In the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alvarez, the Mirabal sisters are living in an exceedingly patriarchal, “manly” society. The sisters are fighting their personal struggles while creating a symbolism of rebellion against Trujillo. Alvarez portrays the “butterflies” as real women by showing their personal lives as they go through their coming of age rites, through relationships, political, and religious events. Each sister really is portrayed as becoming women at different times in their lives with different reasoning, whether it is to gain personal freedom or for their religious beliefs, and expectations of others. This being said, what does it mean to be a “Woman”. Being a woman has many meanings to different people although a common identification of Womanhood in Latino households is having marital traits, which more than often is portrayed as a housewife. Even with living in these societal standards, the Mirabal sisters each break out of these standards and show their own representation of being a woman.
In the era of the Time of the Butterflies women where very much constricted and where expected to play the role of a housewife, expected to blindly follow the command of a man. Although Minerva Mirabal is one of the first to break this stereotype of what is considered “womanly”. Minerval breaks through this stereotype with her political stance on the Trujillo Regime, creating a new outlook on what a woman is capable of. “It’s about time we women had a voice in running our country… words stitched to words until they are the winding sheet the family will be buried in when their bodies are found dumped in a ditch, their tongues cut off for speaking too much.”(10) This quote introduces Minerva as the leader of the sister, being able to be more outspoken, ambitious and politically minded than the other sisters. Minerva’s mother thinks that that woman shouldn’t be involved in politics but Minerva disagrees saying that “its about time” Minerva’s father gets upset at the mention of Trujillo’s name and a once happy and relaxed mood is transformed into one of fear an suspicion. After this, we see what is really being risked if any resistance is shown toward the Trujillo regime. Minerva shows a new side of what woman can do going against even her own mother’s beliefs, becoming a role model for other women in a way letting them know that it is time that women take a stance and take the power they rightly deserve. And not give in to the perception Trujillo has constructed of a woman being less than and meant solely to serve men.
We see more of this perception of Trujillo and women later on in the novel when Mate is going to school and her experience as being a woman in the eyes of Trujillo.“There were hundreds of us, the women altogether, in white dresses like we were his brides, with white gloves and any kind of hat we wanted. We had to raise our right arms in a salute as we passed by the review stand. It looked like the newsreels of Hitler and the Italian one with the name that sounds like fettuccine.”(131) In this quote, Mate describes her first day of class in “Trujillo city”, her and all her classmates were forced to wear white and solute Trujillo. Mate compares the girls and herself to “brides” referencing to Trujillo’s tendency of seeking out attractive students to seduce or rape. This passage from the novel also links Trujillo to other infamous dictators of history such a Hitler and Mussolini, putting an emphasis on the horrors of Trujillo’s regime. We get to see Mate’s view on Trujillo and what she considers womanly. She talks about how they were all dressed in white as if they where brides, this ties into how some Latino views of womanhood comes with marital preparation. We reoccurring see mate show representations of the stereotype of women which include her love of clothes and her passion for romance. Even within a way being stereotypical Mate still breaks through the barrier of what a woman should be like, when she finds out about her fathers affairs she becomes more of a feminist in a way resenting men for a while, she comes to these new terms of being an “independent woman” and not needing a man to succeed. Although two of these sisters, Patria and Dede had more of a struggle with breaking through stereotypical woman norms, but it doesn’t in no way make them any less of a woman.
In the novel, we see Patrias role as a woman based on religion. She has very “pure” outlook acting how a woman should act based on her religion, although she does configure to her own interpretation. Patria shockingly based on her religious outlook is very sensual and we see this as she grows and starts to date, and mature becoming more knowledgeable of her body she has this constant fight of whether to give in to her sensual need because its seen as a sin through her religion. “That moment, I understood her hatred. My family had not been personally hurt by Trujillo, just as before losing my baby, … How could our loving, all-powerful Father allow us to suffer so? I looked up, challenging Him. And the two faces had merged!”(53) In this quote, Patria reveals that she is losing faith in her religion and that she could sense that Minerva knows. Through this part of the novel, we see Patria development of being her own woman. Since a young age, Patria blindly followed her religion, which lead her to blindly follow the word of man. Patria at this point gives into her sexuality as a woman, which we see more of after her stillbirth and how she tries to recuperate her husband in the bedroom. Using her sexuality as a form of therapy which wasn’t common among women in this era because of the perception that a woman is “pure”. We see more of Dede’s role as a woman.
Through the novel, Dede has always been more of a restricted woman wanting to stay behind and help her father, and following her husband’s beliefs because women “didn’t belong in politics”. Because of this Dede really never became one of the Mariposas. “The husbands were in prison,” she adds, for the woman’s face registers surprise at this change of address. “All except Jaimito… “And you?”Dedé shakes her head. “Back in those days, we women followed our husbands.” Such a silly excuse. After all, look at Minerva. “Let’s put it this way,” Dedé adds. “I followed my husband. I didn’t get involved.”(171-172) In this part of the novel, Dede is explaining her self to the interview woman. She gives us insight into how she went along with the traditional idea that woman should follow their husbands, which she did. Because of this Dede felt a sort of guilt because in a way she was reinforcing the same sexism and complacency that her sisters where fighting against. Through this we see that Dede was more of a “traditional” woman in her era, believing that woman shouldn’t be involved in politics. Although this could have been because of the fear that Trujillo put onto those of the Dominican Republic.
The Mariposa will forever be icons of Dominican culture, and because of Julia Alvarez, they will be seen in a point of view that humanizes the Mirabal sister, through politics, religion, sexuality, and fear, shining light on the “real women” who overcame obstacles and struggled against oppression