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In the first few pages of Julia Alvarez’s novel “In the Time of the Butterflies,” the reader discovers the deadly fate of three of the four main characters. What is left to find out are the events that led up to their tragic end at the bottom of a 150 foot cliff.
Alvarez’s novel, mostly taking place from 1943 to 1960 in the Dominican Republic, fictionalizes the true story of the four Mirabal Sisters – Maria Teresa, Minerva, Patria, and the only survivor, Dede – who were famous revolutionaries against the corrupt General Trujillo and his dictatorship.
Told through each of the four sisters’ points of view as they grow out of their childhoods and into adulthood, the novel follows many of the conflicts the girls must face, ranging from boys to lies and even the politics of their country. The Mirabal sisters, later also known as Las Mariposas (“the butterflies” in English), become symbols of bravery and freedom in their homeland when they publicly stand up to their country’s dictatorship during a time when everyone had to hang a portrait of their leader on their wall according to the law.
Unfortunately, being women revolutionaries (or just plain revolutionaries) is not easy. While opposing the government, the four women struggle juggling their children, husbands, religions, and education all at once. In their ideological conquest, the four women constantly find themselves having to choose between what they want to accomplish in terms of changing the world, and what needs to be done in terms of raising their children and keeping their families safe.
Unfortunately, just like in reality, three of the four sisters die except Dede. But why is she the sole survivor? Dede, in the novel and in real life, becomes the only living mariposa and martyr who continues to tell their story to the media that never seems to stop asking questions. She is the one who experienced the revolution with them. She is the one who knows that their deaths were not a coincidence.
Although the story takes place in the Dominican Republic more than 40 years ago and deals with the Dominican culture, the story of family and political strife is undoubtedly universal. Parents will always disagree with children one time or another, siblings will have rivalries, and everyone has to face a situation that is unfair.
“In the Time of the Butterflies” not only provides insight on an important historical event, but on family and deciding between skimming through life surviving or fighting for the greater good even when it seems the bad is great.
Published: April 16, 2010 – Volume 8 – Issue 52