(1953) The narrative returns to a diary from María Teresa, whose nickname is “Mate.” Papá has recently died, and Mate is angry that his mistress and illegitimate daughters were at the funeral too. She can’t believe that Minerva invited them. Mate declares that she hates all men. Mate writes about her mourning for Papá, and about a dream she keeps having where she is getting ready to be married. She can’t find her wedding dress, so she looks in Papá’s coffin. The wedding dress is torn up inside, and she removes all the pieces to find Papá smiling at her underneath. She wakes up screaming.
All the sisters except for Minerva are initially wary of their half-sisters, even to the point of scorning and hating them. Mate has this rather Freudian dream often, with different men she thinks of romantically in the place of Papá. At this point Mate claims to hate men, but she is still a romantic at heart and longs to fall in love. At the same time, the dream indicates the ways that she is trapped by men.
Mate starts consulting Fela about her future, asking about boyfriends. She is mostly trying to decide between her cousins Berto and Raúl. Mate then writes out a letter she and Mamá wrote informing Trujillo of Papá’s death and thanking him for his “beneficent protection.” Mate reveals that Minerva is in law school now. She got in after Mate wrote a speech for her to recite complimenting El Jefe.
Mate immediately returns to asking about boyfriends. Minerva never comments on how she compromised her ideals and flattered Trujillo for the sake of getting into law school. The historical Minerva also had to write a groveling letter to Trujillo to continue in her second year of school.
Mate asks Fela about casting spells on people, and learns to put the person’s name in your left shoe to curse them, and in the right shoe for “problems with someone you love.” She puts Trujillo’s name in her left shoe and Papá’s in her right. Mate writes down some love poetry and discusses it with Minerva, who suggests that “serious ambitions of the mind” are more important than love.
Even decades before, Fela was acting as a superstitious spiritual guide to the girls. Mate clearly had a complicated relationship with Papá, as she is both angry at him for his infidelity and devastated by his death. Minerva again chooses revolution over romance.
(1954) María Teresa confesses that she kissed Berto on the lips for the first time. She talks to Minerva about it, and Minerva says she has met a special man at law school. He is engaged to someone else, which Mate is suspicious of because of Papá. Minerva starts listening to illegal radio stations and quoting speeches from Fidel Castro. Mate hopes that she will “settle down” if she gets married. Mate declares that she wants everyone to be kind, but she would never “take up a gun and force people to give up being mean.”
Berto and Raúl are Mate’s young crushes, and she is still focused on romance even regarding Minerva. Mate’s declaration is ironic considering her later involvement in the violent revolution, and how she herself doesn’t “settle down.” Minerva and her comrades are heavily influenced by Castro’s revolution in Cuba.
A few weeks later Minerva comes home with her boyfriend Manolo (who has broken off his engagement). Mate has been teaching Mamá to read. She mentions that the family has lost a lot of money since Papá got in trouble with Trujillo, and says that Dedé and Jaimito have tried and failed at running two businesses.
Manolo is another historical revolutionary figure who becomes the president of Minerva’s underground movement. The regime affects everything, even business success, as people are afraid to deal with someone in trouble with Trujillo.
Mate writes out the menu of what she is making for the Day of Lovers (Valentine’s Day) menu. Minerva and Manolo arrive. Mate likes Manolo because he likes her food, and he is also tall and handsome. Mamá says that she is moving to a smaller house, so Dedé and Jaimito can have the family house.
Mate remains preoccupied with love and isn’t interested in politics yet. This is when Dedé moves into the house she will occupy for the rest of her life, the house that will become a monument to the butterflies.
Mate describes her perfect man. Soon afterward she has the same dream she had about Papá, but with Manolo’s face in the coffin instead. She starts to worry about Manolo cheating on Minerva because of this. Mate talks to her priest about this, and he warns her to not “see every man as a potential serpent.”
Mate’s initial inner conflict is about her feelings towards men – she distrusts them and often dislikes them because of Papá’s infidelity, but she also idealized them and wants to be swept off her feet by a man and get married.
A few months later it is Mate’s graduation party, and her aunt confronts her there, telling her to choose between Berto and Raúl. Mate blurts out that she wants neither. Later she writes out the gifts she got from different people, including a book of poetry from Minerva. Mate declares that she is going to the university with Minerva in the fall, and she has gotten all her inheritance from Mamá, which she plans to use on clothes and save for her future.
