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In the Time of the Butterflies

by Julia Alvarez

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How do the sisters lose their innocence in the early chapters of In the Time of the Butterflies?

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Each sister loses her innocence and/or faith in the opening chapters of In the Time of the Butterflies, but only three sisters join the underground movement.

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Each of the four sisters in Julia Alvarez’s novel In the Time of the Butterflies loses their innocence and/or faith in the early chapters of the book. Prior to each sister’s realization, each lacked an accurate understanding of the realities of the Trujillo dictatorship and a realistic view of...

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her calling in life. After their loss of innocence and/or faith, they all begin to realize the purpose of their lives.

When the novel opens, Minerva is primarily concerned with the restrictions Papa places on her rather than with the brutality of the regime she is living under. She desires more freedom, which she finds when she attends school. However, as Minerva states, she has “just left a small cage to go into a bigger one, the size of our whole country” (13), meaning that, while she has escaped the limitations of her parents’ house, she will now be encountering the restrictions of the government on her and everyone’s lives. Hence, Minerva loses her innocence upon meeting Sinita and Lina at school and hearing and experiencing each of their stories. Sinita shatters Minerva’s misconception of Trujillo when she tells the story behind the following statement: “we can all be killed. It’s the secret of Trujillo” (17).

Sinita explains to Minerva the devious methods that Trujillo used to become president, as well as her personal experience with Trujillo. Upon discovering that Sinita’s brother was killed by Trujillo, Minerva loses her innocence. This experience is reinforced as Minerva watches Lina become one of Trujillo’s discarded girlfriends, even though Lina loved him “with all my heart . . . more than my life” (22). Finally, Minerva’s reality is completely shattered when Trujillo demeans Sinita at the play on his behalf. Minerva agrees to Sinita’s idea that “our play’s about a time when we were free. It’s like a hidden protest” (26), but when she witnesses Trujillo’s treatment of Sinita, she truly accepts her fate as part of the underground movement.

Maria Teresa is completely innocent and unaware of the truth behind “why should we celebrate Benefactor’s Day in the cemetery” (37), according to Minerva. Maria Teresa is under the impression that Trujillo is a decent person; she even identifies with him, insofar as she was born in the same month as him. However, Minerva’s actions at school change Maria Teresa’s reality, as she discovers that Minerva “has been caught sneaking out of school” (38) and attending “secret meetings over at Don Horacio’s house” (39). When Minerva explains to Maria Teresa that she wants her to grow up free, Maria Teresa reacts emotionally; her “chest was getting all tight. I felt one of my asthma attacks coming on” (39). After sharing about Minerva, Maria Teresa understands Trujillo’s evil potential, and she begins to think as though “he (Trujillo) is trying to catch me doing something wrong” (39). No longer does she see Trujillo as God watching over her; instead, she views him suspiciously due to his harmful potential. Finally, after Hilda is caught hiding at the school and Maria Teresa is forced to bury her diary, she begins to recognize the need for her involvement in the underground movement.

According to Patria, when she was born, she was not “really here," and “it took some doing and undoing to bring me down to earth” (44). What Patria is referring to is her loss of her innocence and faith. She initially desired the religious life, feeling as though her "immortal soul wants to take the whole blessed world in!” (45). However, she is pulled form her religious calling upon meeting Pedrito, because of her attraction to him: “I felt the same excitement as when I’d been able to coax a wild bird or stray cat to eat of my hand” (50). After marrying him, Patria becomes pregnant, but she loses the baby, leading her to question her choice to have “turned my back on my religious calling” (52). However, Patria soon becomes distracted when she loses her innocence and accepts the truth of Trujillo. Even though she has lost her baby, she does not blame Jesus, just as she has not been personally hurt by Trujillo. Yet, she recognizes that “others had been suffering great losses” (53). Upon this realization, Patria gazes up at the two hanging portraits in the house—one of Jesus and one of Trujillo—and suddenly “the two faces had merged” (53). This symbolizes that Patria has officially lost her innocence and faith, embracing a new calling with the underground movement.

Although Dede never joins the underground movement, she does have a loss of innocence and transition into acceptance of the realities of Trujillo’s regime. Dede is dedicated to marrying Jaimito and following his lead as a dutiful wife. Yet, upon meeting Lio and seeing the change in Minerva, Dede admits that she, too, was never the same, as even “years after she had last seen Lio, he was still a presence in her heart and mind” (66). Furthermore, she does not understand how a person like Lio, “a fine young man with lofty ideals and a compassionate heart” (75) could be a “enemy of state” (75). If Lio was an enemy of state, so was Minerva, and potentially that meant that “if she, Dede, thought long and hard about what was right and wrong, she would no doubt be an enemy of state as well” (75). Due to this realization, Dede completely loses her innocence, but she chooses to avoid becoming an enemy of state. Ultimately, Dede “considered sports—like politics—something for men” (70), and hence, she remains out of the underground movement.

After each sister loses her innocence and/or faith, she discovers her true calling. Three join the underground movement, sealing their deathly fates, and one does not, sealing her lonely fate.

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Minerva is the first to lose her innocence.  At boarding school she befriends Sinita, who tells her the unspoken secrets of Trujillo's violent regime, and reveals that all the men in her own family have been killed because of their politics.  Minerva also witnesses the fate of Lina, a schoolmate who is used and disgraced after the lecherous Trujillo becomes infatuated with her (Ch. 2).

Young Mate is close to her sister Minerva.  She learns Minerva is going to secret meetings at a friend's grandfather's house.  The grandfather is in trouble with the police because he won't hang Trujillo's picture on his wall as mandated.  When Mate asks Minerva why she would do such a dangerous thing, Minerva replies that "she want(s) me to grow up in a free country".  Mate recognizes the truth of what her sister says (Ch. 3).

Patria has always had a deep faith in God, and has not paid much attention to the injustices and atrocities Minerva has told her about.  Then her third child is born dead, and in a crisis of faith, Patria is finally able to understand the suffering of the victims Minerva champions (Ch. 4).

Dede's awakening comes when she meets Lio, an "enemy of the state".  Although she never develops a relationship with him, thinking about his subversive beliefs and activities, and about what is right and wrong, causes Dede to understand that they are in fact living "in a police state" (Ch. 5).

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