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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How does Dede's character evolve in In the Time of the Butterflies?

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In the novel In the Time of the Butterflies, Dede is the middle sister in the Mirabal family unit of four sisters. Unlike her outspoken and revolutionary sisters, Dede is a play-it-safe kind of woman. I think her bravery is overlooked, as it takes courage for her to continue to forge her own path instead of succumbing to the pressure to join the impending revolution.

I believe the sweetest and most profound irony in the story is revealed when Dede, who chooses to play it safe and separate herself from her sisters and “their” cause, lives on and ensures the cause is not forgotten. Her strength lies in the fact that she will fight her battle alone and away from support, direction, or protection.

When Dede finally realizes that her sisters are fighting for a great cause, she is told there will be no support from home. Her husband, Jaimito, will not stand by and promote her decision to support her family in the revolution. But this man has been abusive and domineering. Will she listen to him out of fear, or will she weigh the cost of her decision and join her sisters? She will require courage to either stand up to her sisters or stand up to her husband.

Although after speaking to her sisters she is ready to risk it all, she decides that her marriage is what she will “fight” for. Her sisters are fighting for what they believe is important; Dede is doing the same. All throughout the novel, Dede makes decisions that pave the path to her survival. She ends up being the bravest of the Mariposas, as she has to endure the painful life associated with having her sisters murdered.

In the end, Dede emerges as a butterfly from her cocoon. She transforms herself from a tiny caterpillar controlled by the opinions and orders of others and breaks free as a strong, colorful butterfly that will soar in spite of what torture and loss her heart has been forced to survive.

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As a child, Dede is always smiling, trying to please.  She is intelligent,and from a young age her father depends on her to "help with the books".  Dede volunteers to stay behind with her parents so her sisters can go to boarding school (Chapter 1). 

Though she is attracted to the rebel Lio, Dede is silent about her desires and loses him to her sister Minerva.  In a furtive attempt to assert herself, Dede burns Lio's letter asking Minerva to flee the country with him, but she cannot allow herself to escape the inevitablity of the life expected of her.  She marries her domineering childhood sweetheart Jaimito, and finds herself "already beginning to compromise with the man" even before they are wed.  Dede knows that "if she...(thinks) long and hard about what (is) right and wrong", she would join her sisters in revolution, but she does not because her husband forbids it (Chapter 5).

Dede finds her voice only after her sisters' deaths.  In the immediate aftermath she screams her defiance to the SIM, then takes charge of the girls' funeral arrangements and raises their children.  After several years she leaves Jaimito and establishes herself in the business world.  Dede retains much of her old self in her new life, however.  She continues to achieve, winning prizes yearly for "the most sales of anyone in her company", and sacrifices her privacy to keep the memory of her sisters alive (Epilogue).

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