National Endowment of the Arts - The Big Read
In the Time of the Butterflies

In the Time of the Butterflies

by Julia Alvarez

I found in literature a place where the table was set for all. Everybody was welcome. I found true democracy in reading.


  1. The novel begins with a writer, “a gringa dominicana,” visiting Dedé at the childhood home of the Mirabal sisters. Who or what is the primary focus of the first chapter? How does opening the narrative this way give structure to the book?
  2. Discuss the novel as historical fiction. How much license may an author take in recreating past events, especially those so significant to a country's national identity? What can be gained by presenting the Mirabal sisters as characters in a novel, instead of simply telling the facts of their involvement in the revolution?
  3. Most of the novel takes place from the 1930s to the 1960s in the Dominican Republic. What traits are considered appropriate for women living there at that time? Which women defy these social customs, and why?
  4. Compare and contrast the personalities of the Mirabal sisters. In what ways are they alike? How do they differ?
  5. Despite her anger over her father's infidelity, Minerva insists on meeting her half-sisters and insists after his death that they get the opportunity to have an education. Why do you think she does so?
  6. What prompts Patria to become involved in the revolution? How does her commitment differ from Minerva's and María Teresa's?
  7. Why does Dedé shy away from involvement with the underground? What does her reluctance tell us about her priorities in life? What does Dedé value most?
  8. Each of the sisters has different motivations for her involvement in the underground and tolerates different amounts of risk. Discuss when each sister decides to become politically active. What specific event triggers each woman's decision?
  9. The real-life Mirabal sisters are viewed as heroines and martyrs in the Dominican Republic. Discuss what makes a person a martyr. Is it necessary for martyrs to act heroically? How do the actions of the Mirabal sisters compare to other famous people who have died for important causes?
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