In the Time of the Butterflies

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The Rabbits Symbol Icon
At the beginning of Minerva’s first narration she describes how she has felt caged her whole life, and she compares herself to the rabbits that her family keeps in pens. One day she opens the cage door for a female rabbit, but the rabbit doesn’t want to leave her pen. Minerva then declares that she is not like the rabbits, as she desires freedom no matter what. In this way the rabbits represent Minerva – trapped by her father’s overprotectiveness as a child, and then trapped by the rules and fear of the Trujillo police state. The rabbits also represent the populace of the Dominican Republic. As the rabbits are afraid to leave their comfortable pens, so the majority of Dominicans go along with the Trujillo regime, afraid for their own safety if they should try to escape their “cage.”

The Rabbits Quotes in In the Time of the Butterflies

The In the Time of the Butterflies quotes below all refer to the symbol of The Rabbits. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Dictatorship Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Algonquin Books edition of In the Time of the Butterflies published in 2010.
Chapter 2 Quotes

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 going.
But she wouldn’t budge! She was used to her little pen. I kept slapping her, harder each time, until she started whimpering like a scared child. I was the one hurting her, insisting she be free.
Silly bunny, I thought. You’re nothing at all like me.

Related Characters: Minerva (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Rabbits
Page Number: 11
Explanation and Analysis:

Though the family's rabbits (and Minerva's thoughts about them) only appear in this passage, the rabbits are an important symbol for the novel overall. At this point (1938) Minerva still feels trapped at home, where she has to ask Papá permission to do anything, and so at first she here compares herself to the rabbits in their cage—she feels trapped and helpless just like them.

One day, however, Minerva decides to set a "half-grown doe" (a female rabbit, and so perhaps especially relatable to Minerva) free, but the rabbit is afraid to leave her pen, even when Minerva slaps her to get her to run away. Minerva then thinks about how the rabbit is actually "nothing at all like" her. Minerva would give anything to be free (whether from Papá's overprotectiveness or Trujillo's tyranny), despite the relative safety of her "cage" at this point. Thus the rabbits more come to symbolize many of the Dominican people—trapped in the "cage" of Trujillo's police state, but also afraid to leave or fight against the only home they have ever known.

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And that’s how I got free. I don’t mean just going to sleepaway school on a train with a trunkful of new things. 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.

Related Characters: Minerva (speaker), Sinita, Lina Lovatón
Related Symbols: The Rabbits
Page Number: 13
Explanation and Analysis:

The family's rabbits aren't explicitly mentioned in this passage, but Minerva is still referring to her life in terms of various "cages." She "gets free" from one cage by leaving home and escaping Papá's overprotective presence, but once she learns the truth about Trujillo's dictatorship via her peers Sinita and Lina, Minerva realizes that she has only escaped one cage to "go into a bigger one." With this, Alvarez introduces the idea that the Dominican Republic itself is a kind of "big cage" under Trujillo's rule—no one is truly free, even if they aren't literally imprisoned by the oppressive regime. At the same time, this first level of liberation—mental liberation—is crucial for Minerva, and starts her on the path towards active political resistance and revolution.

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The Rabbits Symbol Timeline in In the Time of the Butterflies

The timeline below shows where the symbol The Rabbits appears in In the Time of the Butterflies. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 2: Minerva, 1938, 1941, 1944
Dictatorship Theme Icon
Freedom and Imprisonment Theme Icon
Women Theme Icon
Courage vs. Cowardice Theme Icon
...sisters always had to ask him permission for everything. Minerva used to watch the family’s rabbits in their pens and feel that she was like them. One day she tried to... (full context)