Julia Alvarez

In the Time of the Butterflies

  • 65-page comprehensive study guide
  • Features 12 chapter summaries and 6 sections of expert analysis
  • Written by a literary scholar with a Master's degree in English Literature
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In the Time of the Butterflies Chapters 1-3 Summary & Analysis

Part One: 1938 to 1946

Chapter 1 Summary: Dedé, 1994 and circa 1943

The book begins in the present day (1994), when Dedé Mirabal receives a call from a journalist. The woman wants to interview Dedé about her sisters. She explains that she is a Dominican who has been living in the U.S., where no one has really heard the story of the Mirabal sisters. Though the woman has good intentions, and though Dedé is used to giving countless interviews like this one, especially on November 25th—the anniversary of her sisters’ deaths—she agrees to the interview reluctantly. It is March, and she really wants a break from the public interest in her tragic past.

Dedé cleans the house, which, like her life, has become an exhibit about the “sister who survived” (5). She is constantly asked how she survived. Dedé thinks about the fact that she has been divorced for ten years, and that she presently sells life insurance, which her niece, Minou finds ironic, given the family’s tragic past. As it turns out, everyone wants to buy life insurance from the sister who cheated death and survived. When the interviewer arrives, she slams her car door forcefully. The sound makes Dedé to jump, as it reminds her of a gunshot. She notes that any woman of her age would have jumped in fear at the sound.

Dedé shows the interviewer around the house; it is the family’s old house, where she used to live with her sisters and parents. As usual, she then points to portraits of her sisters. The interviewer surprises Dedé by asking why her photo is not among those of her sisters. Dedé details her sisters’ ages and their most notable traits, which is a routine ordeal for her given the numerous “mythologizers of her sisters” (7). Minerva was high-minded and moral, María Teresa was young and girlish, and Patria was very religious.

The interviewer asks Dedé how she has managed to keep going despite all of the tragedy. Dedé says that she tries to “concentrate on the positive” (7), especially on happy memories, though this is sometimes difficult,…

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