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In the Time of the Butterflies

by Julia Alvarez

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Essential Quotes by Theme: Fear

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Essential Passage 1: Chapter 5

She decided not to read the papers anymore. They were turning her upside down inside. The regime was going insane, issuing the most ludicrous regulations. A heavy fine was now imposed on anyone who wore khaki trousers and shirts of the same color. It was against the law now to carry your suit jacket over your arm. Lío was right, this was an absurd and crazy regime. It had to be brought down.

But when she read the list to Jaimito, she did not get the reaction she expected. “Well?” he said when she was through and looked up at him.

“Isn’t it ridiculous? I mean, it’s absurd, insanely ridiculous.” Unlike her golden-tongue sister, Dedé was not eloquent with reasons. And my God, what reasons did she need to explain these ridiculous insanities!

Lío (Virgilio Morales), the object of both Minerva’s and Dedé’s affections, is frequently in the news for his activities in the resistance movement. Dedé’s mother is unable to read (though she will not admit this), so Dedé habitually reads her the papers. However, she begins to edit some of what she reads so that her mother will not be unnecessarily upset. Yet Dedé herself is bothered by the news, not just about Lío, but by the new regulations. The new law is that citizens cannot wear khaki pants and shirts, because that is the official military uniform. The government’s fear is that it will become difficult to distinguish between military and citizens in an armed conflict. Additionally, it is illegal to carry one’s jacket over the arm, lest it should conceal a weapon. Dedé is outraged by the absurdity of these new regulations, though her husband Jaimito is not. Wishing that she had Minerva’s gift for expression, Dedé regrets that she cannot adequately explain to Jaimito why such rules are outrageous.

Essential Passage 2: Chapter 6

They must have caught him! “Virgilio Morales?” I blurt out. I can’t believe my own ears.

His face hardens, suspicion clouds the gaze. “You know Virgilio Morales?”

What a complete idiot I am! How can I now protect him and myself? “His family is from El Cibao, too,” I say, choosing my words carefully. “I know the son teaches at the university.”

El Jefe’s gaze is withdrawing further and further into some back room of his mind where he tortures meaning out of the words he hears. He can tell I’m stalling. “So, you do know him?”

“Not personally, no,” I say in a little voice. Instantly, I feel ashamed of myself. I see now how easily it happens. You give in on little things, and soon you’re serving in his government, marching in his parades, sleeping in his bed.

Minerva attends a party held by Trujillo at his special request. She is dancing with him, much against her will, but she knows how dangerous it would be to refuse him. As they are making small talk, the dictator mentions Virgilio Morales, her friend. Caught off guard, she acts visibly surprised and upset, which clues him into to the fact that she is acquainted with him. He is interested that she should know someone who is involved in the resistance movement determined to overthrow his government. Out of fear, Minerva tries to backtrack, stating that she has heard of him because he comes from the same village. Though she is not sure that Trujillo believes her excuse, Minerva is somewhat relieved when the conversation shifts. Yet she is also ashamed, because through giving in to her fear she has made a move toward indirectly supporting the dictator’s regime. The small concessions are the baby steps toward complicity and involvement.

Essential Passage 3: Chapter 11

Thursday, March 17 (56 days)

The fear is the worst part. Every time I hear footsteps coming down the hall, or the clink of the key turning in the lock, I’m tempted to curl up in the corner like a hurt animal, whimpering, wanting to be safe. But I know if I do that, I’ll be giving in to a low part of myself, and I’ll feel even less human. And that is what they want to do, yes, that is what they want to do.

Maria Teresa, Minerva, and Patria are imprisoned, crammed into a relatively small cell with a large group of other prisoners, both political and criminal (prostitutes). The atrocious conditions, the filth and lack of privacy, not to mention frequent torture, drive the prisoners into the depths of despair and desperation. Maria Teresa has been able to find some companionship with another prisoner, Magdalena, but on the whole is subjected to conditions that are fit only for animals. Terrified of what the future holds, Maria Teresa rejoices at the small gifts that her mother and Dedé are able to send into the prison, including her journal. She finds comfort in recording her experiences, a catharsis for the pain, both physical and emotional, to which she is subjected. Yet the fear is what threatens to push her over the edge. She fears what will come as she hears footsteps approach, presumably that of one of her jailers and torturers. Yet she knows that should she succumb to this fear, she would be deprived of her humanity.

Analysis of Essential Passages
Fear is woven throughout a totalitarian regime, both in the ruled and also in the ruler—fear of what the other has done, fear of what the other might do, fear of what the individual himself will fall victim to. It is through fear that people are ruled, and it is through fear that people allow themselves to be ruled.

The Mirabals first experience fear by way of the regime's regulations. Because the government fears the possibility (if not probability) of an uprising among the people, new and ridiculously stringent rules are enforced. The regime begins to see shadows in corners, guns under jackets, symbols in the wearing of certain clothes. Yet as more and more regulations are put in place, it increases the fear of the people. The government has ceased to be logical and thus predictable. It is the unpredictability that ultimately unsettles the citizens, and as their fear develops, there is more of a subtle yearning for freedom. With this yearning comes more resistance. With more resistance comes more regulations to control the resistance. And so the cycle begins.

Minerva wisely pinpoints the beginning of the loss of liberty: it is in the small concessions that one makes out of fear of reprisal. For a large atrocity, one might dare to die. But for a small one, hardly ever. Yet it is in the small atrocities that the large atrocities are born. Rather than stop enslavement at its beginning, it is easier to submit, out of fear.

In the end, it is through fear of pain and death that tyrants try to break the human spirit. Yet throughout months of imprisonment and torture, the Mirabal sisters refuse to succumb, refuse to sink under their fear. As Maria Teresa points out, to do so would be to become less than human. And as Viktor Emil Frankl (a survivor of the Nazi concentration camps in World War II) states in his book Man’s Search for Meaning, it is “the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” The Mirabal sisters exemplify this concept. They will not submit to fear: they will remain human. It is ultimately for that choice that the Mirabal sisters are now revered in the Dominican Republic as heroes.

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