In the Time of the Butterflies

Significant Passages

  • "Yes, so different. Minerva was always into her wrongs and rights.” Dede realizes she is speaking to the picture of Minerva, as if she were assigning her a part, pinning her down with a handful of adjectives, the beautiful, intelligent, high-minded Minerva. “And Maria Teresa, ay, Dios,” Dede sighs, emotion in her voice in spite of herself. “Still a girl when she died, pobrecita, just turned twenty-five.” Dede moves on to the last picture and rights the frame, “Sweet Patria, always her religion was so  important.” (Alvarez 6)

After the interview, the interviewer woman arrives at Dede’s home, and the woman asks her to “tell her (me) all of it” (5). Dede starts her interview by giving the interviewer a basic personality sketch of the three sisters. This passage informs the readers of the basic background of her sisters and the setting. According to Dede, Minerva is “beautiful, intelligent, high minded” but anti government (6). She continues that Maria Teresa, the youngest sister, died at the early age at twenty-five, eventually revealing to the interviewer and the reader that Dede is the only survivor among her sisters of Trujillo’s dictatorial reign. Also, she uses the word “pobrecita,” a Spanish word meaning “poor little thing” usually referring to a little girl. She feels grief for her younger sister who died too early. Lastly, Patria is described as the most religious one, along with her mother, from among her sisters. Dede describes her sisters as if she is assigning parts to them somehow in a monotonous manner, revealing that Dede had recounted this story of her heroine sisters numerous times to the other people by whom she had been interviewed. As Dede sighs, it shows how sad she is because of her being the only one surviving from among her sisters and shows her missing them but with an appreciation of their memory and a pity for their sakes.

  • A chill goes through her, for she feels it in her bones, the future is now beginning. By the time it is over, it will be the past, and she doesn't want to be the only one left to tell their story. (Alvarez 10)
This foreshadows the death of her family, for all except Dede. Since the readers already know in the beginning of the chapter that all except her had died, this is a repeat of the foreshadowing of the deaths. Even though this passage does not tell the readers any new information, it gives an emotional description of how empty Dede feels about her family’s deaths,  so that “a chill goes though her” (10). She feels grief for being “the only one left to tell their story” (10). Mentioning her past and future indicates that she tries to overcome such tragedies by worrying about her future rather than being lost in memories of her past struggles.

  • The four of us had to ask permission for everything. […] Sometimes, watching the             rabbits in their pens, I’d think, I’m no different from you, poor things. One time, I             opened a cage to set a half grown doe free. I even gave her a slap to get her doing.  […] I mean in my head after I got to Inmaculada and met Sinita and saw what happened to Lina and realized that I’d just left a small cage to go into a bigger one, the size of our whole country. (11, 13)
This passage clearly portrays her attempt to be free and to leave home. She mentions the rabbit that is locked in a cage for a long time and finds it similar to her. The rabbit symbolizes her being at home all the time and asking her parents for everything. She asks her father permission to go to Immaculada Conception as an escape from her house. When she tries to free the rabbit by opening the door of the cage, the rabbit does not in fact escape, as she had wanted it to and had expected. It does not go out of the cage even though she hits and pulls at the rabbit from the cage. This imagery of the rabbit foreshadows the Dominican Republic controlled by its one dictator, Trujillo, and everyone losing their freedom under his reign. Unlike the rabbit in the cage, she said she would “just leave a small cage to go into a bigger one, the size of our whole country” suggesting that she would not let her freedom be taken away (13).

