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In the Time of the Butterflies

by Julia Alvarez

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Essential Quotes by Character: Dede Maribal

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Essential Passage 1: Chapter 5

“You sound upset, Mamá Dedé,” Minou observed.

“You know I don’t believe in all this spirit business. And I think it’s a disgrace that you, a daughter of—“

Minou’s eyes flashed with anger, and Minerva herself stood before Dedé again. “I’m my own person. I’m tired of being the daughter of a legend.”

Quickly, the face of her sister fell away like water down a slanted roof. Dedé held out her arms for her dear niece-daughter. Dark mascara tears were coursing down Minou’s cheeks. Didn’t she, Dedé, understand that feeling of being caught in a legacy. “Forgive me,” she whispered. “Of course, you have a right to be yourself.”

Dedé Mirabal, the only surviving sister of the Mirabal family, is responsible for raising the children of her martyred sisters. Minou, the daughter of the most passionate rebel, Minerva, frequently visits the family’s former servant, Fela, who claims to be in contact with the spirits of the sisters. Dedé, who fired Fela for this reason, has no patience with such superstition. When Minou asked about the whereabouts of Virgilio Morales (a friend and resistance fighter who had fled the country long ago), Dedé sarcastically suggests that Minou ask Fela. Dedé verbalizes her disdain for “this spirit business” and begins to question how Minou, who is the daughter of a martyr for freedom, could fall for such nonsense. Minou, with the same rebellious spirit that her mother had, states her resentment at always having to be known only as Minerva’s daughter. Dedé, suddenly sympathizing with her niece, apologizes and states that Minou is her own person and has the right to be so.

Essential Passage 2: Chapter 9

Dedé had been so surprised. “Why, Patria! Who put you up to this?”

Patria looked puzzled. “We’re all in it, if that’s what you mean. But I’m speaking for myself.”

“I see,” Dedé had said, but really what she saw was Minerva in back of it all. Minerva agitating. No doubt she had sent Patria over rather than come herself since she and Dedé were not getting along. It had been years since they’d fought openly—since Lío, wasn’t it?—but recently their hot little exchanges had started up again.

What could Dedé say? She had to talk to Jaimito first. Patria had given her a disappointed look, and Dedé had gotten defensive. “What? I should go over Jaimito’s head? It’s only fair. He’s the one farming the land, he’s responsible for this place.”

“But can’t you decide on your own, then tell him?”

Dedé stared at her sister, disbelieving.

“That’s what I did,” Patria went on. “I joined, and then I talked Pedrito into joining me.”

“Well, I don’t have that kind of marriage,” Dedé said. She smiled to take the huffiness out of her statement.

“What kind of marriage do you have?” Patria looked at her with that sweetness on her face that could always penetrate Dedé’s smiles. Dedé looked away.

Patria has come to her sister Dedé’s home and asked if she could bury some boxes in their cacao fields. Dedé, sensing that this burial was for revolutionary purposes, objects. But her first objection is not about the burial, but about Patria’s involvement in the resistance. As she has suspected, it is Minerva, the most passionate of the sisters, who has convinced Patria to join the cause. Dedé states that she will have to consult her husband. Dedé’s subservience to Jaimito is something that Patria does not understand. However, Dedé points out that the land belongs to him, that he works it for their livelihood, and he will be the one to suffer should the boxes be discovered. The conversation switches to the type of marriages each sister has. Patria states that she has more independence, making her decision to join the resistance first and then convincing her husband to join her. Dedé, however, does not have “that kind of marriage.” As there is trouble between Dedé and Jaimito at this time, Dedé cannot answer her sister's question.

Essential Passage 3: Epilogue

People came out of their houses. They had already heard the story we were to pretend to believe. The Jeep had gone off the cliff on a bad turn. But their faces knew the truth. Many of the men took off their hats, the women made the sign of the cross. They stood at the very edge of the road, and when the truck went by, they threw flowers into the bed. By the time we reached Conuco, you couldn’t see the boxes for the wilting blossoms blanketing them.

