In the Time of the Butterflies Themes
by Julia Alvarez

In the Time of the Butterflies book cover
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In the Time of the Butterflies Themes

The main themes in In the Time of the Butterflies are the importance of family, faith against fear, and women as revolutionaries.

  • The importance of family: The Mirabals draw strength from their families, and their familial relationships highlight the weight of their sacrifices.
  • Faith against fear: The sisters are able to continue fighting against Trujillo’s regime as a result of their faith.
  • Women as revolutionaries: As women in the Dominican Republic, the Mirabal sisters are limited in the amount of power and authority they can achieve, but they defy expectations by joining the revolution and becoming heroes.

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The Importance of Family

By exploring the dynamics between members of the Mirabal family, Alvarez emphasizes the potency that their steadfast loyalty to one another has during their shared struggle. Accordingly, Alvarez examines different forms of love—from sisterhood, to motherhood, to marriage—to showcase the resilience of familial bonds against forces of evil.

While the Mirabals are united behind the same cause, their ambition to fight lies in their shared desire to create a better world for future generations of Dominicans. For example, in reference to her husband, María Teresa mentions that “love goes deeper than the struggle, or maybe . . . love is the deeper struggle.” In this regard, she acknowledges that she would never sacrifice her family to the cause, and for her, this sacred love—with her sisters, her husband, and later, her child—is the most important thing to fight for. Likewise, Patria’s commitment to protecting her children heavily influences her emotions and decisions, especially when Nelson is imprisoned.

In particular, as the only surviving sister of the Mirabals, Dedé learns how to carry on her family legacy as she navigates her own trauma. While torn between obeying her husband and joining the underground movement with her sisters, she reflects upon the sacred bond she has with them, realizing that “her fate was bound up with the fates of her sisters,” because “if they died, she would not want to go on living without them.” After their deaths, her grief intensifies, and when she expresses this sentiment to Jaimito, he tells Dedé that her martyrdom is “to be alive without them.”

At the end of the novel, when Dedé describes feeling the presence of her lost family members, she asserts that “even as spirits they retained their personalities, Patria’s sure and measured step, Minerva’s quicksilver impatience, Mate’s playful little skip.” Through the sisters’ shared courage, faith, and compassion, Dedé learns her own strengths and endeavors to provide her nieces with these ideals. She thus keeps the spirits of her family members alive by cultivating and nourishing familial love.

Faith Against Fear

Throughout In the Time of the Butterflies, Alvarez illuminates the role of spirituality for the Mirabals as they confront the endless traumas inflicted upon Dominicans during the course of Trujillo’s rise to power. Observing the evils and injustices wrought by his dictatorial regime challenges the sisters to maintain courage as threats against them escalate.

In particular, before becoming politically involved with the Fourteenth of June Movement, Patria—who, instead of becoming a nun, married at seventeen—questions God’s benevolence. In the following passage, as she looks at side-by-side portraits of the Good Shepherd and El Jefe, Patria describes seeing their faces merge:

I had heard, but I had not believed. Snug in my heart, fondling my pearl, I had ignored their cries of desolation. How could our loving, all-powerful father allow us to suffer so? I looked up, challenging Him. And the two faces had merged!

While Patria struggles to reconcile her faith with both her personal losses—especially of her stillborn third child—and the other lives lost to the cause, her faith in the goodness of humanity drives her to rebel against the regime....

(The entire section is 1,101 words.)