In the Time of the Butterflies Teaching Approaches
by Julia Alvarez

In the Time of the Butterflies book cover
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Teaching Approaches

The Making of a Revolutionary: The initial spark of revolution within the Mirabal family and the most incendiary of the sisters, Minerva is the first Mirabal to become a butterfly. Described from her own point of view and through the complicated eyes of her sisters, Minerva transforms from an innocent school girl to a national emblem of the fight for freedom. Her own motivation and attitudes are complex, and her belief in a better future for her country incites both the action within the novel and the revolutionary change that ended Trujillo’s regime after her death. Because of her affect on characters and events in the story, Minerva makes for an excellent character study. 

  • For discussion: Minerva’s passion can be described as idealistic. What ideals does she ascribe to at the start of the novel? Do those ideals shift in her life? How and why? When does Minerva act in accordance with her ideals, and when does she betray them? 
  • For discussion: Explore Minerva’s choices. For example, why does Minerva choose to stay in prison when she has the choice to be pardoned? Why does she both give a speech and write a letter in praise of Trujillo? 
  • For discussion: Engage students in a close reading of the scenes in which she interacts directly with Trujillo. What does she learn? What does she do to empower herself? In what ways does she subvert his authority? 
  • For discussion: Compare and contrast Minerva’s relationships with Lio and with Manolo. Why does she resist a romantic relationship with Lio, only to marry Manolo? 
  • For discussion: What are Minerva’s priorities? When is the nation more important than her family life, and when is her family life more important than the nation? 

Understanding the Butterflies as Character Foils: In the Time of the Butterflies offers an intimate exploration of the events and emotions that cause Patria, Minerva, and María Teresa to fight for a revolution in the Dominican Republic. In contrast, it explores the events and emotions that keep Dedé on the sidelines. Acting as foils for each other, the sisters reveal the different ways that social, economic, and political paradigms shape their four distinct choices and perspectives. The four characters also offer a varied glimpse into an oppressive society at the threshold of a crisis, asking readers to consider what they would be willing to risk for a free and just society. 

  • For discussion: Why do each of the Mirabal sisters choose either to participate in or avoid the revolution? Compare and contrast their motivating factors, and consider what their actions reveal about social themes in the text. 
  • For discussion: What do each of the sisters do to empower themselves over the course of the text? Do their social, political, or economic statuses change over the course of the novel? How so? Why? 
  • For discussion: To what extent were the Mirabal sisters successful in their revolution? What is the measure of their success? 
  • For discussion: Why do Patria, Minerva, and María Teresa ignore Dedé’s advice about the dangers of driving the dangerous road to visit their husbands? 

Sisters Against Patriarchy: From Papá’s disappointment in fathering four daughters to Trujillo’s “plucking” of young women from schools to be his personal companions, patriarchy pervades the social injustices at play in In the Time of the Butterflies. The Mirabal sisters, as well as the nuns who educate them, the female students alongside them, and the daughters they bear, all live within a social context that holds men supreme in political leadership, moral authority, and social privilege. 

  • For discussion: In what ways do the men in the text hold power over women? How is this power measured and enacted? What do the Mirabal sisters do to empower themselves? 
  • For discussion: What expectations to the Mirabal sisters face as women? When do they act contrary to these expectations? When and why do they fulfill their expected roles as wives and mothers? 
  • For discussion: When does femininity...

(The entire section is 1,841 words.)