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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So you’re going to teach Julia Alvarez’s In the Time of the Butterflies, a novel that has been popular in English classrooms since its publication in 1994. While it has its challenges—a nonlinear narrative, multiple points of view, and a violent, tragic conclusion—teaching this text to your class will be rewarding for you and your students. Studying In the Time of the Butterflies will give them unique insight into revolutionary dynamics in Latin America, daily life in the Dominican Republic, and the important role the Mirabal sisters played in challenging authoritarianism, patriarchy, and bringing about social change. This guide highlights some of the most salient aspects of the text before you begin teaching.

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Facts at a Glance

  • Publication Date: 1994 
  • Recommended Grade Levels: 10-12 
  • Approximate Word Count: 116,000 
  • Author: Julia Alvarez 
  • Country of Origin: United States 
  • Genre: Historical Fiction, Biography, Family Drama 
  • Literary Period: Contemporary 
  • Conflict: Person vs. Person, Person vs. Society, Person vs. Self 
  • Narration: Third-Person Limited Omniscient; Shifting First-Person Perspectives 
  • Setting: Dominican Republic, 1938–1994 
  • Mood: Confessional, Intimate, Reverent

Texts that Go Well with In the Time of the Butterflies

Animal Farm by George Orwell is an iconic allegory for the Russian Revolution. The novel follows the events on a rural farm as a group of animals overthrow their human leader in the hopes of building a collectivist utopia. However, the intellectually superior pigs come to monopolize resources and power, using a pack of violent dogs to intimidate and threaten the other animals. Students will find that they can connect the dictatorship of the character Napoleon to Trujillo’s methods of leadership and coercion in In the Time of the Butterflies

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, by Junot Diaz, combines elements of postmodernism and magical realism to explore themes of personal and national identity within the context of one family’s immigration from the Dominican Republic to the United States. Similarly to In the Time of the Butterflies, the novel explores one family’s struggle to survive within the context of the Trujillo regime using a non-linear plot and shifting points of view. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao earned both a National Book Critics Circle Award and a Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. 

The House of the Spirits, by Isabel Allende, is a sweeping work of historical fiction that follows the Trueba family through four generations of turbulent Chilean politics. Like Alvarez, Allende has first hand experience of the political events she addresses in her work. She is a relative of Salvador Allende, the socialist president who was overthrown in Chile in 1973. As a result of the coup d’etat, Isabel Allende was forced to flee from Chile. 

In the Name of Salomé, by Julia Alvarez, is another novel exploring the life of women important to the history of the Dominican Republic. This novel centers on the life of Salomé Ureña and her daughter Camila. A poet and educational activist, Salomé grew to be a national icon in the 19th century. Years later, a shy Camila living as a Spanish teacher in the US must live up to her mother’s past. 

“Our America” by Jose Marti is an extended essay that explores the need for the governments of Latin American nations to reject influence from European nations and the United States. Originally published in 1891, the essay argues in favor of Latin American nations living in peace with each other and nurturing their indigenous cultures, suggesting that unity is their best defense against colonialism.

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Key Plot Points