Critical Analysis of In the Time of The Butterflies by Dedè Mirabal

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In the book, In the Time of The Butterflies, Dedè Mirabal the final surviving Mirabal sister tells the story of her family and how her three sisters grew to become martyrs and national heroines. The novel takes place in The Dominican Republic during the era of rule under Rafael Trujillio. The story focuses on three of the four sisters, Patria, Minerva and Mate (“The Butterflies”) who go through many hardships as they fight for freedom as a woman in their country. Minerva Mirabal, the third sister and the ringleader of “the butterflies” was the most revolutionary and influential martyr of the sisters. A martyr is someone who is killed because of their beliefs. Chinese feminist and revolutionary martyr, Qiu Jin was executed in the process of trying to overthrow the Qing government. Both women became profound historical figures after being killed for adhering to their beliefs for both themselves and their countries. Comparing these two women, we ask the questions, were they fighting for the same thing, did they use the same tactics, and were they effective?

Qiu Jin was known as China’s Joan of Arc and their first feminist. During this time, women’s rights in China were close to non-existent and she was concerned with the fate of China and Chinese women. Longing for independence, equality, and power for women, Qiu Jin wished to serve her country. Although, this was not possible because women “belonged” to their husbands in marriage and were viewed as property. In her late 20’s, Jin abandoned her marriage and left her two children to study in Japan and when she returned home, she had hopes of reforming women’s role in society. Minerva Mirabal, known as “Butterfly #1” desires freedom for both herself and women in general. “Sometimes, watching the rabbits in their pens, I’d think, I’m no different from you, poor things”. (Alvarez 11) The rabbit symbolizes Minerva in the way that she is always at home and she has to ask for permission from her parents to do everything. In the novel, Rafael Trujillio was the president of the Dominican Republic at the time and the whole country was basically confined by him. Minerva is the first to be opened up to the reality and the brutality of Trujillio’s regime. Sinitia tells her “Trujillio became president in a sneaky way. First, he was in the army, and all the people who were above him kept disappearing until he was one right below the head of the whole armed forces”. (Alvarez 17) After hearing this from Sinitia, Minerva’s image of Trujillio changes and she realizes how evil of a man he is. She is the first of the sisters to join the revolutionary movement against Trujillio. Overall, Minerva has a very restless personality and she is fighting for freedom from the rules of her father and from Trujillio’s dictatorship. Qiu Jin and Minerva are not fighting for the exact same thing but they both have the same theme of freedom.

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Both women martyr used similar tactics for their beliefs. They both used education to support their beliefs. Qiu Jin removed toxic factors in her life such as leaving her husband so she could go study in Japan and get an education. Minerva goes to school in expectations of graduating and earning a license to practice law. In 1905, Qiu Jin returned home to China and took part in political activities by joining the Triads, an underground society who advocated in overthrowing the Qing government (Engel). Minerva completes law school and graduates with her diploma but Trujilli gets revenge on her and does not give her a license to practice law. Both Minerva and Mate get married and have children with revolutionaries, and take part in an underground resistance movement against Trujillio. Minerva helps influence her sister Patria whose lifestyle is very different from hers, and she feels the need to join the movement with her sisters. Minerva, Mate, and Patria are now known as “The Butterflies”. Minerva was arguably the bravest and the most outspoken out of the sisters and she was considered the leader of the group. Qiu Jin also was a voice in the support for women’s rights and became a national hero. Still today, she is viewed as a leader and a symbol of women’s independence in China (Engel).

Although both women died trying to stand up for what they believe in, they left a long lasting mark on their counties. Both Qiu Jin and Minerva’s tactics were effective to an extent. The most known tactic used by Qiu Jin for promoting women’s rights in China was through her writings and her poetry. Jin wrote about equal education for women, the abolition of foot binding, and arranged marriages in China through newsletters, articles, and poems. (Tow) Jin’s plan to make political changes to China’s central government has some successes on the way, but overall was not victorious. Although Qiu Jin and her cousin, Xu Xilin lost their lives trying to overthrow the Qing government, it resulted in bringing more attention and support for women’s rights. Minerva was effective in the sense of gaining freedom from her father’s rules but she was able to overthrow the reign of Trujillio. “...after I got to Inmaculada and met Sinita and saw what happened to Lina and realized that I’d just left a small cage to go into a bigger one, the size of our whole country”. (Alvarez 13) Minerva realizes that even though she was starting to branch out from her home, she was still not free under the rule of Trujillio. After Minerva got out of prison, she started searching for people still involved in the revolution. Minerva, Mate, and Petria all went to visit their husbands in jail on multiple occasions but on the fourth trip to see them, the butterflies and their driver, Rufino are attacked and killed. The incident was made to look like an accident but everyone knows that Trujillio did it. Although Minerva died, she was restless and she fought hard for her freedom.

Two vastly different women, from completely opposite ends of the world both used their education and their desire to live freely to try and reform their countries. Qiu Jin and Minerva were ultimately fighting for different things but each of them wanted freedom and a voice to speak out. One similarity we see in the two of them is their personalities, in the way that they were restless, idealistic, and brave. Although they both were killed, fighting for what they believed in, they each left a long lasting mark on their countries and on the world as a whole. Qiu Jin is knowns as China’s first feminist and Minerva, along with her sisters Mate and Petria are national symbols of the resistance movement. To this day, we recognize both women as revolutionary martyrs and national heroes.

Works Cited

  1. Engel, Keri EngelKeri Lynn. “Qiu Jin, Chinese Feminist & Revolutionary Martyr.” Amazing Women In History, 4 June 2019,
  2. Tow, Don M. “Qiu Jin (秋瑾) – China's First Feminist.” Don Tow's Website, 27 Nov. 2009,
  3. Alvarez, Julia. In the Time of The Butterflies. New York, Algonquin Books, 2010
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Critical Analysis of In the Time of The Butterflies by Dedè Mirabal. (2022, July 14). Edubirdie. Retrieved May 26, 2024, from
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