NEA 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.

The discussion activities and writing exercises in this guide provide you with possible essay topics, as do the Discussion Questions in the NEA Big Read Reader Resources. Advanced students can come up with their own essay topics, as long as they are specific and compelling. Other ideas for essays are provided here.

For essays, students should organize their ideas around a thesis about the novel. This statement or thesis should be focused, with clear reasons supporting its conclusion. The thesis and supporting reasons should be backed by references to the text.

  1. Analyze the way Minerva treats Señor Mirabal's mistress and her four daughters. Does Minerva's kindness toward her half-sisters add to our understanding of her character? If so, how? Why does Minerva want to make education a possibility for them?
  2. Further examine the theme of courage in the novel. While Minerva Mirabal may be considered more outwardly brave, how is each sister courageous in her own way?
  3. The portions of the book written from Patria Mirabal's point of view deal with religious themes and include many biblical allusions. How does Patria develop from an idealistic young Catholic girl to a woman who doubts? When does this change occur? Can it be argued that her faith is stronger in the end, even though she has some serious religious doubts?
  4. Why might Alvarez have chosen not to write from the point of view of any of the men? For this essay, explore two of the male characters—whether Señor Mirabal or the Mirabal sisters' husbands—and discover how important they are to the underground rebellion.
  5. Expanding on the question of historical fiction, choose two scenes from the novel and research their historical veracity. Whether or not they are historically accurate, how effective is Alvarez in her quest to write “the truth according to character”?
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