(Complications: 1938) The story is now told from Minerva’s point of view. Minerva wonders how Papá was ever convinced to send the girls away to school, as at home the 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 set one free, but the rabbit didn’t want to leave its cage. Minerva then realized that the rabbit wasn’t like her after all.
The rabbits only appear here, but they are an important symbol that will resonate throughout the novel. At first they seem to represent Minerva – trapped by patriarchal expectations – but they also show how she is different from many other Dominicans. Minerva desires freedom no matter what, while many people fear to leave their comfortable “cages,” even when that cage is a dictatorship.
The girls leaving home starts with Patria wanting to be a nun. Papá says that this is a “waste of a pretty girl,” but Mamá finally convinces him to at least send her to a convent school. Minerva then asks Papá if she can “chaperone” her older sister at the school by attending as well. Minerva seems to be Papá’s favorite, though she is the one who argues the most with him. Papá half-jokingly laments what will happen when all his “little chickens go.”
Alvarez moves ahead chronologically in each chapter, but we also see the same events from different sisters’ perspectives. For now Patria’s religious calling is just an excuse for Minerva to get free. We see more veiled sexism in Papá’s comment, which implies that a girl’s purpose is to get married.
Mamá doesn’t know how to read, though she pretends her eyesight is just bad, and she convinces Papá to let the girls go to school so they will have a better education than their parents. The family has been making a lot of money lately, so they can afford a good school. Papá finally agrees, but says that one sister needs to stay home and help with the store. He clearly wants Minerva to volunteer, but she stays silent. Dedé volunteers.
The first motif of imprisonment or entrapment comes with the girls’ strict home life, where Papá is loving but strict and overprotective. Minerva is clearly Papá’s favorite, as she acts the most “masculine” of the sisters, but her forceful nature also makes her want to escape. Dedé shows herself submissive and accommodating.
Minerva says that this is how she finally “got free.” It wasn’t just the freedom of leaving home, but a freedom inside her head when she realized she had “just left a small cage to go into a bigger one, the size of our whole country.”
When Minerva first goes off to school she befriends a girl named Sinita, who looks poorer and angrier than the other children. She first arrives dressed in black for mourning. Minerva offers her a button. Sinita first rejects it as charity, but accepts it when Minerva calls it a “friendship button.”
Minerva shows her independent streak by immediately befriending the “outsider” at her new school. Sinita also shows herself to be proud and outspoken.
Minerva notes how few possessions Sinita brings to school. The other girls start to make fun of Sinita as a “charity student,” but Minerva defends her. The girls are taken to their dormitory for the first night and assigned to their beds by Sor Milagros, one of the nuns. The mosquito nets around the beds make it like “a room of little bridal veils.”
This is a convent school, where girls can train to become nuns, but the beds being described as “bridal veils” shows the other option for women in this society. As with Patria, there seem to be only two life paths for a woman: becoming a nun, or getting married and having children.
Sor Milagros arranges the bunks in alphabetical order. Minerva asks if she can bunk with Sinita, and Sor Milagros agrees. Minerva then says that she shouldn’t make an exception just for her, which surprises Sor Milagros. Sor Milagros agrees to let all the girls choose their own bunks, and then she tells Minerva to “take care of our dear Sinita.”
Minerva shows that she will always speak out wherever she sees unfairness. Sor Milagros respects this, but it will ultimately lead Minerva to her political rebellion and life of danger.
A few days later Sor Milagros gives the girls a vague lesson about menstruation. Sinita is confused and asks Minerva about it afterward. Minerva has already learned all about menstruation from Patria, so she explains it to Sinita. Sinita offers to trade her the “secret of Trujillo” in exchange.
Alvarez often juxtaposes innocent coming-of-age scenes (like girls first learning about menstruation) with sinister political scenes. Trujillo’s name again darkens the mood.
Sinita delays telling this secret for a few weeks. Minerva and Sinita become close friends with two other girls, Lourdes and Elsa. One night Sinita is crying, and she tells Minerva that she is crying about her brother, who died soon before. He was the reason Sinita was mourning when she first came to school. Minerva asks her to tell the “secret of Trujillo.” Sinita is afraid, but she finally agrees.
We see the kind of pervasive propaganda that Trujillo uses to make himself seem like a kindly, godlike figure. Even the perceptive and high-minded Minerva has no idea that Trujillo is anything less than a saint.
