In the Time of the Butterflies

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Themes and Colors
Dictatorship Theme Icon
Freedom and Imprisonment Theme Icon
Religion Theme Icon
Women Theme Icon
Courage vs. Cowardice Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in In the Time of the Butterflies, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Religion Theme Icon

Religion is a powerful force in the lives of the novel's characters and in the politics of the Dominican Republic, which is a predominantly Catholic nation. Patria is the most religious of the sisters, and goes through the most personal religious struggles. She starts out wanting to be a nun, gives this up to get married, loses her faith after her baby is born dead, and then regains it with a vision of the Virgin Mary. In the political realm, the Catholic church remains neutral regarding Trujillo for years, which the sisters become bitter about. Patria’s shift into resistance coincides with that of the priest Padre de Jesús and other Catholics, after they witness a massacre during a religious retreat. Soon afterward the Catholic leadership finally decides to take a stand against Trujillo, and they condemn him from the pulpit. The regime responds with a full-on war against the church, but one of the most inspiring parts of the novel is when the Catholic church finally stands up for its people and fights Trujillo in its own way.

Alvarez also explores another interesting aspect of religion in the novel – the connection between a dictator and God. Part of Trujillo’s “personality cult” involves associating himself with God – his slogan is “God and Trujillo,” he is referred to as the country’s “Benefactor,” and people think of him as constantly watching over them, whether benevolently or malevolently. In Mamá’s house there is even a portrait of Trujillo next to a picture of Jesus. This especially affects the religious Patria, who thinks of Jesus as divine justice and Trujillo as earthly power. They are a dichotomy of good and evil, but Patria also grows angry with God for allowing Trujillo to rule on earth. Eventually she even starts “praying” to Trujillo, asking him to spare her family. She tries to think of Trujillo as only a man, but finally concludes that he must be “the evil one become flesh like Jesus.” Ultimately Trujillo’s propaganda works – he does become a kind of “god” – but it is an evil god, and even the church rises up against him.

Religion ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Religion appears in each chapter of In the Time of the Butterflies. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Religion Quotes in In the Time of the Butterflies

Below you will find the important quotes in In the Time of the Butterflies related to the theme of Religion.
Chapter 2 Quotes

When we got to school that fall, we were issued new history textbooks with a picture of you-know-who embossed on the cover so even a blind person could tell who the lies were about. Our history now followed the plot of the Bible. We Dominicans had been waiting for centuries for the arrival of our Lord Trujillo on the scene. It was pretty disgusting.
“All through nature there is a feeling ecstasy. A strange otherworldly light suffuses the house smelling of labor and sanctity. The 24th of October in 1891. God’s glory made flesh in a miracle. Rafael Leonidas Trujillo has been born!”

Related Characters: Minerva (speaker), Rafael Trujillo
Related Symbols: Portraits of Trujillo
Page Number: 24
Explanation and Analysis:

At this point, Minerva has few illusions left about the true nature of Trujillo's regime. So when she goes to school and receives new textbooks with Trujillo's face on the cover, she describes them in witheringly sarcastic terms—the propaganda here seems so blatant as to be almost humorous. Here we also see how Trujillo's "cult of personality" takes on distinctly religious language, as the dictator elevates himself to the level of a god, "God's glory made flesh in a miracle." The Dominican Republic is a primarily Catholic nation at this point, and in the textbooks that Minerva is describing here Trujillo highjacks the language of Catholicism (particularly describing the birth of Jesus, the "Word made flesh") in order to build himself up as a holy figure and make his birth the supposed high point of all Dominican history.


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Chapter 3 Quotes

I see a guardia, and I think, who have you killed. I hear a police siren, and I think who is going to be killed. See what I mean?
I see the picture of our president with eyes that follow me around the room, and I am thinking he is trying to catch me doing something wrong. Before, I always thought our president was like God, watching over everything I did.

