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 and Patria initially express sentiments that women are inferior to men, or else are somehow “purer” and so shouldn’t dirty themselves with politics. In talking to the interview woman in the present day, Dedé says that women “followed their husbands,” but she knows that this is an excuse, as she is the only sister who actually did this. We also see sinister aspects of sexism in how the Trujillo regime treats women, as the “secretary of state’s” real job is picking out pretty girls for Trujillo to seduce or rape.
One of Alvarez’s goals for the novel is to portray the “butterflies” as real women and not just legendary martyrs, and she does this by showing the personal lives of the Mirabals as they go through traditional coming-of-age rites: menstruating, falling in love, Mate obsessing over clothes, and eventually all of them getting married and having children – all while they fight against Trujillo and become national heroes. The butterflies are icons of Dominican culture, but Alvarez also humanizes them as normal women who overcame obstacles and struggled against oppression.
Women Quotes in In the Time of the Butterflies
“It’s about time we women had a voice in running our country.”
“You and Trujillo,” Papá says a little loudly, and in this clear peaceful night they all fall silent. Suddenly, the dark fills with spies who are paid to hear things and report them down at Security. Don Enrique claims Trujillo needs help in running this country. Don Enrique’s daughter says it’s about time women took over the government. Words repeated, distorted, words recreated by those who might bear them a grudge, words stitched to words until they are the winding sheet the family will be buried in when their bodies are found dumped in a ditch, their tongues cut off for speaking too much.
The floor remains empty as it must until El Jefe has danced the first dance.
He rises from his chair, and I am so sure he is going to ask me that I feel a twinge of disappointment when he turns instead to the wife of the Spanish ambassador. Lío’s words of warning wash over me. This regime is seductive. How else would a whole nation fall prey to this little man?
“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.
There were hundreds of us, the women all together, in white dresses like we were his brides, with white gloves and any kind of hat we wanted. We had to raise our right arms in a salute as we passed by the review stand.
It looked like the newsreels of Hitler and the Italian one with the name that sounds like fettuccine.
I admit that for me love goes deeper than the struggle, or maybe what I mean is, love is the deeper struggle. I would never be able to give up Leandro to some higher ideal the way I feel Minerva and Manolo would each other if they had to make the supreme sacrifice. And so last night, it touched me, Oh so deeply, to hear him say it was the same for him, too.
“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.”
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.
Patria closed her purse with a decisive snap. “Let’s just go.”
We moved quickly now towards the Jeep, hurrying as if we had to catch up with that truck. I don’t know quite how to say this, but it was as if we were girls again, walking through the dark part of the yard, a little afraid, a little excited by our fears, anticipating the lighted house just around the bend –
That’s the way I felt as we started up the first mountain.
“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?