When we got to the SIM post at the first little town, I cried out, “Assassins! Assassins!”

Jaimito gunned the motor to drown out my cries. When I did it again at the next town, he pulled over and came to the back of the pickup. He made me sit down on one of the boxes. “Dedé, mujer, what is it you want—to get yourself killed, too?”

I nodded. I said, “I want to be with them.”

He said—I remember it so clearly—he said, “This is your martyrdom, Dedé, to be alive without them.”

Minerva, Patria, and Maria Teresa have been tortured and killed while returning from visiting their husbands in prison. Dedé and Jaimito, both of whom had not joined the resistance movement, go to pick up the bodies and bring them home for burial. The only caskets available are simple wooden boxes. Along the road are lined Dominicans who have heard the news. Though the deaths have been reported as the result of a simple traffic accident, no one believes this. All stand in respect for the sacrifice the Mirabal sisters have made. Dedé, in her grief, cries out at each government post along the way, accusing the officials of pure assassination. Jaimito, concerned for their safety, tries to stop her, pointing out that this will only get them both killed as her sisters were. Dedé belatedly wishes she had joined them, but this is not to be. Her martyrdom, her husband states, is to live on without them, as the sole sister responsible for preserving their legacy.

Analysis of Essential Passages
Dedé Mirabal is the sole surviving sister of the Mirabal family. Unwilling to join Minerva, Maria Teresa, and Patria in the resistance against the dictatorship of Trujillo, she assists only passively and reluctantly. When the husbands of her three sisters are imprisoned, she provides support for them and helps in caring for the children. After the death of her sisters, she shares custody of her nieces and nephews with her mother until the latter’s death.

The story is told in flashback in the form of an interview that Dedé has with a reporter in 1994. By this time, some stability has come to the Dominican Republic, and the Mirabal sisters are celebrated as national heroines. The home in which they lived has been turned into a museum, and each November 25 (the anniversary of their death) there is a public remembrance given to the martyrs.

Dedé’s initial reluctance to join the resistance stemmed from fear, though she states that it is out of respect for the wishes of her husband. Her fear to stand up for her own beliefs and to make her own choices has characterized her life all along. While it has ensured her survival (in that she was not murdered along with her sisters), it has put her in a place of regret. As her husband points out, she too is a martyr, but a martyr who must bear the burden of her sisters’ heroism. Belatedly, Dedé cries out against the murderers, even at the risk of her own safety and that of her family. She has realized, too late, that she should have been with her sisters, rather than standing secure apart. Her fear has saved her life, but ensured her loneliness and her grief.

Dedé has ambivalent feelings about her role as the keeper of the legacy. First of all, she has to raise the children of her martyred sisters. Her primary concern (after their safety) is that they will not be changed by being the children of legends. The public attention they, and the rest of the family, receive is liable to turn their heads. Dedé’s desire is to see her nephews and nieces grow up to be stable citizens, yet still honor the courage and sacrifice that their mothers gave for freedom. This has been a balancing act, and Dedé has had to walk a fine line between keeping the children sheltered and letting them participate in the perpetuation of the sisters’ memory.

Minou, Minerva’s daughter, is interested in the legacy of her mother but does not want to be a legacy herself. In a flash of anger, she demonstrates this to her aunt, who suddenly understands. She sympathizes with Minou because, like her niece, Dedé has been living under the strain of living up to the legacy of her sisters. She has ceased to be a person in her own right. She has become merely the oracle of the Mirabal legend. She has, as her husband tells her, become a martyr as well, giving up her own life for that of becoming that oracle, of being the living personification of the fight against tyranny that is symbolized by her sisters’ deaths.

The constant strain of this role changes Dedé’s life. Eventually, she and Jaimito divorce, and she becomes a successful real estate agent. In another struggle, she survives breast cancer. Yet through it all, her own life is subsumed under the legacy she must bear. That is her real occupation, as much as she would like to escape it. Although she has not sacrificed her life for freedom, she has sacrificed it for family and memory.

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Essential Quotes by Theme: Fear