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time butterflies

Explain the organization of In the Time of the Butterflies in terms of narrative structure. What does Alvarez accomplish by organizing the novel in...


What's so interesting about Alvarez's choice to alternate chapters from the different points of view of the three butterfly sisters is that, although the stories are fictitious (though inspired by three real sisters known as "Las Mariposas"), their narratives are also extremely realistic and powerful in that they convey how three very different women could somehow end up fighting together in a revolution.

Minerva, the middle child, is the most adventurous and headstrong of the Maribal sisters. From the beginning, she describes a feeling of "being caged" and needing to spread her wings. While in Catholic school, she learns from her classmates about the atrocities that Trujillo has committed, and she very quickly gets caught up in planning a revolution. It is quite obvious that Minerva has a natural inclination to rebel and fight for the rights of others against an authoritarian regime.

However, it is much less obvious why her sisters, who have different goals and motives, ultimately join up with her.

For example, the chapters written in epistolary style by the youngest sister, Mate, show an innocent, romantic, young girl yearning to be loved and follow in her sister's footsteps. She is first introduced to the revolution when Minerva makes her bury her diary, the Little Book, in order to hide documentation of her secret meetings. Although she mainly watches her sister's brave acts from afar and with awe, she ultimately decides to join the cause after falling in love with a revolutionary who is working with her sister.

The oldest, sister, Patria, on the other hand, seems like the least likely to join a revolution. At first, she describes her love for God and religion and her calling to be a nun, later transforming into a pious, dedicated housewife. However, after having her faith tested with the death of her own child and then witnessing a massacre that kills a fourteen-year-old boy before her eyes, she joins the revolution with just as much devotion, offering her home as a meeting place and helping to organize others through the church.

Finally, all of these points of view are enveloped by a third-person narrative that reveals the feelings of the only surviving sister, Dede, who, at first reluctantly, inevitably ends up remembering and reliving her sisters' stories when a reporter comes to interview her on the anniversary of their death. When the third person transforms into her first-person narrative, we can feel her endless grief and her guilt for not choosing to go with them on that fateful trip that ended in their murder. Most importantly, we are able to see the aftermath of their deaths and what happens to the surviving family members: Dede, their husbands, their children, and the country.

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