Back in the present, night starts to fall, and Dedé quotes some poetry that Minerva used to recite when her husband was in jail. Dedé says that all the sisters’ husbands were in jail at some point, except for Jaimito. Jaimito purposefully didn’t get involved in the resistance, and Dedé chose to follow her husband unlike her other sisters. She tells the interview woman that she didn’t get involved until “it was already too late.”
There is another shift in tone, as we see the hopeful, united sisters and then Dedé, the odd one out, the only one to survive into the present. She still uses her old excuses – politics weren’t for women in those days – even though she knows they are hollow. Throughout the novel Dedé has been approaching this confession.
The interview woman gets ready to leave, and as she heads for her car Minou drives up. Dedé gets angry at Minou for driving after dark – she has a fear about all her nieces driving after dark since her sisters’ deaths. When Dedé introduces Minou, the interview woman becomes ecstatic, as she has now met both the daughter and sister of the famous Minerva. Finally the woman bids them farewell and leaves.
We know the butterflies are dead, but now Alvarez gives some more foreshadowing about the situation of their deaths. Minou, who is currently a Dominican politician and professor, now appears as a character.
Minou comes inside with Dedé. Minou says that she had gone to see Fela, but Fela said the sisters were silent, and seemed to “finally be at rest.” This made Minou sad, as it seemed the last connection to her mother was lost. Dedé says that she has felt the presence of the girls all afternoon, so Minou can ask her a question instead of Fela. Minou asks Dedé the question Dedé has felt and avoided her whole life – why didn’t Dedé go along with her other sisters?
The interview woman was a gateway for Alvarez to insert herself and reach out to North American readers, but now she serves no more purpose and so leaves. The whole book (and most of Dedé’s life) has led up to Minou’s question, and Alvarez now sets her up for the memory of why she didn’t become a butterfly.
Dedé then remembers a day in 1960 when her three sisters came to see her. Dedé is working in her garden, and Jaimito is away. Lately they have been having marital troubles, as Jaimito has grown bossy and demanding. When she sees her three sisters approach they seem like the three Fates, coming to snip the thread holding Dedé’s life together.
Unlike Pedrito, Jaimito clings to his machismo and dominates the more submissive Dedé. The three sisters already seem like mythological figures, goddesses representing a kind of courage and sacrifice that Dedé is afraid of.
Months earlier Patria had come to Dedé asking to bury some boxes, and Dedé had suspected that Minerva put her up to it. Patria looked disappointed when Dedé said she had to ask Jaimito first. Patria explained that she had joined the movement and then convinced Pedrito. She asked Dedé if everything was okay, and Dedé couldn’t help crying.
Dedé didn’t realize that all her sisters were now working together. She thought it was just Minerva, and Dedé still wasn’t getting along with Minerva because of Virgilio. Patria’s assertiveness towards her husband seems foreign to Dedé.
After that Dedé had talked to Jaimito, but he had become enraged at the request. He pushed her onto the bed and made her swear to stay away from her sisters. Dedé had considered leaving Jaimito then and joining her sisters, but instead she allowed herself to docilely submit to his will. She had then avoided her sisters for weeks.
Jaimito is now directly contrasted with Pedrito. Pedrito yelled but then gave in to Patria’s wishes, while Jaimito yells, gets violent, and makes Dedé choose him over her own sisters. He is being protective, but also putting her in a cage. And she is letting him.
When the sisters arrive Dedé (whose nickname is “Miss Sonrisa,” Miss Smile) arms herself with a smile to meet them. They all make small talk for a while, and finally Mate tells Dedé that something big is going to happen. Minerva says “the goat is going to die” sometime in the next three weeks. The sisters say that together they are a cell, but they want Dedé to join too. They tell her to sleep on it and decide in the next week.
The sisters are still feeling hopeful and powerful about achieving freedom for themselves through strength. Their confidence is tragically misguided, however, as “the goat” will manage to outlive them. The sisters know Dedé’s timid and accommodating nature, so they give her time to work up her courage.
Dedé mentions Jaimito, and the other sisters say that she should use her discretion around him, as they don’t know his politics. Dedé defends Jaimito, saying he is no more a “trujillista” (Trujillo defender) than Papá was. Minerva responds that Papá was a trujillista in his own way, as he chose to stay scared and “kept the devil in power all these years.” Dedé admits that Jaimito has threatened to leave her if she joins her sisters. Minerva starts to argue, but Patria smooths things over and says that it is Dedé’s own decision.
Dedé is shocked at how idealistic the butterflies are, but Minerva has a point – Trujillo gained power and held it for 31 years only because people stood by and allowed it. Like Mate, Dedé sees her romantic life as inextricably linked to her political life. Unlike Mate, Dedé’s husband is not a revolutionary and isn’t very understanding.
