Julia Alvarez

In the Time of the Butterflies

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In the Time of the Butterflies Symbols and Motifs

The Rabbits

Early on in the novel, Minerva explains that she has felt caged her whole life. She compares herself to the rabbits that her family keeps in cages. One day, Minerva opens the cage door to free a female rabbit. To her astonishment, the rabbit does not want to leave her cage. Minerva tries forcing the rabbit to leave, but it just whimpers and remains in its cage, until Minerva realizes that she is actually harming the rabbit by trying to set it free against its own will. Minerva then declares that she is not like the rabbits after all. She wants to be free regardless of the cost. In this way, the rabbits represent Minerva early on in the novel. She is trapped by her father’s over-protectiveness. She is also trapped by the rules and fear of the Trujillo police state; in this way, the rabbits also represent the populace of the Dominican Republic. Just as the rabbits are afraid to leave their comfortable cages, so the majority of Dominicans are afraid to challenge Trujillo’s regime. As a result of his oppressive rule, people are afraid to escape their “cages” to find safety elsewhere. Unlike most people, however, Minerva will open her own cage door and fight with all she has to leave the cage.

The Portraits of Trujillo

With any personality cult, the image of the individual plays a key role. Part of Trujillo’s personality cult, then, is the rule that every family must have a picture of “El Jefe” (Trujillo) displayed in their home. There is a portrait of him in Mamá’s house next to a picture of Jesus, a combination that becomes a powerful symbol for Patria, who sometimes sees the two as opposites—God and devil—but occasionally sees their faces merge as well. At a later date, Patria even finds herself accidentally praying to Trujillo instead of to God. The portraits of Trujillo, then, represent El Jefe’s aspirations to become a godlike figure to his people, watching over everything and having total control of the Dominican Republic. In part, the portraits also show the pervasive fear of…

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