In the Time of the Butterflies Analysis

Last Updated: 20 Apr 2022
Essay type: Analysis
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Analysis of Alvarez’s In the Time of the Butterflies In the Time of the Butterflies, written by Julia Alvarez, is the story of four sisters who take an emotional journey while becoming a symbol of hope in the corrupt Dominican Republic, as they seek to make a political revolution. Throughout the story, we dig deeper into each sister’s life and learn more about her individual traits. In the book, Alvarez makes the Mirabal sisters come alive throughout the book with her use of foreshadowing, detailed characterization, and selection of detail.

The more the reader journeys farther into the book, the more the aforementioned devices become of importance Throughout In the Time of the Butterflies Alvarez does an impressive job using selection of detail to create a strong mental image of the characters and setting for the reader. In the opening lines of Chapter One Dede describes the area of where she lives as the interview woman is coming over soon when she says, “The woman will never find the old house behind the edge of towering hibiscus at the bend of the dirt road” (3).

By using visual imagery Alvarez gives a clear description of where the Mirabal sisters reside. The sisters live in the foothills of the tobacco fields, a very unpopulated area, which is hard to find as no street signs exist in the country. On the way home from Trujillo’s residence after the disastrous skit put on by the sisters Alvarez writes, “As the road darkened, the beams of our headlights filled with hundreds of blinded moths. Where they hit the windshield, they left blurry marks, until it seemed like I was looking at the world through a curtain of tears” (29).

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Alvarez compares the blurry marks to a curtain of tears, giving the reader a sense of the somber mood in the car. Alvarez tells of the dismal mood because the sisters had let Sor Asuncion down, she was not happy they didn’t act as the ornaments of the nation as they were supposed to. Sor Asuncion was telling Patria to pray to the Virgencita for guidance in her future involving the church when Patria says, “And I prayed with her, a Hail Mary and an Our Father, and I tried hard but I could not keep my eyes from straying to the flame trees, their blossoms tumbling in the wind of the coming storm. (47). By using great detail the reader can almost imagine the flame trees swaying before them with their blossoms turning in front of their own eyes. The quote brings Patria’s character alive as well, giving the reader a look into one the key aspects of her life, religion. Selection of detail is just one of three literary devices used In the Time of the Butterflies that makes it an exciting book; it compels the reader to continue reading as the characters and scenery comes to life.

Alvarez consistently uses the device of foreshadowing to drop subtle hints of what is to come later in the book. Dede was helping her father up the stairs after he had discussed their possible futures with them on a clear moonlit night, when Alvarez writes, “She realizes that her future is the only future he really told” (10). Referring to Dede, a possible storyline that is constant throughout the book is revealed by her father; she will be the only sister of the four to survive the revolution.

Dede gives the interview women a quick tour of the house, and when walking down the hallway Alvarez describes it, “There are three pictures of the girls, old favorites that are now emblazoned on the posters every November, making these once intimate snapshots seem too famous to be the sisters she knew” (5). The same storyline is mentioned in the quote; three of the sisters have a picture on the wall, but Dede does not because she’s the only one still alive.

With the sisters having pictures of them on the walls that were considered “old favorites” it foreshadows their deaths at the end of the book. Chapter four begins with Patria describing her childhood from the day she was born , “Even being born, I was coming out, hands first, as if reaching up for something” (44). This quote foreshadows Patria’s loving character that the reader discovers later in the book. Patria loves automatically and is naturally generous which is later shown with her early commitment in life to the church.

In In the Time of the Butterflies foreshadowing lays the foundation for the rest of the book, which is vital for the reader to grasp. Alvarez uses detailed characterization to give the reader a clear idea of the characters personality as well as their physical appearance. Minerva begins chapter two by comparing herself, “Sometimes, watching the rabbits in their pens, I’d think, I’m no different from you, poor things” (11). She compares herself to a rabbit stuck in their pen; Minerva is living at home with her parents and cannot find a way to get out from their grasp.

Alvarez gives a look into Minerva’s life being one of “Papa’s little girls” as well as being the second youngest of the four sisters, a tough situation to leave. In one of Mate’s earliest diary entries we get a look into her young mind, Mate writes, “I had such a time deciding between the patent leather and white leather for church today. I finally settled for the white pair as Mama picked those out for my first Communion, and I wanted her to feel that they were still my favorites” (36).

This quote shows us how Mate is not yet involved in the complexities of the revolution and is more worried about what clothes she’s wearing, giving the reader insight into another sisters character. Before the volleyball game at Tio Pepe’s where Dede was looking to impress Lio, Alvarez writes, “She knows she looks especially good in her flowered shirtwaist and white sandal heals” (70). Referring to Dede, the quote reveals her self interest into her beauty, and her lack of interest in the revolution compared to her other three sisters.

Detailed characterization helps give the reader a sense of what each sister is like, and helps them put the story of the Mirabal sisters into place. Alvarez uses the device of foreshadowing brilliantly to develop the plot that will come about later in the story. Alvarez utilizes detailed characterization to allow the reader to personalize the characters and distinguish the differences between the qualities of the four sisters.

She uses selection of detail to describe characters, setting, and scenes throughout the book, thus allowing the reader to create a mental image of situations at hand. When putting the three literary devices together, it makes In the Time of the Butterflies a fascinating book that the reader doesn’t want to put down. Alvarez does a splendid job of using literary devices including foreshadowing, selection of detail, and detailed characterization to make the heroic story of the Mirabel sisters come alive.

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In the Time of the Butterflies Analysis. (2017, Feb 28). Retrieved from

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