Authoritarianism In The Time Of The Butterflies

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Three ‘butterflies’ were murdered by Trujillo in Santo Domingo in 1960. Three young women that nothing destined to the political opposition and whose death will accelerate the fall of the dictator. There were Mate, the little girl, who went from fashion designs to bomb plans; Patria, the young and tender mother who prays to God and no longer tolerates injustice; Minerva, the beautiful intellectual who would have liked to be a lawyer, and Dede, the wise, the survivor. In In the Time of the Butterflies, the author highlights the authoritarianism, the entrapment and the roles and life of women in Politics and society through a fictionalized revolutionary activity and personal lives of the Mirabal sisters, their friends and families in the Dominican Republic under the Trujillo regime. 

The title may seem poetic, but the story is not a fairy tale. Julia Alvarez is based on a true story, those of 4 Mirabal sisters, to imagine the life of those resistant to the Dominican dictatorship of Trujillo. They were among the few women to engage in this political struggle and their courage is celebrated in this book. The novel alternates four voices, those of Mirabal’s Sisters, to show how opposition to an authoritarian regime can come from the daily life of women that nothing has prepared for it. Dede, Patria, Minerva, and Maria Teresa are part of a wealthy family of the rural middle class in Ojo de Agua in the Dominican Republic. Minerva lives in liberty and justice only to hope to fly away one day. Patria wants to become religious. Dede wisely manages family finances and Maria Teresa, the romantic, keeps her diary. Nothing predisposes these girls, beautiful and willingly frivolous, to engage against the politic regime that terrorizes the island. It is love that will gradually lead them to she revolution: that of justice for people, and for God ‘And on the third day He rose again …’ (Chapter 10). Following different paths that merge into one, these four women become outstanding fighters. Since a military coup in 1930, Rafael Leonidas Trujillo reigns over the country with an iron fist. He kills without mercy thousands of workers and their families. When he moves in the country, he chooses the women he likes to take him company, thus considering them as unimportant objects. Authoritarianism is one of the cruelest political regimes in Latin America. It all starts when the dictator tries to approach the eldest, Minerva, who invariably repels him. The young woman who studies law at the university and befriends communists who revolted against the terror that Trujillo reigns. As a result, faced with the young woman’s refusal, her father is imprisoned and tortured. Minerva will follow the same path. At first, the Mirabal sisters are not directly threatened by the regime, but they know girls whose family members have been victims of the dictator’s secret service.

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The Dominican Republic lived under the power of Rafael Leónidas Trujillo Molina. During his reign, repressions and assassinations are part of the dailies of people living on the island. The political regime, imposed on all, forced the population to bend to power for the sole purpose of survival. Years of struggle pass one after the other. The three sisters marry men as outraged as they are by the injustices of this regime. Minerva was the first female doctoral student at the University of Law. When the dictator Trujillo gives him his diploma, he promises him that she will never be able to practice. Frequent arrests, torture, that is the daily life of the Mirabals and their entourage. During their struggle, María Teresa and Minerva are imprisoned several times, as are their husbands. After their last imprisonment, they are released but placed under house arrest, with a weekly visit to their incarcerated husbands. The entrapment of society under the dictator Trujillo is one of the themes highlighted by Julia Alvarez in this book. This feeling of oppression and imprisonment causes society to rebel and thus enter into a rebellion movement. Dede says to her sister Minerva ‘Voz del pueblo, voz del cielo.’ (Chapter 9, p. 199), meaning “Voice of the people, voice of heaven”. When saying that, Dede refers to god and to the religion. She also wants to make her sister understand that the rumors are sometimes true, and she should listen to them. In this case, Trujillo wants to kill her and that it is not just gossiped. The situation of entrapment can also be compared to the situation of the women in the book Homegoing, where slavery is the main topic. Maame, one the women character, express her opinion about people that consider the other as objects, ‘Weakness is treating someone as though they belong to you. Strength is knowing that everyone belongs to themselves.’ (Maame, p.44). In, In the time of the Butterflies, women fight for their beliefs, and refuse to be treated like they were nothing, like in Death constant beyond Love, where a man offers to a senator to let him have sex with his daughter, Laura, in exchange of a few favors.

Authoritarianism and entrapment are two strong ideas in this book. However, Julia Alvarez also focuses on another very sensitive topic: the roles and life of women in Politics and society. Women, for years and years, have always struggled to prove their values, whether in everyday life or in professional life. They have always been belittled with men, considered inferior, and often silenced. They had to fight just to have the right to vote, and then participate in political decisions, they fought for their independence, right to be themselves. Like mentioned in Global Fund for Women, Women’s Rights are “the fundamental human rights that were enshrined by the United Nations for every human being on the planet nearly 70 years ago. These rights include the right to live free from violence, slavery, and discrimination; to be educated; to own property; to vote; and to earn a fair and equal wage.”. In fact, women had to fight for things that are supposed to be normal and applied to everybody. No matter what color, race, sex you are. The struggle of women has been going on for a while now. However, in In the time of the Butterflies, they fight for themselves, but they also fight for the whole society. They are trying once again to be listened to, and to make a difference in a world they consider unfair.

In Santo Domingo, Minerva, Patria Mercedes and Maria Teresa Mirabal are national heroes. More: they are legends. All three were members of the revolutionary movement which, in the late 1950s, was preparing to overthrow the dictator Trujillo. They had gone into hiding under the same code name: Mariposa, ‘butterfly’ in Spanish. Trained in an ambush, they were murdered the 25 November 1960. Today, every November 25 gives place to all kinds of commemorations. It is their sister Dede, the fourth Mirabal, who, like a faithful vestal, keeps the memory of the three deceased and complies with the repeated solicitations of journalists. It is her cross, the tribute which must be paid to her for not having perished with them, for not having sacrificed herself in the name of the Revolution.

Works Cited

  1. Alvarez, Julia. In the Time of Butterflies. Rebound by Sagebrush, 1999.
  2. Gyasi, Yaa. Homegoing. Penguin Random House, 2016.
  3. Make a gift to help get money and attention where it will make the biggest difference in the fight for women’s human rights. “Women’s Human Rights and Gender Equality.” Global Fund for Women,
  4. Marquez, Gabriel Garcia. Death Constant Beyond Love.


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