In the Time of the Butterflies

Major Themes

           The novel takes place in the Dominican Republic once under the rule of the dictator, Rafael Trujillo. He kills people who are considered suspicious and are opposed to him. It is an Orwellian theme of “Big Brother” watching people with spies everywhere to betray one's secrets. He kills all the people who oppose him. Neighbors cannot not trust each other, fearing whether they may be one of those who report everything suspicious to Security. For instance, when Enrieque Mirabal mentions Trujillo’s name a little loudly in chapter 1, “suddenly, the dark fills with spies who are paid to hear things and report them down at Security” (22). Even the people who seem to have no reason of being rebellious are afraid to speak openly about him. It creates distrust in the neighborhood. He controls everything. Also, in chapter 7, Maria Teresa says that the sisters’ yard boy has betrayed them and reported “everything he hears in the Mirabal household down at Security for a bottle of rum and a couple of pesos” (129). Trujillo has the power to make people betray others, controlling conversations, and preventing the media from writing critically about him.

            All of the characters in In the Time of the Butterflies were entrapped by the dictatorial rule of Rafael Trujillo. However, other than his entrapment of people, the major characters feel entrapped in their daily lives. For example, Minerva, in the chapter 2, feels oppressed by her physical environment foreshadowing her future entrapment by El Jefe. She compares herself to the rabbits that are in their pens all the time as if they are imprisoned. Feeling sympathy for them and recognizing a similarity to herself, she let the rabbits escape by opening the cage door, but they do not do so. She is hurting herself by “insisting she [rabbit] be free” (11). Maybe she decides to go to Inmaculada just to escape from her environment and her house. Maybe she hated herself who just had to “ask permission for everything” (11). After leaving her home, maybe she realized that she had “just left a small cage to go into a bigger one, the size of our whole country” implying that she is still trapped but in a larger scale (13).

Women in Politics and Public Life
        Back in the early twentieth century, women’s power and activity were still very limited because of the traditional image of women in the Dominican Republic. Many women did not attend college, considered the place where “communist and agitators” attend. Women did not have enough power to speak up. In chapter 6, when Minerva tells El Jefe about her dream to be a lawyer, Trujillo replies, “a woman like you, a lawyer?” quite looking down on women about their possible job prospects (98). To prevent Minerva from attending college, he warns her that “the university is no place for a woman these days” (99). Even with his interruption, Minerva still believes that “it’s about time we women had a voice in running our country” (10). All four sisters challenge the traditional image of women in that era by being involved in revolutionary acts. Even though Dede is not as involved in the rebellions because of Jaimito, she always wants to be a part of that and feels in fact guilty about being the only one who survived. When Patria asks her to stop all her activities and involvements since it is too dangerous for women, Minerva argues that “women had to come out of the dark ages” (51). Even with the handicap of their gender at that time, they overcome the difficulties and became the heroines of the Dominican Republic even though they still all died later.