In the Time of the Butterflies

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In the Time of the Butterflies Chapter 4 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The narrative is now told from Patria’s point of view, remembering the past. She describes how she always felt an affinity for religion, and imagined herself as a nun from a very young age. She goes to the convent school and tries to ignore herself going through puberty, and she strictly follows all the religious rules. When Patria is sixteen Sor Asunción calls her in and tells her to listen for God speaking to her, in case she has a calling to become a nun.
Alvarez creates a unique voice for each sister. Minerva is straightforward and sardonic, Mate is emotional and dramatic, and Patria uses grand religious language. Patria follows convention like Dedé, but is more high-minded and idealistic like Minerva. She embraces the rules of religion instead of feeling trapped by them.
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At night Patria starts touching herself, but she tries to stifle her desires with thoughts of Christ. This is successful for a while, but then she starts desiring rich foods instead. She prays hard but gets no sign from God. One day during Holy Week she is washing people’s feet at the church when she is startled to see a handsome young man. She feels that this is a sign – he is to be her “earthly groom,” and she will give up her dreams of being a nun. She finally confesses this to Sor Asunción, feeling guilty about it.
Patria doesn’t get involved in political struggles for a while – at first all her conflicts are personal. She experiences this battle between her perceived religious calling and her budding sexuality as a woman. Jesus is called the “bridegroom” of the Church, so Patria chooses an “earthly groom” instead of symbolically marrying Jesus by becoming a nun.
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Patria stays home from school the next fall and helps Papá at the store. She starts dating the young man, whose name is Pedrito González. He is from an old farming family and seems strongly connected to the earth. Patria feels an element of pity in her love for him. He is a simple man but he declares his powerful love for Patria, and they decide to get married. Only once does she almost have premarital sex with him, but she stops at the last moment.
Patria quickly gives up school along with her goal of becoming a nun. She does not feel trapped by marrying so young or giving up her education, as becoming a good mother seems as worthy a goal to her as anything else.
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After she gets married, Patria goes to live with Pedrito on his family’s farm. She has a son, Nelson, and then a daughter, Noris. She starts to worry about Minerva, who has been speaking out more openly against Trujillo. Patria tries to reason with her, saying that Trujillo is better than the other “bandits” who have been president. Then she tries saying that women shouldn’t get involved in the “dirty business” of politics. Minerva rebuffs all her arguments.
Patria echoes another sexist argument used to keep women down – that women are somehow “purer” than men, and so shouldn’t dirty themselves with politics. Patria is still being strictly conventional, following the path laid out before her – get married, have children, and don’t make trouble.
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Minerva stops going to church unless Mamá forces her to. Minerva says that some of the priests are on “double payroll,” and Patria feels Minerva affecting her own faith. Patria then loses her religion altogether when she has the stillborn baby. Patria feels empty and despairing, and she moves back home to get her strength back.
“Double payroll” means working one’s usual job and also being paid by the regime to spy on people. Patria’s children are everything to her, so her baby is the most precious thing God could take from her.
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Patria keeps up her facade, but Minerva recognizes that she has lost her faith. One day she notes Patria staring at the portrait of Trujillo next to the picture of Jesus and says “they’re a pair, aren’t they?” Patria then understands Minerva’s hatred. Her family hasn’t been personally hurt by Trujillo, but now she has been personally hurt by Jesus in losing her baby. She then thinks about all the horrible things Trujillo has done, and how God has allowed them to happen. When she looks at the pictures again, Jesus’s and Trujillo’s faces merge for an instant.
The portrait of Trujillo now becomes an important symbol, as Trujillo is explicitly linked with God, as an all-powerful, watchful figure. Patria’s loss of faith echoes Minerva’s loss of faith in Trujillo, and Trujillo’s slogan: “God in Heaven, Trujillo on Earth” becomes especially poignant and true. The church (and God) remaining silent about El Jefe’s atrocities suddenly seems like a sin.
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Patria moves back in with Pedrito, and his strange, sexually aggressive grief for their child helps her put aside her own troubles. One night Pedrito leaves and Patria follows him and watches him dig a little grave. She worries that he has done something to their child’s body, so she has the coffin exhumed. The child is still there, but Patria is horrified to see it decomposing and insect-ridden. Afterward Patria keeps up her façade of religion, and “fooled them all.”
Patria keeps slipping deeper into despair, losing the things that seemed most sure, but she keeps up her outward appearance of faith. With this intimate portrait we see how flat the mythologies of the sisters actually are when they are seen solely as revolutionary heroes, with Patria as “the religious one”, rather than as the complicated, conflicted people they actually were.
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Mamá decides that the family should go on a pilgrimage to a town where there have been visions of the Virgin Mary lately, so they can pray to the Virgin for help. Papá stays behind, and Patria wonders what caused her mother to want to leave home and take this trip. The sisters and their mother tease each other and discuss the old war with the “Yanquis” (Americans). Mamá says that all men are scoundrels, and then she quietly adds “your father, too.”
We see the first hints of the trouble between Mamá and Papá here. The family discusses the turmoil in the Dominican Republic before Trujillo, when the United States occupied the country and set up a government with their own interests in mind.
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The town is full of pilgrims, and the family can’t find a room so they stay with some distant relations. As they pray to the Virgin that night, Patria asks Mamá if Papá has “another woman,” and Mamá doesn’t deny it. Mamá laments that the Virgin has forsaken her, and Patria affirms that she, at least, is present.
The sinister misogyny of the Trujillo regime doesn’t come out of nowhere – Dominican society is very “macho” at this point, with men loudly asserting their masculinity and objectifying women.
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The next morning the Mirabals set out for the small chapel where the Virgin was sighted. Patria sees the portrait of the Virgin and thinks that it looks gaudy and cheap, but when she turns around and sees the devoted masses her faith stirs. She asks “where are you?” to the Virgin, and she hears a voice in response, saying “I’m here, all around you.”
The Virgin Mary, or the “Virgencita,” becomes a more sympathetic character to Patria than Jesus. She seems less strict, is a loving mother, and is a woman. When she hears this voice, Patria’s faith is restored.
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