Mate is very different from Minerva, but she looks up to her more than to her other older sisters, so Mate becomes affected by Minerva’s politics sooner than the others. Minerva and Mate share a love of poetry, though Mate as usual leans more towards love poems.
Mate says that the Mirabals have recently discovered that their yardboy is on “double payroll,” being paid to spy on the Mirabals while he works for them. Mate has a brief relationship with a lawyer, but breaks up with him before she goes off to the university. She writes extensively about her outfits for classes.
In Mate’s entries Alvarez juxtaposes the political with the personal, placing paid spies next to lists of outfits. The Mirabals are now a family being constantly watched by the regime.
Mate makes it to the capital and is excited about the big city. She says all the streets are named after members of Trujillo’s family. She describes a section of the newspaper where people getting in trouble are mentioned, but she says that the Mirabals have been fine with the regime since Minerva’s speech and Mamá’s letter. Mate describes the first day of class. All the students have to march and raise their right arms to salute. This reminds her of Hitler and “the Italian one with the name that sounds like fettuccine.”
Trujillo considered the whole country to be his private property, and he renamed things after himself and his family members – including the capital, which became “Trujillo City.” Alvarez now explicitly links the Trujillo regime to Hitler in Germany and Mussolini in Italy, both dictators who caused untold deaths.
Mate tries to study law like Minerva, but then gives it up and takes “Philosophy and Letters” instead. Mate goes walking with Manolo and Minerva and a friend of theirs, Armando. She is frightened because Manolo jokes aloud about Trujillo killing people, but soon she becomes infatuated with Armando and kisses him. That night she has her same nightmare, but it is Armando’s face in the coffin.
Mate is trying to follow in Minerva’s footsteps, but she is still more concerned with romance (as with Armando) than with revolution (as with Manolo and Minerva). Mate seems doomed to associate every man she likes with her father.
(1955) More than a year has passed since the last entry. It is Minerva’s wedding day, and she is marrying Manolo. Minerva is very happy, but Mate is slightly sad because Minerva is moving out to live with Manolo. All the sisters are married now except for Mate.
With Manolo, Minerva has finally combined love and revolution. Mate is closest to Minerva, and saddened that she is now moving away.
A month later Mate vaguely describes a march for the World’s Fair opening ceremony at the capital. Minerva participates even though she is now pregnant. Mate describes Angelita, Trujillo’s daughter, who presides over the ceremonies dressed in fur and jewels. Mate pities Angelita and wonders if she knows how bad her father is. She wonders if Angelita thinks (like Mate once did with Papá) that her father is God.
This was an international world fair held to honor Trujillo’s twenty-fifth year of rule, where Trujillo’s daughter was crowned “Queen Angelita” and wore an outrageously expensive dress. Alvarez makes more connections between a dictator, a father, and a god.
(1956) Many months later Mate is writing a speech accepting her award as “Miss University.” Minerva’s baby Minou is crying in the background. Minerva makes sure that Mate mentions “you-know-who” early on in her speech. Mate says that recently a former professor at the university had been killed in New York for writing a book against Trujillo. Mate thinks the “Miss University” contest is stupid, but Minerva says that silly votes like this are the only remnant of democracy left in the country.
Mate’s infrequent diary use seems to coincide with her maturation as a woman. Again she represents the coincidence of politics and femininity. The regime fears any kind of democracy, so the only kinds of votes left are for meaningless contests like this. Mate now seems more aware of the political situation.
(1957) More than a year later Mate is feeling lonely, as Minerva is about to graduate and move to Monte Cristi with Manolo. The next day Minerva gets her degree, and the whole extended family gathers for the occasion. They are all shocked when Minerva is then denied the license to practice. They realize that this is Trujillo’s revenge against Minerva, allowing her to study for years and then giving her a useless degree. Manolo is furious on her behalf, but Mate senses that there is trouble between the couple.
Once again Trujillo asserts his power over Minerva even as she tries to gain independence and power of her own. This is an especially petty way of hurting her though, by ruining her graduation day and reminding her of his control over every aspect of Dominican life.
The next day Minerva and Manolo decide to take Mate with them to their new house. The drive is tense, and Manolo and Minerva whisper things in code to each other. When they reach the house Mate is shocked at how small and cheap it looks, but she acts excited. Mate draws a diagram of the house and yard.
Mate is still very materialistic and used to the family’s former wealth, so she is especially shocked by how sparsely Minerva lives now.
