startles Dede. When she calms herself she finds she has snipped her prized butterfly orchid. She picks up the fallen blossom and trims the stem, wincing. Perhaps this is the only way to grieve the big things—in snippets, pinches, little sips of sadness.

we can see how these precious flowers represent her three beautiful sisters, "the butterflies," who are martyred for bravely fighting against Trujillo's regime. The slam of the car door foreshadows their death, and her accidental clipping of one of the blossoms represents her attempt to grieve and shed the guilt that she still has for surviving them.

The author's emphasis on the natural world also serves to contrast the Dominican campesino culture with that of modern America. Can you find any more examples?

Finally, the author foreshadows the fate of the family when Dede recalls the last, pleasant summer night she had with them before they became enemies of the state. She describes the breakup of their parents:

"You know, Enrique, that I don't believe in fortunes," says Mama evenly. "Padre Ignacio says that fortunes are for those without faith." In her mother's tone, Dede can already hear the distance that will come between her parents.

She describes how they are killed:

words stitched to words until they are a winding sheet the family will be buried in when their bodies are found dumped in a ditch, their tongues cut off for speaking too much.

And she describes how it feels to be the sole survivor:

As Dede is helping her father step safely up the stairs of the galeria, she realizes that hers is the only fortune that he really told.

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Chapter 1 of In the Time of the Butterflies is filled with foreshadowing. One example is when the interviewer stands before the portraits of Minerva, Patria, and Maria Teresa.  Although she does not mean it the way Dede interprets it, the interviewer asks her, "And where are you?" This quote foreshadows that all the sisters will die except Dede, and that Ded will often torment herself that she had not been with them when they are killed.

Later in the Chapter, the whole family is sitting in the front yard, telling stories.  Papa plays around with the girls about how the three oldest, Patria, Minerva, and Dede, were born in such close proximity, one after another, saying "Bang-bang-bang...aiming a finger pistol at each one, as if he were shooting them, not boasting about having sired them".  Although it is Maria Teresa and not Dede who is martyred along with the other two, his action foreshadows that three of his daughters will be killed.

In that same conversation, Papa says about Dede, "She'll bury us all".  Indeed, Dede does outlive her parents and all her sisters, being the only one alive in 1999 when the story in the book is retold.

I am not sure what you mean by "strange" details, but some unusual and especially effective details in the chapter include the image of "a kitten (lying) recklessly under the runners" of the rocking chair, repeated references to the anacahuita tree in the Mirabals' front yard (the family sits "under the anacahuita tree", and Dede tells the interviewer, "where you see a great big anacahuita tree, you turn left"), and vivid descriptions of the many different, exotic flowers Dede handles as she is waiting for and talking to the interviewer, including "her bird of paradise (on) its dead brances" and "a silk orchid in a vase on the little table below them" (Chapter 1).

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