  • Dede took the chimney off the lamp, and with a trembling hand, fed the letter to the flame. The paper lit up. Ashes, fluttered like moths and Dede ground them to dust on the floor. She had taken care of the problem, and that was that. Looking up in the mirror she was surprised by the wild look on her face. The ring on her finger flashed a feverish reminder. She brushed her hair up into a tight ponytail and put on her nightgown. Having blown out the light, she slept fitfully, holding a pillow like a man in her arms. (Alvarez 83)
This passage is significant because it is something that affects the future of the story. Because Dede burns this letter, her sister Minerva is not able to read it and is not able to go along with Lio, following in his revolution. Later in the section we realize this was good for her, as she could have been killed for following him. This event also leads to their father hiding Lio's future letters and Minerva being very upset when she finds them. Later, these letters are discovered by the government and puts Minerva in a difficult situation  even though she does not go with Lio, she is safe from being persecuted further therefore. The author uses lots of literary techniques in this passage to add detail and color to the event. Some examples of this include imagery, personification and similes. An example of personification is “the paper lit up,” “a feverish reminder,” and “fed the letter to the flame.” Some similes are “fluttered like moths” and “pillow like a man.” Due to all the detailed descriptions, the author is able to make this passage very interesting for the readers and played a key role in this section of the book.

  • He glares at me, and then slips the sash over his head and holds it out. An attendant quickly and reverently collects it. El Jefe smiles cynically. “Anything else bother you about my dress I could take off?” He yanks me by the wrist, thrusting his pelvis at me in a vulgar way, and I see my hand in an endless motion else- a mind all its own- and come down on the astonished, made-up face. (Alvarez 100)
This passage is part of a key event because it is one of the particular times where Minerva stands up against El Jefe. We already know that she does not like him from reading the previous chapters but in this part she unthinkingly slaps him, not realizing that instant the consequences. This is a section where we realize how bad he really is and is a sign for her joining the revolution later. The author uses unique vocabulary to enhance the characters and the plot in this section, an example of this is “cynically” this word makes El Jefe sound worse, and changes our opinion of him. Another technique in this passage is the detailed description of her slap, by the way she describes it, to visualize the event and realize its physical and thematic impact.

  • By now, from the light streaming in my window, I could see a face I seemed to recall from a dream. It was the sweetest man’s face I’d ever seen. He had a delivery to make, he said, could I please let him in? As he spoke, he kept looking over his shoulder at a car parked right before our front door. I didn’t even think twice. (Alvarez 141)
This section introduces the love between Maria Teresa and Palomino. Throughout this whole chapter readers learn of her hatred towards certain men and how she yearns for someone special. Just from reading the first few lines, the narration already indicates that this is the man for her and that they will work towards revolution together. While the author does not use many literary techniques, the description itself gives us a vivid sense of what is going on and what may happen in the future.

  • The fear is the worse part. Every time I hear footsteps coming down the hall, or the clink of the key turning in the lock, I'm tempted to curl up in the corner like a hurt animal, whimpering, wanting to be safe. But I know if I do that, I'll be giving in to a low part of myself, and I'll feel even less human. And that is what they want to do, yes, that is what they want to do. (Alvarez 227)
In this passage, the readers can realize the massive change in Maria Teresa. She has grown, and thinks differently from that at her young age. This segment shows Maria Teresa’s courage, belief, and intelligence. Although she is scared, she does not want to give up and give into them. She wants to keep her opinion.

  • Maybe these aren't losses. Maybe that's a wrong way to think of them. The men, the children, me. We went our ways, we became ourselves. Just that. And maybe that is what it means to be a free people, and I should be glad. (Alvarez 317)
This quote appears right after Chea Mirable, Mama, has passed away. Dede, the only surviving Mirable sisters, thinks about her own life after numerous people around her are gone. She is in pain and hurt, but does not regret what she did, and what all her other family members did. She looks at it with her political perspective, that it is what they chose to do and it is their duties.

  • But all I hear is my own breathing and the blessed silence of those cool, clear nights under the anacahuita tree before anyone breathes a word of the future. And I see them all there in my memory, as still as statues, Mama and Papa, and Minerva and Mate and Patria, and I’m thinking something is missing now. And I count them all twice before I realize- it’s me, Dede, it’s me, the one who survived to tell the story. (Alvarez 321)
This passage is the last paragraph in the story, included in the Epilogue. After Dede finishes her story, she thinks back to all of them who died. She is left alone, the only surviving Mirable sister. As she concludes the whole narrative with this quote, there is real sympathy felt for her, and there is a great impact when Dede says, “It’s me, Dede, it’s me, the one who survived to tell the story” (321). Dede have a mixed feeling of both great sadness and great hope here.