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Literature / In the Time of the Butterflies

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This 1994 book by Julia Alvarez is based on the true story of four sisters, Patria, Dede, Minerva and Maria Teresa "Mate" Mirabal, during the dictatorship of Rafael Trujillo in the Dominican Republic. The sisters make a political commitment to overthrow the Trujillo regime. They are harassed, persecuted, and imprisoned, their family suffers retaliation from the Military Intelligence Service (SIM), and they are eventually killed. The book presents the perspective of each, including the one surviving sister, Dede. The book was made into a movie starring Salma Hayek in 2001.



  • Big Bad: Rafael "El Jefe" Trujillo
  • Bittersweet Ending: The Mirabal sisters are murdered, but Trujillo is assassinated over a year later, and November 25, the day of their murder, becomes known as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against women.
  • Code Name: The Mirabal sisters are known in the resistance movement as "Las Mariposas" (the butterflies), hence the book title.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: For example, Patria and Pedrito are teens when they get married, everyone is aghast that Minerva wants to wear pants and go to college, plus the multiple examples of Kissing Cousins.
  • Dirty Old Man: Trujillo is portrayed this way. Minerva's first encounter with him is when he falls in love with her teenage classmate Lina Lovaton, gets her pregnant, and moves her into her own house. Later on he tries to come on to Minerva herself.
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  • Foregone Conclusion: It's stated in the book summary that the sisters are killed.
  • Fourth Date Marriage: Patria and Pedrito get married when she is 16 after a few months of dating.
  • Frame Story: The chapters told from the point of view of Dede are presented as Dede recounting stories to an interviewer, and Maria Teresa's chapters are told as diary entries.
  • Heir Club for Men: All but outright stated with the girl's father; he really wanted a son, but after four daughters and one stillborn son with his wife he resorted to having an affair with a woman in poverty. He ended up having four daughters with her too, and his only excuse to Minerva was that it was "something a man must do".
  • Hormone-Addled Teenager: Maria Teresa.
  • Inspirational Martyr: Minerva, Maria Teresa, and Patria play/played a huge role in the opposition against Trujillo, and their killing is often considered to be the final blow to his regime. note 
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  • Kissing Cousins: Dede and Jaimito are married, and Maria Teresa has a brief Love Triangle between her two cousins Berto and Raul.
  • La Résistance
  • Make It Look Like an Accident: Minerva, Maria Teresa, and Patria were beaten to death and then placed back in their car to make it look like it was a car accident. However, everybody knew that the government had done it.
  • The Mistress: Papa has another family with a poor woman.
  • Play-Along Prisoner: When Minerva and Mate are imprisoned for their political activities, they are offered a pardon but Minerva refuses because that would imply that they committed a crime.
  • Politically Incorrect Villain: Aside from being a ruthless tyrant, Trujillo was also shown to be misogynistic and racist against Haitian people.
  • Poirot Speak: Happens a lot with Spanish.
  • Power Trio: Minerva, Maria Teresa, and Patria: las mariposas (the butterflies)
  • Prison Rape: Happens when Minerva and Maria Teresa are in prison.
  • Sex Is Evil, and I Am Horny: Happens with Patria when she is at convent school. Despite wanting to become a nun, she describes her hands "wandering" and having the desire to lick the fingers of all the young men who come into her father's shop.
  • Soapbox Sadie: Minerva.
  • Sole Survivor: Dede. Much of her chapters focus on why she survived and the other sisters didn't.
  • Switching P.O.V.: Switches between the 4 sisters. Most obviously, Dede's chapters are told in limited 3rd person POV while the rest of the sisters' stories are told in first person.
  • Too Good for This Sinful Earth: Mama thought that Patria didn't have a long time left on the earth when she was little because she was so loving. Also invoked, because the Mirabal sisters are seen as martyrs (both in the book and in real life).
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: An example of Tropes Are Not Bad here. Julia Alvarez outright admits that she imagined their thoughts and motivations.
  • "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue: Well, it's more of a "Where Are They in 1994 Epilogue". In a way the last chapter is this. Dede remembers what happened to the families of her 3 sisters and where they are now.


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