A few days pass with Manolo and Minerva arguing often and Manolo disappearing for long periods. One night Minerva starts crying, and admits that Manolo is cheating on her. Mate affirms to herself that she hates men. A few days later Minerva and Manolo are “on the mend” though. Sometimes they slip off to go to secret meetings in the storage shed.
Minerva is now fully taking action with a real revolutionary group, but she is still plagued by romantic woes at the same time. Mate’s dream and worries about Manolo seem fulfilled, and we see another example of men treating women badly.
A few weeks later Mate writes an excited entry. She was sleeping restlessly, having her same nightmare with all the men she’d ever known appearing in the coffin. She is then awakened by a quiet knock on the window. It is a handsome young man saying he has a delivery for Mate’s older sister “Mariposa.” Mate silently helps him carry in his long box and hide it under her bed. The young man asks her if she is “one of us,” and she decides then that she wants to be. After he leaves Mate opens the box and finds “enough guns to start a revolution.”
This is the first mention of Mariposa, which means “Butterfly,” and it starts out as Minerva’s code name in her movement. It is fitting that Mate is brought into the revolution through romance, as she literally falls in love with part of the movement. Minerva’s idealistic talk is finally materializing in real weaponry.
The next morning Mate returns to school, but on the way she talks to Minerva and Manolo about their movement. They explain the national underground forming, which they are leaders of. Minerva’s code name is Mariposa (Butterfly). They have code names for everything – Trujillo is “the goat,” and the “picnic” is his overthrow. The young man from the night before is an engineer called Palomino. Mate tells Minerva that she wants to join.
“The Goat” became a common name for Trujillo among his enemies. Minerva’s role in the underground was especially unique for her time and place, as women were hardly ever involved in politics, war, or leadership in the patriarchal Dominican society. Mate now becomes the second sister to fight against Trujillo.
A few weeks later Mate is back at school, but she has lost interest in her studies. She is now “Mariposa #2,” and secretly working for the underground movement. She has moved into a little apartment with Sonia, another student in the movement, and they get deliveries from Palomino. Mate thinks the neighbors must think they’re running a brothel because of the men always going in and out.
This is the beginning of the “butterflies,” when the sisters start to symbolize something more than just themselves – a combination of delicacy and danger, of innocent girls driven to revolution in the name of justice.
The next day Mate turns twenty-two, and she spends the day building bombs. She recreates the diagram for the bomb in her diary. A few days later her landlady comes by uninvited, and Mate and Sonia forget to hide the diagrams of the bombs. They worry about the landlady reporting them, but assume that she thinks they are prostitutes, not revolutionaries.
It wasn’t so long ago that Mate was saying she could never use force in the name of kindness. She still has her romantic, emotional soul but is now turning her energy to the business of violent revolution.
Palomino starts coming around more to talk to Mate. The landlady thinks he is the pimp of their operation. One day Palomino kisses Mate, and she feels that she is “deeply in love.” Two day later she learns Palomino’s real name – Leandro Guzmán Rodríguez. Mate says that she has to move out soon, as there have been many raids in the area.
Like Minerva with Manolo, in Leandro Mate finds a union of revolution and romance. Mate still writes in a naïve voice, so it is surprising to be reminded of the great danger she has put herself in.
Two weeks pass without Palomino coming as expected, and Sonia is out of town so Mate is alone. She still has to accept all the deliveries and stockpile the weapons, but she starts feeling very nervous and cowardly.
Mate has done the important thing – making the active choice to fight Trujillo – but she doesn’t have Minerva’s enduring courage in the face of adversity.
The next morning Leandro arrives and Mate is so relieved that she kisses him in the street. Leandro says he has been too worried about her to focus on his work. Mate feels sympathizes with this – she admits that love is more important to her than the struggle, or is perhaps the “deeper struggle.” She feels that Minerva and Manolo could give each other up for a cause, but Mate could never give up Leandro.
(1958) It is the Day of Lovers, two months later, and Mate writes out the invitation for her marriage to Leandro. Part of the date announcement includes “twenty-eighth year of the Era of Trujillo.” Mate ends with “Mariposa and Palomino, for now! María Teresa and Leandro, forever!”
Mate’s past fantasies about the day of lovers finally find fulfillment. Her final exclamation tragically and ironically hopes for a day when they no longer have to use code names, but can just be a happy, normal couple—a day that will never come.