Related Characters: Mate (speaker), Rafael Trujillo
Related Symbols: Portraits of Trujillo
Page Number: 39
Explanation and Analysis:

The narrative now follows María Teresa's perspective, as she describes her life in her diary entries. The first sections from each of the sisters' perspectives essentially show how they all start out naive, having grown up indoctrinated with the dictatorship's propaganda, and eventually learn the horrible truth about Trujillo's regime. Mate is heavily influenced by Minerva, the older sister she idolizes, and so she also can't help picking up on some of Minerva's increasingly radical politics. At this point, Mate still thinks of Trujillo like a stern father, but also one that she is now disappointed in (because of what Minerva has told her)—she doesn't yet see the whole truth about him. In a crucial point revealed here, however, Mate also admits that previously she had thought of Trujillo as "like God, watching over everything I did." In this she refers to the family's portrait of Trujillo (a required accessory in every Dominican home) and the fact that it is placed next to a picture of Jesus. This is one many examples of Trujillo elevating himself to a Christian kind of godhood, and also of his real presence in the characters' minds as a kind of evil god, watching all his subjects through his systems of spies and secret police.

Chapter 4 Quotes

Minerva could tell. One day, we were lying side by side on the hammock strung just outside the galería. She must have caught me gazing at our picture of the Good Shepherd, talking to his lambs. Beside him hung the required portrait of El Jefe, touched up to make him look better than he was. “They’re a pair, aren’t they?” she noted.
That moment, I understood her hatred. My family had not been personally hurt by Trujillo, just as before losing my baby, Jesus had not taken anything away from me. But others had been suffering great losses…
I had heard, but I had not believed. Snug in my heart, fondling my pearl, I had ignored their cries of desolation. How could our loving, all-powerful Father allow us to suffer so? I looked up, challenging Him. And the two faces had merged!

Related Characters: Patria (speaker), Minerva, Rafael Trujillo
Related Symbols: Portraits of Trujillo
Page Number: 53
Explanation and Analysis:

Patria has been losing her previously strong faith after giving birth to a stillborn baby. She has also been influenced by Minerva, who at this point is almost entirely nonreligious, as well as growing increasingly radical in her resistance against Trujillo. Patria has kept her doubts about Christianity to herself so far, but in this passage it seems that Minerva has been able to read her older sister's mind—she "could tell."

This passage also brings up the symbol of Trujillo's portrait again, and particularly its proximity to the picture of Jesus in the Mirabal family's home. Patria explicitly connects Trujillo to God here, and sees that her own disillusionment with Christianity reflects Minerva's disillusionment with Trujillo. Patria is now able to recognize that because Trujillo's regime has not hurt her directly, she has been able to ignore others' "cries of desolation." But now that she is willing to "challenge" God for allowing such suffering, she also seems more willing to challenge Trujillo himself—and indeed, when she looks up, the faces of Trujillo and Jesus have merged, as if they are both different aspects of an oppressive, omniscient, patriarchal force.

Chapter 8 Quotes

That room was silent with the fury of avenging angels sharpening their radiance before they strike.
The priests had decided they could not wait forever for the pope and the archbishop to come around. The time was now, for the Lord had said, I come with the sword as well as the plow to set at liberty them that are bruised.
I couldn’t believe this was the same Padre de Jesús talking who several months back hadn’t known his faith from his fear! But then again, here in that little room was the same Patria Mercedes, who wouldn’t have hurt a butterfly, shouting, “Amen to the revolution.”
And so we were born in the spirit of the vengeful Lord, no longer His lambs.

Related Characters: Patria (speaker), Padre de Jesús
Page Number: 163-164
Explanation and Analysis:

Thus far Patria has tried to stay out of the struggle against Trujillo, instead focusing on her faith and her family. After witnessing the violence of the fourteenth of June, however, Patria, Padre de Jesús, and some other devout Catholics and priests decide to form their own resistance group. The members of this group decide that the earthly government of the Church has been too slow to act against Trujillo's atrocities, and so they will obey God's law on their own—overcoming both their fear and their natural pacifism to fight for freedom against the dictator. Alvarez shows how each of the sisters experiences their own epiphany that leads them to become a "butterfly" (or not), and this inspiring passage, which is threaded with Patria's usual religious language, shows Patria embracing her more courageous, idealistic side and finally deciding to take a stand for what is right. Furthermore, she finds that this "revolution" doesn't go against her faith, but is rather affirmed by it.

