Julia Alvarez

In the Time of the Butterflies

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In the Time of the Butterflies Themes

Freedom and Imprisonment

The theme of freedom and imprisonment is prevalent throughout the novel. It pervades the two main storylines and the lives of the Mirabal sisters. In effect, the Dominican Republic is imprisoned by Trujillo’s police state and the atmosphere of fear he cultivates. At one point, Trujillo even closes the borders, thereby trapping those who want to leave and imprisoning them if they are caught trying to flee the country. Early on in the novel, Minerva describes leaving home as leaving “a small cage to go into a bigger one, the size of our whole country” (13). It is revealed that no rival political parties are allowed to exist, and political prisoners number in the thousands.

The Mirabal sisters and their husbands are almost all harassed by Trujillo at some point in the novel. Even when they are released from prison, Minerva and María Teresa are still kept under house arrest and, at one point, Mamá is also kept under house arrest with Minerva in a hotel. These incidents showcase Trujillo’s repression of basic freedoms, such as the freedom of movement.

The novel also highlights the kinds of restrictions placed on women by Dominican society. . In the beginning, the Mirabal sisters feel trapped by their restrictive home life, where they must ask their father for permission to do anything. He wants his daughters to stay close, but they want to see the world that exists outside the walls of their yard. As women, they are also expected to get married and settle down. Minerva feels the burden of this expectation most heavily, and she compares herself to the family’s rabbits in their cages. However, Minerva comes to realize that, unlike the rabbits who fear leaving their comfortable cages, she and her sisters desperately long for freedom and will leave the “cage” when given the choice.

This struggle against “cages” is fought on a grand scale, with both weapons and words, against Trujillo’s regime, and it is also fought within the hearts of each Mirabal sister. All of them, except for Dedé, end up joining the resistance movement against Trujillo, and…

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