Analysis of Julia Alvarez’ In the Time of the Butterflies
Focus on one of the following topics in a 1.5 – 2 page (double spaced) response. Discuss the
story as necessary to make your points, but avoid unnecessary plot summary. Be sure to include
at least two points about Alvarez’ stylistic choices as they relate to your topic. Stylistic choices
include diction, syntax, voice/tone, narrative perspective (third person, first person, journal
entries), symbolism and figurative speech (metaphors, irony).
Due date: Beginning of class Thursday.
1. Evolving character. Maria Teresa begins as perhaps the least engaging character but
becomes the most moving character by the end of the novel. How? Why?
2. The personal is political. Alvarez weaves together domestic and political drama
throughout the novel. Discuss how the Mirabal sisters (and their affiliated
boyfriends/husbands) support each other, challenge each other and experience conflict as
a family with mixed feelings about political action.
3. Sexism. Trujillo is clearly a chauvinist who places women below him. Dominican society
at that time placed limitations on women, limitations that the Mirabal sisters sometimes
acquiesced to, and sometimes challenged. Drawing upon this political and social context,
what do you think about the sisters’ responses to injustice? Are they passive and reactive?
Or are they the authors of their own destiny?
4. Authoritarianism. How does Trujillo and the political-cultural climate of the times create
fear that controls people? How does the drama of the Miribals’ odyssey create a strong
narrative line (in others words, how is the novel a “page turner”)?
5. Butterflies and change. The butterfly, which begins life as a caterpillar, is a symbol of
change and transformation. Focusing on a character of your choosing, discuss how
change is at once dangerous and liberating. Also, how does a particular character
vacillate between courage, fear and doubt?
Timeline: Monday night decide on topic and note possible points to discuss, with page
numbers (see example below). If you own the book you might start by underlining possible
points first. Tuesday in class Draft a response. Wed. night Type, edit, spell check, print!
Example of possible points for a response to number 2. I chose to focus on a key moment
of revelation for a character as depicted in the span of a few pages in one chapter. You may
draw from a small section of the book, as I did, or from the novel as a whole (or what you’ve
read up until now!).
p. 176 abandoned part of herself… her unhappy marriage; p. 177 docile middle child “Miss
Sonrisa”; p. 178 “goddamn volleyball team!” (her fear); p. 179 Jaimito and their dad
trujillistas, her perfect garden; p. 180 no seeds in the garden; p. 181 she had always
fantasized about Lio, “secret rebellion” with the radio; p. 182 can’t leave the kids; p. 183
Jaimito the macho; p. 184 real issue: she’s afraid