In the Time of the Butterflies


Julia Alvarez

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In the Time of the Butterflies Themes

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.


In the Time of the Butterflies focuses on the authoritarian regime of Rafael Trujillo in the Dominican Republic, which lasted from 1930 to 1961. As a megalomaniacal dictator, Trujillo’s personality takes over every aspect of life, and he becomes the personal antagonist of the novel. Throughout the book Alvarez shows the various ways a dictator affects both politics and daily life, from the fear of saying Trujillo’s name in an uncomplimentary way, to being murdered…

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Freedom and Imprisonment

The idea of imprisonment or entrapment pervades both the Trujillo regime and the lives of the Mirabal sisters in the novel. The Dominican Republic as a whole is basically imprisoned by Trujillo’s police state, and Minerva describes leaving home as leaving “a small cage to go into a bigger one, the size of our whole country.” No rival political parties are allowed to exist, and political prisoners and executions number in the thousands. The Mirabal…

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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…

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In the Time of the Butterflies revolves around the Mirabal sisters, women living in a very patriarchal, “macho” society. Their personal struggles are part of the power of their story, as they stand not only as symbols of rebellion against Trujillo, but at the same time as loving, independent women with husbands and children. Alvarez shows how the resistance against women in politics can even be propagated by the women themselves, as both Mamá

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Courage vs. Cowardice

The Dominican populace is divided and afraid under Trujillo, and every character has their own struggle between courage and cowardice. There are spies and informers everywhere, and people distrust even their own family members. Among the Mirabal sisters, who are all normal, middle-class women encouraged to not make trouble, each sister must make her personal choice between courage and cowardice once she experiences the evils of the Trujillo regime. Minerva is the most naturally…

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