In the Time of the Butterflies is a retelling of the Mirabel sisters’ experiences in different locations within the Dominican Republic during the years 1940-1960, under the rule of Rafael Trujillo’s dictatorship. Some events also take place in 1994. The various settings illustrate how the sisters fought for revolution across the country. Despite facing numerous enemies and challenges in each place they went, Patria, Dede, Minerva, and Maria Teresa remained steadfast in their determination to lead the revolution.
The Mirabel sisters, born and raised on their father’s farm, all strive for freedom, but only Dede survives out of the four. Their father had hoped they would carry on the family farm tradition, but they each leave home as part of their coming of age. In Dede’s words, “And that’s how I got free. I don’t mean just to sleepaway school … I realized that I’d just left a small cage to go into a bigger one, the size of our whole country” (13).
When Minerva entered the school, she became friends with Sinita, who was one of her inspirations for leading the rebellion. Patria, on the other hand, attended the school to become a nun and strengthen her faith. However, she found herself conflicted about having someone besides God to love. Patria struggled internally, but outwardly no one could tell. She tried to control her desires, but they overwhelmed her night after night (47). The nuns at the school advised Patria to follow God’s calling, but she chose to marry Pedrito Gonzalez, the person she fell in love with at first sight, challenging the idea of choosing between flesh and spirit.
Inmaculada Concepcion was the first place where all four sisters experienced life beyond their isolated farm. Each time the Mirabels arrived at a new location during their journey, something would happen that changed one of the girls’ personalities. Initially, Dede opposed the revolution and refused to participate in the daring actions taken by her courageous sisters. However, after enduring numerous losses, she ultimately decides to join her family. She vividly recalls the devastation caused by the revolution, stating “They tore the house apart … It was like watching her life dismantled before her very eyes … All of it violated, broken, desecrated, destroyed” (192).
Dede observes her sister’s state of shock after feeling betrayed by God, who allowed Pedrito and Nelson to be arrested by the SIM. Dede, who remains at Patria and her husband’s land, recognizes that she never had a choice in joining the revolution after talking to Minerva on the phone. “No matter if she joined their underground movement or not, her destiny was intertwined with that of her sisters … If they perished, she would not desire to live without them” (193). After the destruction of Dede’s shelter by the SIM, she realizes that it is now her responsibility to rescue her sisters and carry on with the revolution.