Courage defines and dictates one’s personal willingness to overcome fear apart from one’s lack of fear. Julia Alvarez’s novel, In the Time of the Butterflies, depicts the story of four sisters, Patria, Dedé, Minerva, and Maria Teresa, as they live under the dictatorship of Rafael Trujillo in the Dominican Republic. Out of the four Mirabal sisters, Patria, Minerva, and Maria Teresa become heavily involved in the rebellion against Trujillo and inevitably are assassinated. On the other hand, Dedé carries the legacy and tells the story of her three deceased sisters. Courage is the ability to do something that frightens and threatens one and the Mirabal sisters undertake contrasting roles apart from what is expected of them, that define their decisions to participate in the rebellion against Trujillo and their individual self-growth and identity, which is emblematic of their bravery.
In Dominican society, under Trujillo’s reign, women are often recognized as sex objects; however, the actions the Mirabals take question and threaten the authority of significant male figures, which is representative of their courage. In the novel, readers are driven by the perspective of these four sisters as they are met with significant male characters. When Minerva attends one of Trujillo’s parties, and he asks her to dance and becomes quite flirtatious. He aggressively pulls her into him and thrusts at her pelvis in “a vulgar way” at which she slaps his “astonished, made-up face” (Alvarez, 100). Trujillo is known to toy with women as objects and takes advantage of them, which is seen when he acts in a “vulgar” manner; however, Minerva spits on his ego by discrediting this authority he has built over women which is representative of this courage. Women and young girls allow Trujillo to take advantage of them, almost unconsciously, but Minerva undertakes a role women are either too scared or do not acknowledge: she does not let Trujillo walk all over her. Trujillo goes as far as obstructing Minerva from getting her law license in spite of her actions on the night of the dance. Although Trujillo’s actions are out of her hands, she does what is in her control, which is to not give him the satisfaction of objectifying and manipulating her.
In demeaning situations where the Mirabals are undeniably held to a subordinate standard they proceed and do what is not expected of them: they hold onto their dignity and independence which defines their courage. When Maria Teresa is taken to a prison called “La 40”, which is known for torture, the interrogators indignify her, making her strip naked and lie down on a table. They bring in a man, most likely Leandro, Maria Teresa’s lover, and use an electrical device to torture Maria Teresa, when Leandro finally agrees to talk, they allow Maria Teresa to leave. Maria Teresa recognizes the “shame” on the guards’ faces and denies “help” from them, she then dismisses herself out “on her own two feet” (256). The guards purposefully strip Maria Teresa, making her feel helpless; bringing in Leandro causes both lovers pain. Through this suffer Maria Teresa walks out “on her own two feet”, holding onto her independence and dignity, which in itself is courage. Maria Teresa’s action is also notably a question of authority to the guards, despite their efforts in offering help she remains sensible and sees and feels their “shame”. She does not let their pity undermine the undignifying torture they have just put her through. Though she is helpless in this situation on physical terms, she is courageous in her feat to hold onto to her sensibility in keeping her self worth and respect.
In the novel, the Mirabals encounter their struggles, with that they acknowledge and accept their lack of bravery; however, eventually, the Mirabals step out from what is perceived of them and take on courageous roles. Dedé is notably the “forgotten sister”, and she struggles in joining her sisters in the rebellion because she fears she will lose her marriage and family. However, when chooses to drop the act of what is expected of her, she presents a more courageous side. When Minerva and Dedé travel to Minerva’s property to recover her belongings they are halted by guards and requested to identify themselves. With “terror” on her face Dedé says, “My name is Minerva Mirabal” (277). Despite being filled with “terror” Dedé identifies herself as Minerva, threatening her safety for the sake of her sister, which in itself is an act of courage. Dedé’s actions are a personal feat, and she disassociates herself from her cowardice and steadily gains courage. This speaks on Alvarez’s choices as a writer on Dedé’s chapters. Dedé’s chapters are monotonous and at times when she considers joining the rebellion she shies away for the sake of her family and own personal morals; however, a turning point is reached for Dedé when she steps out of her comforts and assumes a courageous role outside of her cowardice.
In Alvarez’s novel, the Mirabals adopt roles contrary to the ones expected of them, which exhibits courage as it exudes their progress through the book as individuals and their presence in the rebellion against Trujillo. Minerva, Maria Teresa, and Dedé all present this commonality as they become courageous through the course of the novel. Minerva chooses to reject the presumed role of women and question the dominance of significant male characters, Maria Teresa dignifies herself despite being in demeaning circumstances, and Dedé overcomes her cowardice and proves herself to be stronger and less vulnerable. Courage for the Mirabals as it is seen parallels to all individuals alike: what is expected of you and how can you challenge that stigma?