In the Time of the Butterflies: Themes & Analysis

Instructor: Dori Starnes

Dori has taught college and high school English courses, and has Masters degrees in both literature and education.

In the Time of the Butterflies is the story of the four Mirabal sisters. When faced with a brutal regime, each sister must weigh the risks and decide whether or not her life is worth standing up to a dictator famous for murder and torture.

In the Time of the Butterflies: Themes and Analysis

When is it important to take a stand against something that is wrong? What if doing so would put you or your family in danger? Is your life worth your beliefs? These are all questions the Mirabal sisters faced in the 1994 novel In the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alvarez. This lesson will focus on the themes and analysis of the novel.

In the Time of the Butterflies tells of the Mirabal sisters -- Patria, Minerva, and Marie Therese, also known as Mate -- and their involvement in the resistance to Rafael Trujillo's dictatorship in the Dominican Republic. Through their stories, which are picked up by their sister Dede after their murders, we learn about the horrors of Trujillo's regime.

There are many themes that resound through this novel, but the most obvious are the fight against dictatorship, the importance of family, and courage in the face of danger. Read on for the analysis of why each theme is so important to the overall story.

The Fight Against Dictatorship

Rafael Trujillo ruled the Dominican Republic from 1930 until 1961. While the standard of living in the Dominican Republic at that time was not too bad, the people had very little civil rights. All power was in Trujillo's hands.

Called 'the goat' by the characters in the novel, Trujillo allowed no dissention with his rule. He rewrote the history books to highlight his own power and ruled with an iron hand. Those who stood up to him were tortured and murdered, often in public. His power over the Mirabal sisters is an example of how he acted towards his people. He tries to seduce Minerva, and when she won't have him, he sabotages her law degree and is eventually responsible for her murder.

The Importance of Family

In this novel, three sisters are involved in the rebellion, and one is not. Even though this causes disagreements, and the sisters are very different from each other, the bond that is their shared blood keeps them close. They are raised to be good girls, and told their duty in life is to marry and have children.

While the sisters do conform to this ''womanly'' ideal, they also (with the exception of Dede) get involved in politics. The wrongs they see around them are too horrible to let go. When Dede chooses to obey her husband and stay out of the rebellion to focus on her children and family, her sisters are not happy, but they still love her. The family bond always remains.

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