After they leave, Dedé decides that she will leave Jaimito. This seems like a much bigger decision to her than joining the underground, but she will use the latter as a reason for the former. She plans out the arguments she will use, and she thinks about her lingering affection for Lío. Minerva tells her that he is still alive, and to listen to a certain forbidden radio station to hear him. Dedé then starts sneaking off at night to listen. She imagines Lío’s reaction when he learns that she joined her sisters – he will know that “she, too, was one of the brave ones.”
Dedé now has her first burst of courage, inspired by her sisters’ union. She doesn’t yet conceive of the danger and work of revolution, but is mostly afraid of leaving Jaimito. We start to realize just how deep Dedé’s feelings for Virgilio were, and how she regrets not pursuing him. If she joins the butterflies, clearly a major impetus will be impressing Lio.
The day Dedé had planned to leave Jaimito approaches, and she starts to get cold feet. She worries about losing her three sons, and about leaving them alone with the temperamental Jaimito. She decides to go to see a new priest, Padre de Jesús, for guidance. She has to get a ride from her elderly neighbor who is taking his wife to the clinic. She lies and tells Jaimito that she is just helping her neighbor, and doesn’t mention the priest. Jaimito gets angry and says that she is “going over his head.” Dedé reminds herself to be brave, as she is leaving him soon.
Dedé starts to be more assertive now that she has a plan for the future, but it is hard to change her habits of years and her natural timidity. Jaimito remains overprotective and dominant, not even wanting Patria to go into town alone. She first has to escape the prison of his control if she wants to fight for freedom.
No one is at the rectory when Dedé arrives, and the longer she waits the more her courage falters. Finally she sees Padre de Jesús unloading a truck. He invites her in, and she sees the boxes he was unloading. They look the same as those Patria was looking to hide. Dedé realizes that Padre de Jesús is “one of them.” Dedé then accepts that she has been using Jaimito as an excuse – the simple fact is she is afraid to join her sisters, just as she was afraid to face her love for Lío and so settled for Jaimito. She leaves the church.
We know from Patria’s section that Padre de Jesús is one of the original Catholic militants, but this is a shocking revelation for Dedé, who was expecting some comforting platitudes from the priest. Dedé then has her great revelation – she simply isn’t cut out for revolutionary work or asserting herself when it means hurting others.
When she returns home, Jaimito and the boys are all gone. Dedé panics, and the maid says that they went off to Jaimito’s mother’s house. Dedé saddles the horse and rides off to Mamá’s. The other sisters are there too for a meeting, but Dedé frantically says she needs to get a ride. Manolo and Minerva drive her, and on the way she explains. Dedé confesses that she wishes she was brave, but she cannot join the sisters. Minerva says none of them come by bravery naturally, but then she says that Dedé is brave in her own way.
Dedé is not going to abandon her sisters – they are still all very close, and she is very protective – she just can’t find the sustained courage to resist both Jaimito and Trujillo. Minerva’s statement is another reminder to the mythologizers of the butterflies that these are ordinary women driven to great courage by their circumstances.
They reach Jaimito’s mother’s house and Jaimito meets them, looking angry. Dedé feels brave with Minerva by her side, and she demands to see her children. The boys and Doña Leia (Jaimito’s mother) greet Dedé happily, so Jaimito clearly hasn’t told them anything is wrong. Leia dotes over Dedé as usual, until Jaimito says they have to discuss something privately.
Minerva acts as a symbol of bravery even to her own sisters, though we will see that she often feels weighed down by this burden when she herself lacks courage. The meeting of so many family members seems to remove the sting from Dedé and Jaimito’s fight.
Jaimito accuses Dedé of joining Minerva’s group, but Manolo assures him that she has never been to a meeting. Jaimito’s anger seems to deflate, and he doesn’t understand when Dedé says she was visiting the “Communist” Padre de Jesús to talk about their marriage. Minerva and Manolo suggest that Dedé and Jaimito take a honeymoon trip to rekindle their romance. So Dedé ends up taking a boat trip with Jaimito instead of leaving him and joining the resistance.
Dedé can’t even resist the revolutionaries themselves, once Manolo and Minerva try to help her with her marriage to Jaimito. Dedé and Jaimito’s marital problems are now tied to Dedé’s political activity, and as long as she stays with Jaimito she won’t get involved with the butterflies.
A week later the SIM starts rounding up members of Minerva’s group. Leandro is arrested first. The family gathers at Mamá’s house, and Mate tearfully explains what happened: the SIM broke down their door, dragged Leandro away, trashed the house, and drove off in the family’s car. Mamá finally gets suspicious of her daughters’ activities and demands an explanation.
The hopefulness and confidence of the sisters is now quashed by the SIM’s brutal actions. It is unclear whether someone tipped off the SIM, or if they simply decided that the Mirabals were suspicious and should be investigated.
Then Patria and her family arrive crying desperately. Patria tells her story: some neighbors warned Pedrito and Nelson that they were about to be arrested, so they hid in the hills. Patria answered the door for the SIM and told them her son and husband were away, but they ransacked the place anyway. They dug up the fields and found the boxes of weapons. Then they tore the house apart and set fire to the wreckage.
