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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Significant Influences and References

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Literary: As the Mirabal sisters become increasingly involved in revolutionary activities, they make reference to Latin American writers who gave voice to anti-totalitarian movements throughout the Caribbean, South, and Central America. 

  • Jose Marti was a Cuban political thinker, essayist, poet, and revolutionary who lived from 1853 to 1895. He was twice exiled from Cuba for fighting for independence from Spain and came to represent the Cuban Revolutionary Party that he was instrumental in forming. Published throughout the United States and Latin America, Marti’s writing went on to inspire anti-imperial and anti-totalitarian efforts over the course of the 20th century. 
  • Gabriela Mistral was a Chilean teacher, diplomat, and poet who lived from 1889 to 1957. She became the first Latin American to win the Nobel Prize for literature in 1945 for her body of work that explores the plight of the downtrodden and celebrates the hopefulness of youth. 

Historical: The novel In the Time of the Butterflies is tightly woven within the historical context of its protagonists, the Mirabal sisters, who worked to overthrow Trujillo in the Dominican Republic. 

  • Rafael Leónidas Trujillo Molina was born to a lower middle-class family in the suburbs of Santo Domingo. Educated by the US military in the Dominican Republic, Trujillo became the head of the Dominican military in 1925 and then took hold of full governing power. Trujillo’s totalitarian regime dominated the politics and economics of the nation until his assassination in 1961. 
  • SIM stands for Servicio de Inteligencia Militar, or the Military Intelligence Service. This was the police force Trujillo used to surveil and coerce the people of the Dominican Republic. 
  • Fidel Castro was born in 1926 and became a leader in the Cuban Revolution that removed dictator Fulgencio Batista from power. Batista was known for privileging the economic interests of US industry over the rights and interests of Cuban citizens. Castro led Cuba from 1959 until 2008, during which time he embraced communism and allied himself with the Soviet Union in order to combat anti-Castro factions in the US. 
  • The Fourteenth of June refers to a failed attempt at overthrowing Trujillo that occurred on June 14, 1959. A group of exiled revolutionaries known as the Dominican Liberation Group organized a contingency to attack with the intention of capturing Trujillo and bringing democracy to the island. The DLG was supported by Fidel Castro who already held power in Cuba. Many faulted the US for the operation’s failure, saying the military had failed to deliver the weapons they had promised. However, Trujillo’s agents also discovered plans for the attack and thwarted the invasion. 
  • Ernesto “Che” Guevara was born in Chile in 1928. As a young man, he traveled throughout Latin America, learning about the different ways in which average citizens were being exploited by large foreign businesses, predominantly from the US. While in Guatemala, Guevara witnessed President Jacobo Árbenz, who was working to nationalize the agricultural industry, be overthrown by the CIA. This experience inspired Guevara to fight across Latin America to promote socialism in the face of expansionist capitalism. Guevara developed expertise in guerrilla warfare, participating in the Cuban Revolution that brought Fidel Castro to power. In 1967, Guevara was killed by the Bolivian military during an attack on revolutionary dissidents. 

Biblical: Catholicism is a prominent aspect of daily life for the Mirabal family. This is particularly true for Patria, who considers becoming a nun and is radicalized while on a religious pilgrimage. 

  • La Virgencita is a reference to the Virgin Mary. Christian theology holds that Mary became pregnant through divine conception with Jesus Christ. One of the most popular and potent symbols within Catholicism,...

(This entire section contains 770 words.)

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  • Mary represents the spirit of God that exists in perfection on Earth. 
  • In part 2, chapter 8, Patria describes the way the SIM behaves in her village: “Johnny Abbes and his SIM were dragging young men off the streets, and farms, and from offices, like Herod the baby boys in all of Judea.” Judea refers to a region of the Middle East that was an early kingdom of the Jewish people in Biblical history. Herod was the king at the time of Jesus’s birth and feared that he would be replaced as king of the Jewish people by a newly born king. As a result, he ordered that all boys in Bethlehem under the age of two be killed. 
  • In part 2, chapter 8, Patria repeats the line “And on the third day He rose again.” This is a reference to the mythology surrounding the death of Jesus Christ. Three days after Jesus was crucified, he came back to life in human form before ascending to heaven. 

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