Essay on In the Time of the Butterflies
Julia Alvarez uses a very unique style of writing that immerses the reader in the Mirabal sisters’ lives and creates a more human picture of the heroines. Instead of writing in the third person on the history of their lives, Alvarez uses first person accounts from the sisters, taking the reader back in time. This provides a deeper insight into their thoughts and feelings, showing the bravery they possessed that allowed them to defy Trujillo’s regime as well as the fears and suffering they had to face as a result of their rebellion.
In The Time of the Butterflies was written as a fictional story, not as a historical document detailing the past, because Alvarez did not wish to summarize history. As she said in her postscript, her book was “A way to travel through the human heart”(Alvarez 324). She invented many of the details about the characters in order to explore what they experienced and what made them so brave. A third person account would not have breathed such life into its characters nor conveyed such power. Alvarez’s skillful blending of fact and fiction creates a tale that truly moves us.
Alvarez’s wrote in the first person for all of the sisters except Dede. That approach creates a very personal feel to the story. It felt like I was living with the sisters and seeing everything through their eyes. Instead of making them seem like superheroes, Alvarez reveals the sisters as normal human beings with fears, doubts, and uncertainties that they must fight through. She creates in each character a host of feelings; hatred, love, happiness, fear, and many other emotions that make it seem so much more real. In Minerva’s first account she says, “Sometimes, watching rabbits in their pens, I’d think, I’m no different from you, poor things”(Alvarez 11). This sentence is a perfect example of how Alvarez’s style of writing aids in her story telling. It gave me an understanding of how Minerva is feeling, not just what she does. I understood that she feels trapped at times, caged in like the rabbit.
Minerva is considered the most courageous and defiant of the sisters. However, Alvarez shows that even Minerva has fears and uncertainties like all humans. When Minerva got out of prison she talked about how afraid she has became, claiming “I hid my anxieties and gave everyone a bright smile. If they had only known how frail was their iron-will heroine”(259). The experiences of prison changed Minerva and she lost some of her spirit and confidence. Alvarez uses the narrative to express these emotions and describe the suffering the sisters must have felt.
Patria’s account is also told from the first person.
This helped me understand her feelings on religion. When her child is taken to prison, the first person style of writing makes it so we feel her pain and understand what she sacrifices for the struggle against the regime. She says, “The first day was the hardest. I was crazy with grief, all right. When Dede and Tono walked me into the house, all I wanted to do was lie down and die”(Alvarez 200). Patria expresses so much pain and suffering that I was overwhelmed with the loss. It is no perfect world for her or the other sisters, and the narration is proof of this. They are torn by the things the regime does to them and suffer greatly from it. This is something Alvarez does not want us to forget; the sacrifices the sisters made for their country and their people.
The account of Maria Teresa is even more personal because it is in the form of journal entries. The entries are very effective at further immersing ourselves in their lives. Reading a journal entry is reading someone personal thoughts, desires, hopes and fears; all things Alvarez wants to express to show the sisters are very human. The reader is instantly transported into their lives when they read the diary entries. Maria Teresa’s fear for Hilda’s safety and that of her sister’s is expressed when shee is still young and writes, “The have been here again today. They passed right by Sor Hilda with her hands tucked in her sleeves and her head bowed before the statue of the Merciful Mother. If I weren’t so scared, I’d be laughing”(Alvarez 42). At such a young age, she has to watch hopelessly as guard’s search for her sister’s best friend, which was a terrifying experience.
All of the techniques used by Alvarez help create an amazing depiction of the sister’s fight against Trujillo. The first person narratives allow each sister to tell their own story from the past. As well, Alvarez creates vulnerabilities tells of the sisters suffering because it brings to life the characters and the realism of their lives. All the heartbreak, happiness, courage, and other emotions are captured because of this and it makes for a story that truly does speak to the human heart.