Sinita says that her family used to be rich and important. Three of her uncles were friends with Trujillo, but then they turned against him when “they saw he was doing bad things.” Minerva is shocked at this idea, and compares Trujillo doing bad things to learning that “Jesus had slapped a baby.” She thinks about the portrait of Trujillo that hangs in her family’s house next to a picture of Jesus and a flock of cute lambs. Sinita continues – someone informed on her uncles, and then they were all shot.
By portraying the girls at a young age at first, Alvarez shows how each one discovers Trujillo’s true nature. The portrait of the dictator next to Jesus will become more important later, but it already shows how he equates himself with God and how easily children can be indoctrinated into his propaganda.
Minerva asks what “bad things” Trujillo was doing, and Sinita explains his rise to power. She uses childlike terms, but explains that Trujillo was a soldier who played people’s jealousies against each other and eventually became head general. He then stirred up a rebellion against the old president, and refused to help him when the president asked for the army’s help. Trujillo then announced that he was the new president.
Through Sinita, Alvarez gives the basic facts of Trujillo’s rise. He stood by while President Vasquez was overthrown by Rafael Estrella Ureña, having cut a secret deal with Ureña beforehand. Trujillo was then “elected” by 99 percent of the vote. He immediately became a dictator under the name of “president.”
Minerva asks why someone didn’t tell Trujillo that this wasn’t right, but Sinita says that people who criticized him “didn’t live very long.” Her own three uncles were killed, and then two more uncles, and then her father, and then her brother. Minerva suddenly feels nauseated and asks Sinita to stop talking, but Sinita says she can’t now.
With this story Minerva feels her whole world being turned upside down, but she can’t resist her own strong sense of right and wrong. Trujillo managed to stay in power for so long and keep up his saintly image by killing or imprisoning his critics.
Sinita tells the story of how her brother was killed. He was the last male in the family, and had been talking about avenging his father and uncles. One day he was stabbed in front of the whole family by the man who sold them lottery tickets. The head of the convent school knew the family, so she later allowed Sinita to attend for free. Sinita finally says that “Trujillo’s secret” is that he is having everyone killed.
One of the most terrifying and tragic things about Trujillo’s dictatorship is how it turned civilians against each other. People were paid to spy on their friends and family, and as this story shows, ordinary merchants could be paid to murder someone whom Trujillo wanted dead.
Minerva is traumatized by this, and she sleeps very little that night. When she wakes up she thinks that she has wet the bed, but then realizes that she has begun menstruating, and her “complications had started.”
Alvarez creates another poignant juxtaposition here – Minerva menstruates for the first time, beginning the “complications” of puberty and adulthood, on the same night that she learns the truth about Trujillo and begins the “complications” of her future under a dictator.
(¡Pobrecita!: 1941) Minerva describes how she is directly affected by Trujillo three years later. At school she and her friends befriend and admire an older girl named Lina Lovatón, who is very beautiful. One day the girls are playing volleyball, and Lina is the captain. One of the nuns then hurries out and says that Lina has an important visitor. Lina goes inside, and when she returns she has a medal pinned to her uniform. She says that Trujillo was her visitor. He had seen her from an official’s house next door and had immediately sent for her, taken a medal from his uniform, and pinned it to hers.
We have seen how Trujillo kills those who oppose him, but now Alvarez shows another sinister part of his rule – his treatment of women. He is married, but still takes any girl he is attracted to as a mistress, or else threatens her family or rapes her. One of Trujillo’s disparaging nicknames is Chapitas (“Bottlecaps”) because of his love of medals. It is rumored that as a boy he strung bottlecaps across his chest to look like medals.
Every time Trujillo comes to town after that he stops by and visits Lina. He starts sending gifts to her and also to the school. Whenever he visits, all the classes are cancelled. Lina describes their encounters – Trujillo recites some poetry, and then they play a game where she takes the medals off of his chest and puts them back on. Sinita disgustedly asks Lina if she loves Trujillo, and Lina says “with all my heart.”
Even as Trujillo is preying on an underage girl, everyone is still so brainwashed by his propaganda that they see his actions as noble and romantic. Only Sinita (and gradually Minerva) sees the darkness behind this “courtship.”
As the girls hear more about Trujillo they all start falling in love with him through Lina – except for Sinita. Minerva chooses to forget Sinita’s story of years before. When Lina turns seventeen Trujillo throws her a party and takes her away for a week. On her birthday there is a poem devoted to her in the newspaper, supposedly written by Trujillo himself.
Even Minerva chooses to forget the “complications” of the truth for a while, foreshadowing how her other sisters will also avoid actively working against Trujillo for varying amounts of time.
