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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Key Plot Points

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Last Updated on July 10, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 571

While we recommend reading In the Time of the Butterflies in its entirety, we understand that your classroom may have time constraints. The following Key Plot Points are meant to guide you and your students to the most relevant parts of the text so you can plan your lessons most efficiently. 

An Interviewer Visits Dedé (Part 1, Chapter 1): As an old woman in 1994, Dedé is tending her butterfly orchid when an interviewer from the US, who doesn’t speak Spanish well, arrives to learn about Dedé’s sisters. Dedé describes their personalities—Minerva is beautiful and intelligent, Patria is religious, and María Teresa, or Mate, is just a young girl. Dedé remembers a scene from her childhood of her father making predictions for each of his daughters’ futures. He predicts that Dedé will “bury [them] all” with her wealth and success. Although not explicitly stated, this can be seen as a prediction of Dedé outliving her sisters and parents. 

Minerva’s Class Performs for Trujillo (Part 1, Chapter 2): As a school girl in 1944, Minerva’s class performs for Trujillo as part of a celebration for national independence. Minerva is tied up, representing the nation under Spanish control. Her friend Sinita is supposed to pretend to shoot her arrow at invisible enemies before untying her. Instead, Sinita points her bow and arrow directly at Trujillo. Sinita is then humiliated by Trujillo’s son, Ramfis, but Minerva diffuses the tension by chanting “Viva Trujillo.” 

Minerva Slaps Trujillo (Part 2, Chapter 6): In 1949, Papá, Patria, Dedé, and Minerva are invited to a party by the government, and they all fear that Trujillo desires Minerva. At the event, Minerva sits at the head table with Trujillo. When they dance together, they discuss her desire to go to law school. When Trujillo makes a vulgar and inappropriate advance during their dance, Minerva slaps him. Just as suddenly, it begins raining, breaking up the outdoor party. In the confusion from the sudden rain, the Mirabal family leaves early. This allows Minerva to avoid immediate repercussions for slapping Trujillo. 

The Fourteenth of June Radicalizes Patria (Part 2, Chapter 8): In 1959, Patria goes on a religious pilgrimage into the mountains of the Dominican Republic. She knows that Minerva is involved in revolutionary activities and thinks Mate is, as well. She fears her adolescent son is also in danger. While on the retreat, revolutionaries try to invade and overthrow Trujillo, and Patria finds herself amid the fray. When she sees a boy her son’s age killed, she is inspired to join the revolution herself. 

Minerva and Mate Refuse to Accept a Pardon (Part 3, Chapter 11): Imprisoned due to their efforts in the Fourteenth of June Movement, Minerva and Mate try to keep their spirits high while in prison. Their husbands have also been captured, and the prisoners are tortured as the government tries to force confessions from them. Trujillo offers Minerva and Mate pardons, but Minerva convinces Mate to reject the offer, arguing that accepting it would be akin to admitting their guilt. 

Minerva, Mate, and Patria are Killed (Part 3, Chapter 12): Once Minerva and Mate are released from prison, they learn that their husbands have been moved to a different prison. In order to visit them, the three sisters must drive along a dangerous, isolated mountain pass. On one of their return trips home, the three women and their driver are killed by agents of Trujillo’s regime. 

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