In the Time of the Butterflies


Julia Alvarez

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In the Time of the Butterflies Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Julia Alvarez's In the Time of the Butterflies. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Julia Alvarez

Julia Alvarez was born to a Dominican family in New York, and they moved back to the Dominican Republic when she was three months old. Ten years later her family fled back to the U.S. after Alvarez’s father took part in a failed plot to overthrow Trujillo, the real-life dictator who features in In the Time of the Butterflies. Alvarez then experienced a difficult cultural and social transition adjusting to the U.S., and she started writing fiction and poetry and exploring Dominican culture in depth. She got her Master’s degree in 1975, married Bill Eichner in 1989, and is currently the writer-in-residence at Middlebury College. Alvarez is one of the most successful contemporary Latina writers, and she has published poems, short stories, essays, children’s books, and novels, including How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents. Her work usually focuses on cultural interconnectedness and strong female characters.
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Historical Context of In the Time of the Butterflies

In the Time of the Butterflies takes place in the Dominican Republic under the authoritarian regime of Rafael Trujillo. Trujillo took power in 1930 and ruled until 1961, as both a dictator and behind puppet presidents. During his rule an estimated 50,000 people were killed, a “personality cult” was erected around him, and any kind of dissent or political protest was brutally stifled. The Mirabal sisters (“the Butterflies”) were real historical figures who worked against Trujillo’s regime. They became local heroes but were assassinated by Trujillo in 1960. Alvarez invents their personalities and details of their personal lives, but the basic facts of their story are historically accurate. Trujillo’s regime fell soon after the sisters’ death, as they became martyrs and discontent with Trujillo grew. Trujillo was assassinated in 1961.

Other Books Related to In the Time of the Butterflies

Other notable contemporary Latina writers include Sandra Cisneros, author of The House on Mango Street, and Cristina García, author of Dreaming in Cuban. Like Alvarez, both of their works often deal with the meeting of Latin American and United States cultures. The Dominican-American writer Junot Díaz was influenced by Alvarez, and his novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao won the Pulitzer Prize in 2008. Mario Vargas Llosa also wrote a novel about the assassination of Trujillo, The Feast of the Goat.
Key Facts about In the Time of the Butterflies
  • Full Title: In the Time of the Butterflies
  • When Published: 1994
  • Literary Period: Contemporary Latina Literature
  • Genre: Historical fiction
  • Setting: Dominican Republic
  • Climax: The Mirabal sisters approach their ambush
  • Antagonist: Rafael Trujillo
  • Point of View: Third person limited and first person, switching between the sisters

Extra Credit for In the Time of the Butterflies

November 25. The Mirabal sisters were murdered on November 25, and in their honor this has become the annual date of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women.

Father. Alvarez’s father was involved in a failed anti-Trujillo plot that was inspired by the Butterflies. This is why Alvarez’s family had to flee to New York a few months before the Mirabals were killed, when Alvarez herself was only ten years old.