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 sisters and their husbands are almost all imprisoned by Trujillo at some point, and even when they are released, Minerva and María Teresa are still kept under house arrest.
There is also a more personal kind of imprisonment for the sisters, as they are at first trapped by their restrictive home life, where they must ask their father permission to do anything, and then by the expectations of society to get married and settle down. Minerva feels this imprisonment the most, and she compares herself to the family’s rabbits in their pens. But unlike the rabbits, who fear to leave their comfortable cages even when Minerva tries to set them free, Minerva and her sisters desperately long for freedom. This struggle against “cages” is fought with weapons and words against Trujillo, and also within the hearts of each Mirabal sister. All of them except for Dedé end up joining the resistance movement against Trujillo, and they become national symbols of freedom. The sisters themselves find freedom only in death, but their martyrdom helps bring about Trujillo’s downfall. Dedé, the only survivor, still seems trapped by the memory of her sisters and their growing fame, but she also lives to see the freedom they helped bring to the Dominican Republic.
Freedom and Imprisonment ThemeTracker
Freedom and Imprisonment Quotes in In the Time of the Butterflies
Sometimes, watching the rabbits in their pens, I’d think, I’m no different from you, poor things. One time, I opened a cage to set a half-grown doe free. I even gave her a slap to get her going.
But she wouldn’t budge! She was used to her little pen. I kept slapping her, harder each time, until she started whimpering like a scared child. I was the one hurting her, insisting she be free.
Silly bunny, I thought. You’re nothing at all like me.
And that’s how I got free. I don’t mean just going to sleepaway school on a train with a trunkful of new things. I mean in my head after I got to Inmaculada and met Sinita and saw what happened to Lina and realized that I’d just left a small cage to go into a bigger one, the size of our whole country.
Dedé could only shake her head. She didn’t really know Lío was a communist, a subversive, all the other awful things the editorial had called him. She had never known an enemy of state before. She had assumed such people would be self-serving and wicked, low-class criminals. But Lío was a fine young man with lofty ideals and a compassionate heart. Enemy of state? Why then, Minerva was an enemy of state. And if she, Dedé, thought long and hard about what was right and wrong, she would no doubt be an enemy of state as well.
“I didn’t know,” she said again. What she meant was she didn’t understand until that moment that they were really living – as Minerva liked to say – in a police state.
“I hope you will reconsider his offer. I’m sure General Fiallo would agree” – General Fiallo is already nodding before any mention has been made of what he is agreeing to – “that a private conference with El Jefe would be the quickest, most effective way to end all this nonsense.”
“Sí, sí, sí,” General Fiallo agrees.
Don Manuel continues. “I would like to bring you personally to him tonight at his suite at El Jaragua. Bypass all this red tape.” He gestures towards the general, who smiles inanely at his own put-down.
I stare at Manuel de Moya as if pinning him to the wall. “I’d sooner jump out that window than be forced to do something against my honor.”
There was a broadcast of a speech by this man Fidel, who is trying to overturn their dictator over in Cuba. Minerva has big parts memorized. Now, instead of her poetry, she’s always reciting, Condemn me, it does not matter. History will absolve me!
I am so hoping that now that Minerva has found a special someone, she’ll setttle down. I mean, I agree with her ideas and everything. I think people should be kind to each other and share what they have. But never in a million years would I take up a gun and force people to give up being mean.
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.
“The husbands were in prison,” she adds, for the woman’s face registers surprise at this change of address. “All except Jaimito.”
“How lucky,” her guest notes.
“It wasn’t luck,” Dedé says right out. “It was because he didn’t get directly involved.”
Dedé shakes her head. “Back in those days, we women followed our husbands.” Such a silly excuse. After all, look at Minerva. “Let’s put it this way,” Dedé adds. “I followed my husband. I didn’t get involved.”
And she knew, right then and there, her knees shaking, her breath coming short, that she could not go through with this business. Jaimito was just an excuse. She was afraid, plain and simple, just as she had been afraid to face her powerful feelings for Lío. Instead, she had married Jaimito, although she knew she did not love him enough. And here she’d always berated him for his failures in business when the greater bankruptcy had been on her part.
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.
It happens here all the time. Every day and night there’s at least one breakdown – someone loses control and starts to scream or sob or moan. Minerva says it’s better letting yourself go – not that she ever does. The alternative is freezing yourself up, never showing what you’re feeling, never letting on what you’re thinking… Then one day, you’re out of here, free, only to discover you’ve locked yourself up and thrown away the key somewhere too deep inside your heart to fish it out.
Where does that sister of mine get her crazy courage?
As she was being marched down the hall, a voice from one of the cells they passed called out, Mariposa does not belong to herself alone. She belongs to Quisqueya! Then everyone was beating on the bars, calling out, ¡Viva la Mariposa! Tears came to my eyes. Something big and powerful spread its wings inside me.
Courage, I told myself. And this time, I felt it.
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.
He was going to do all sorts of things, he told me. He was going to get rid of the old generals with their hands still dirty with Mirabal blood. All those properties they had stolen he was going to distribute among the poor. He was going to make us a nation proud of ourselves, not run by the Yanqui imperialists.
Every time he made one of these promises, he’d look at me as if he needed me to approve what he was doing. Or really, not me, but my sisters whose pictures hung on the wall behind me. Those photos had become icons, emblazoned on posters… And I started to think, maybe it was for something that the girls had died.
“The nightmare is over, Dedé. Look at what the girls have done.” He gestures expansively.
He means the free elections, bad presidents now put in power properly, not by army tanks. He means our country beginning to prosper, Free Zones going up everywhere, the coast a clutter of clubs and resorts. We are now the playground of the Caribbean, who were once its killing fields. The cemetery is beginning to flower…
Lío is right. The nightmare is over; we are free at last. But the thing that is making me tremble, that I do not want to say out loud – and I’ll say it once only and it’s done.
Was it for this, the sacrifice of the butterflies?