Then time passes and Lina doesn’t return. The nuns say that she will get her degree in absentia, but they can’t explain why. That summer Minerva is driving by a mansion with Papá, and he says that “one of Trujillo’s girlfriends” lives there – Lina. Minerva asks how Trujillo can have girlfriends if he’s married, and Papá says that Trujillo has girlfriends set up all over the island. Lina is especially pitiable because she actually loves him.
Papá, like most Dominicans, knows about Trujillo’s rapacious nature but chooses to turn a blind eye to it or laugh it off. Minerva is struck by another hard truth about the man supposed to be the “Papá” of the country. Lina basically becomes a prisoner in her mansion.
The next year at school Minerva hears the rest of the story. Lina got pregnant, and Trujillo’s wife attacked her. Trujillo then shipped Lina off to a mansion. She waits for him there, but he has moved on to another pretty girl. Minerva starts wearing bandages around her chest so her breasts won’t grow, as she doesn’t want to end up like Lina. Sinita says that “Trujillo is a devil,” but Minerva is still convinced that he is a man who probably feels bad about what he has done.
Sinita’s comment brings up an interesting theme that Alvarez will develop, the connection between a dictator and a god. In Trujillo’s propaganda he appears as a kind of benevolent god, but once the sisters start hating him he seems like an evil god or devil. But they also struggle to see him as a mere human, one able to feel guilt – and to be overthrown or killed.
(The Performance: 1944) Three years later it is the country’s centennial year, and they are supposed to have celebrations honoring Trujillo. The Mirabals get around this by celebrating Patria’s twentieth birthday instead, but making everyone wear red, white, and blue. Patria is married and has a son now – she has given up on being a nun.
In the years before this section, Minerva has grown more jaded and sardonic, and cast off any romantic or sympathetic notions about Trujillo. It seems that the rest of the family is disillusioned with him as well.
Minerva says that the whole country is “putting on a big loyalty performance” at this point. At school they get new textbooks with Trujillo’s picture on the front. The country’s history books now echo the plot of the Bible, all leading up to Trujillo’s birth, which they call “God’s glory made flesh in a miracle.”
At school they have a new gymnasium from Trujillo’s donation, which is called the “Lina Lovatón Gymnasium.” The school has a contest there to celebrate the “Benefactor” (Trujillo), where the girls are supposed to put on performances. Minerva, Sinita, Elsa, and Lourdes make a symbolic play about Liberty and Glory freeing the enslaved Motherland.
Lina’s life is ruined by Trujillo, but he clearly feels no shame about this and “rewards” her by naming the gym after her. One of Trujillo’s approved nicknames is the “Benefactor,” as he portrays himself as a benevolent father-figure providing everything for his citizens.
On the night of the contest Minerva’s team wins, and they are later sent to perform their skit for Trujillo on his birthday. Minerva tries to decline, but Sinita wants to do it. Sinita says that the play is like a “hidden protest,” because it is about a past when the country was free. Minerva agrees, but insists that they perform dressed as boys.
Minerva is now aligned with Sinita in her hatred of Trujillo, and already unafraid to protest against him. Any kind of history that isn’t Trujillo-centric is basically going against the regime’s propaganda.
On the night of the performance one of the nuns, Sor Asunción, escorts the girls to the capital and warns them to act like “jewels” and impress Trujillo. They arrive and Minerva sees Trujillo for the first time. He looks small in his big golden armchair, and he is covered with medals. His handsome son Ramfis is sitting next to him.
Trujillo appears for the first time. As a dictator, he can act as both an antagonistic single character in the novel and as the looming, oppressive force of the government. He loves dressing himself up extravagantly.
The performance begins, and Minerva is so nervous she is shaking. The skit goes smoothly, until the part where Sinita (dressed as Liberty) is supposed to free Minerva, the Fatherland. Sinita draws her bow and then points an imaginary arrow straight at Trujillo. Ramfis leaps up, grabs Sinita’s bow, and breaks it over his knee.
It is Sinita, not Minerva, who takes this first real action against Trujillo. Ramfis Trujillo is a handsome playboy who dated women in Hollywood but also took part in his father’s atrocities.
Minerva tries to cover for Sinita, saying that it was part of the play, but Ramfis warns them not to play that way. He then makes Sinita untie Minerva with her teeth, and calls her “bitch.” When Minerva is free, she starts a chant of “Viva Trujillo!” to defuse the situation. On the way home Sor Asunción is disappointed in the girls.
The brutal underbelly of Trujillo comes out in Ramfis’s burst of rage at Sinita. Minerva is a pacifying force now compared to Sinita’s boldness, but Minerva is clearly inspired by her friend’s bravery.