Pedrito’s worst fears are realized as his “patrimonio” is taken over and destroyed. The men are arrested first, as the usual sexism makes the regime assume that the women are less of a threat. The hopes for a “harvest of freedom” are tragically destroyed.
Nelson and Pedrito saw the flames from their hiding spot, so they ran down from the hills to protect Patria and the other children. They were then arrested. Patria screams “I’ve been good!” to the sky, and Dedé falls to her knees and starts to recite the Creed. Patria joins her and seems to calm down slightly.
Patria clearly has a religious crisis regarding this tragedy, as she feels abandoned by God once more. Just as when she lost her baby, it now seems that God has personally taken something from her.
They try to call a doctor, but he is afraid to be seen helping the Mirabals. Dedé gets some sedatives from her elderly neighbor and gives everyone some. She calls Minerva, and when Dedé first hears her voice she recognizes that no matter what choice she makes, her life will always be inextricably bound with her sisters’ lives.
The Mirabals are now basically blacklisted, and anyone who helps them risks being discriminated against by the regime. Dedé has to draw on her courage now to support her sisters, and this is a kind of courage that she has plenty of.
Minerva confirms that Manolo was arrested the night before. Minerva sounds anxious but firm, and she refuses to come home and “run scared.” A few days later, however, she sends Dedé a panicked note asking for money, as she has been diagnosed with tuberculosis and needs to buy medicine. Dedé immediately drives off to the bank, but when she calls again Minerva has already been arrested. Dedé promises to come get Minou.
Minerva doesn’t break down like the other sisters, and she only asks Dedé for help in secret. She already recognizes the importance of her image as the brave revolutionary. Minerva is the first butterfly, and the first to be arrested.
Dedé first goes out to find Jaimito in the fields. The power dynamic has been shifting in their marriage lately, as Dedé threatened to leave him after their boat trip and he had begged for another chance. Jaimito joins her, and she feels the “passionate project” of saving her sisters drawing her and Jaimito back together.
Dedé hasn’t left Jaimito or joined the resistance, but she has at least been acting more assertive and recognizing her own power in her life. Even Dedé feels a new strength when faced with adversity, as long as it is a real project and not just a lofty ideal.
The couple drives to Mamá’s house first, but they find the SIM already there. Captain Peña, head of the northern SIM, is there to arrest Mate. Mate clings to Mamá, and eventually Peña agrees to let Mamá come with her, but then he drives off with Mate before Mamá can get in the car. Dedé and Jaimito drive after them but soon lose them. They reach the police station and learn that Mate has been moved to the capital. Jaimito lashes out angrily, but Dedé pities him instead of fearing him, as he is powerless in this situation.
Peña now becomes a more practical antagonist to the sisters, as Trujillo no longer appears in person. It is unclear why Patria is not arrested but Minerva and Mate are. Alvarez reminds us of how young Mate still is, as she clings to her mother when the SIM come to arrest her. Dedé steadily gains more power in her relationship.
Dedé and Jaimito return home, where Mamá is wailing and praying – she has learned of Minerva’s arrest because the SIM came to confiscate her car. Dedé suggests they go inside, as she sees the hedges move and realizes that they will always be spied upon from now on. They all go in and pray to the Virgin.
The sisters had kept Mamá in the dark about their activities, so she is overwhelmed by all this sudden information and tragedy. The three most religious family members remain, and they turn to their faith for strength.
That night Dedé cannot sleep, and she feels a temptation to “just let go” and go crazy before the SIM destroy everything she loves. But then she reminds herself of all the people relying on her, and she tells herself to have courage. It is the first time she truly understands the word. To calm herself, Dedé practices reliving a happy memory.
Dedé’s courage is of a different kind from the butterflies, as it takes a special bravery to be the support system, the survivor, the one who endures to mourn and tell stories.
The present-day Dedé realizes that this exercise of reliving a happy memory actually came much later – it was something Minerva taught her after she got out of prison. Dedé remembers frantically worrying about Minerva and arguing with her, repeating all the rumors that Trujillo wanted her dead, as she was “the secret heroine of the whole nation.” In those days people would always whisper to Dedé about the “butterflies,” pledging their support.
Dedé’s memory now becomes jumbled and with it the narrative shifts. We jump briefly to a time after Minerva is released from prison, when she is a national symbol as a butterfly and Dedé is stretched to her limit with worrying about her sisters’ safety.
Minerva had refused to hole up though, as she thought that Trujillo would never “murder a defenseless woman and dig his own grave.” Whenever Dedé would start weeping with worry and fear, Minerva would teach her the exercise she developed in prison, of reciting a poem over and over. In her memory, present-day Dedé had then conflated that exercise with the one of inhabiting a happy memory, as they were both necessities during times of great stress.
Even Minerva had underestimated Trujillo’s brutality, but she was also right, as the butterflies’ death did indeed “dig Trujillo’s grave.” This exercise of finding a happy memory or poem reoccurs several times as the sisters endure more and more ordeals.