Chapter 10 Quotes

Maybe because I was used to the Good Shepherd and Trujillo side by side in the old house, I caught myself praying a little greeting as I walked by.
Then another time, I came in from outside with my hands full of anthuriums. I looked up at him, and I thought why not. I set up a vase on the table right under his picture…
I don’t know if that’s how it started, but pretty soon, I was praying to him, not because he was worthy or anything like that. I wanted something from him, and prayer was the only way I knew to ask.

Related Characters: Patria (speaker), Rafael Trujillo
Related Symbols: Portraits of Trujillo
Page Number: 202
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage we see a further development of the symbol of portraits of Trujillo. Patria still associates Trujillo with God (partly because of the previous proximity of the portraits of Trujillo and of Jesus), though she considers him a kind of evil god now. And so in this passage, Patria finds herself beginning to even "pray" to Trujillo himself—asking him to release her family members from their wrongful imprisonment.

As usual, Patria sees things in a highly religious way, her faith affecting her entire worldview and experience of reality. Thus she naturally starts praying to Trujillo, because prayer is the only way she knows how to ask something from someone powerful. The passage also shows Trujillo being portrayed as both an individual, personal antagonist and an ubiquitous, godlike figure.

El Jefe entered in a wash of camera flashes. I don’t know what I thought I’d see – I guess after three months of addressing him, I was sure I’d feel a certain kinship with the stocky, overdressed man before me. But it was just the opposite. The more I tried to concentrate on the good side of him, the more I saw a vain, greedy, unredeemed creature. Maybe the evil one had become flesh like Jesus! Goosebumps jumped all up and down my bare arms.

Related Characters: Patria (speaker), Rafael Trujillo
Related Symbols: Portraits of Trujillo
Page Number: 224
Explanation and Analysis:

As stated in the previous quote, Patria has been "praying" to Trujillo, asking him to release her family members, and here she sees him in person for the first time in years. Patria has been struggling to try and forgive even evil people, and to see them merely as flawed humans, but in this moment she finds that she still can't see anything redeemable in Trujillo.

In Patria's religiously-oriented mind, Trujillo is again elevated to a godlike status, but this time it is as a kind of demon or anti-Christ. As Minerva's old textbook declared, Trujillo perhaps is a kind of god made flesh (like Jesus, the "Word made flesh"), but in this case Trujillo is the devil made flesh. If Patria was hoping to find something sympathetic about her enemy, she has failed, and is instead only confirmed in her convictions that fighting Trujillo is not only right but also the proper Christian thing to do.

Chapter 12 Quotes

Even in church during the privacy of Holy Communion, Father Gabriel bent down and whispered, ¡Viva la Mariposa!
My months in prison have elevated me to superhuman status. It would hardly have been seemly for someone who had challenged our dictator to suddenly succumb to a nervous attack at the communion rail.
I hid my anxieties and gave everyone a bright smile. If they had only known how frail was their iron-will heroine. How much it took to put on that hardest of all performances, being my old self again.

Related Characters: Minerva (speaker)
Page Number: 259
Explanation and Analysis:

Minerva and Mate have been released from prison and confined to house arrest. Ironically, Minerva now finds it harder to be brave and keep up her persona outside of prison—she no longer has something concrete and direct to struggle against, and so instead is faced with the subtler but arguably more difficult task of just maintaining a facade of strength and conviction. She is a human being, but must try to live up to her public role as a symbol.

We have seen Minerva in prison from Mate's point of view, but now that we get Minerva's narration her many doubts and internal weaknesses are revealed. This, again, is a crucial part of Alvarez's overall project in the book—showing the butterflies not as pure heroines or idealized revolutionaries, but as real, flawed women struggling to do what is right.