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In the Time of the Butterflies

by Julia Alvarez

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What is the meaning of the title "In the Time of the Butterflies?"

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In the Time of the Butterflies is intended to reveal the conditions of tyranny and the need to resist it even to death. In the book, Julia Alvarez dramatizes the story of the Mirabal sisters, who fought against the regime of dictator Rafael Trujillo in the Dominican Republic.

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The title In the Time of Butterflies comes from history.  The Dominican Republic was ruled by a ruthless dictator, Rafael Trujillo, from 1930 to 1961. He was brutal and greedy beyond words; however a valiant resistance arose to fight his rule.  This resistance involved three courageous sisters, the Mirabals, who became known as Las Mariposas or The Butterflies, their code name, who were key in overthrowing Trujillo.  This is where the name comes from.  The sister’s gave the ultimate sacrifice; however, as they were ambushed and beaten to death on November 25, 1960, marking them as symbols of courage, dignity, and strength in their country.

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Ah, good question. The title comes from the code names used by the three Mirabal sisters. They were "las mariposas," which in English means "the butterflies." This book focuses on them and their attempt to overthrow the Trujillo regime (in the Dominican Republic).

Since they were trying to create a revolution or transformation in their country, you can see the name as symbolic of that change, because caterpillars go through metamorphoses to become beautiful butterflies.


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What is the purpose of In the Time of the Butterflies?

Julia Alvarez's In the Time of the Butterflies is intended to present the heroism of the Mirabal sisters, who fought against the tyranny of Rafael Trujillo in the Dominican Republic. This dramatized account of the lives of real people reveals both the brutality of a dictator's regime and the courage and faith of those who resist it.

Mate, Minerva, and Patria are three sisters who have watched their country descend into chaos during Trujillo's reign. They come to realize the evil that surrounds them and the danger that they and their loved ones are in. The young women become involved with the resistance movement through their friends and husbands, and Mate and Minerva end up in prison for their efforts in fighting the dictator.

The book goes into detail about the sufferings of the sisters and their loved ones and how they cope with that suffering. Mate, for instance, keeps a diary while in prison, showing the horrors of prison life and the toll it takes on her. Yet she remains strong in her resistance, and Minerva openly rebels.

The Mirabal sisters come to be known as "the butterflies," and the regime views them as a major threat. This is why they are assassinated in the end. Their other sister, Dedé, is left to tell their story and to reflect on her own guilt in not joining the resistance (her husband wouldn't allow it) and on the legacy of her sisters.

Indeed, this book is meant to show readers what it means to live under a dictatorship as well as the necessity to fight for freedom and truth and love.

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What do butterflies symbolize in In the Time of the Butterflies?

Butterflies symbolize freedom and transformation in the novel In the Time of the Butterflies.

It is worth noting that butterflies, which are so revered for their beauty, begin their lives as simple caterpillars. They undergo a period of metamorphosis and then endure a fairly gruesome process to emerge from the chrysalis as beautiful butterflies.

In this story, three sisters who live in the Dominican Republic under the cruel dictatorship of Rafael Trujillo become known as las mariposas, or "the butterflies." Their lives begin in a rather unextraordinary way. Their goals generally reflect the common goals of many girls everywhere—faith, education, husbands, and children.

Everything begins to shift when Minerva becomes the first "butterfly." By choosing to be a part of the militant resistance movement, she adopts life goals that are larger than her own. Mate joins her sister, helping stockpile much-needed weapons. Patria tries to avoid joining the butterflies, but after witnessing a massacre, she changes her mind.

The three butterflies are eventually arrested by the secret police and later released into house arrest. On a trip to visit their husbands, the butterflies are ambushed, killed, and placed back inside their car. They become known as martyrs because of their courage to fight Trujillo's regime.

Because of this, the butterfly symbolizes the collective and individual strength of women in the face of impossible adversity and the willingness of these women to fight for freedom despite coming from "ordinary" backgrounds. The sisters were instrumental in creating great change in their country because of their strength, and their efforts help their nation emerge with a renewed hope for freedom.

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