The Image of the Dominican Republic Culture in 'In the Time of the Butterflies'

In the Time of the Butterflies written by Julia Alvarez takes place in the authoritarian regime of Rafael Trujillo in the Dominican Republic, which lasted for about 30 years before he was assassinated. As a pathological egotist dictator, Trujillo pretty much takes over every aspect of life, and he becomes the antagonist of the novel. 

Throughout the book, the author shows several ways a dictator affects both politics and daily life, from the fear of saying Trujillo’s name in an insulting way, to being murdered in public for threatening or provoking him. She also links Trujillo to other, more globally famous totalitarian government leaders like Hitler and Mussolini. Called 'the goat' by the characters in the novel, Trujillo allowed no dissention with his rule. He rewrote the history books to highlight his own power. Those who stood up to him were tortured and murdered, typically in public. His power over the Mirabal sisters is an example of how he acted towards his people. He tries to seduce Minerva, when she rejects, he sabotages her law degree and is eventually responsible for her murder. The author makes it very clear that the book takes place in the dominican republic. She uses several clues including the family speaking Spanish, practicing Roman Catholicism and the climate being warm. 

Throughout the novel, value for family is a recurring theme in the Mirabal family. Even when they have their strongest disagreements about how best to act, the bonds of family doesn't break. That resistance allows family ties to create the political strength to rebel against the regime. While the dictatorship is powerful, the novel shows that family, too, has its own power. They are each other’s number one priority and would not let anything bad happen to each other. For example, when the Mirabal girls called on distant relatives, they scolded them “profusely for not having come to them in the first place”. This shows that they care about family immensely, they do not need to ask to visit. Through this, the novel shows the value and admiration for family. The novel reveals the excessive amounts of violence that invaded public and private life if someone were to live in the Dominican Republic under President Trujillo. Torture was to be expected in prison, if anyone dared to resist the regime, they were sure to be executed. To describe trujillo as a 'Nightmare' does not come close to the reality. The novel shows that that violence also pervades domestic relationships. Whether it's husbands controlling their wives by force or a father violently correcting their daughter’s behavior. Unfortunately, there were many cases of this in the Dominican Republic at the time. In the novel, most of the people in the Dominican Republic were Roman Catholic. The Mirabal family is moderately religious, however one of the daughters, Patria, was thinking of becoming a nun until she found love and gave up her ambition. In their house, “Trujillo hung on the wall by the picture of Lord Jesus”. This displays how powerful Trujillo was at the time. Every home in the Dominican Republic was required by law to display a photograph of Trujillo. Its proximity to the picture of Jesus in the Mirabal home gives the dictator and God equal weight, from a visual perspective. As for class systems, The Mirabal family in the novel is a farming family that has recently come into money and wealth. This means they must adapt to new surroundings and behave in new ways in order to fit into their new class. Education, social events, and behaviors must all be improved in order for their community to accept them. All of this is reinforced excessively by the authoritarian president's regime, which makes sure that everyone stays in line or else they will be executed. 

The culture in the book differs drastically from mine. In my culture we speak Arabic and practice Islam, but most importantly as a Canadian, we live in a democratic society, where the community has a voice in political decisions. In the novel, everything and everyone is controlled by the cruel dictator. A similarity between the novel and my culture would be the admiration and guardianship for family. This is a very clear concept in the book and is very thoroughly described. An aspect that I found difficult to interpret and analyze was the fact that most men would objectify women and see them as slaves. Overall this novel was a very eye-opening indicator of the culture in the Dominican Republic at the time. 

07 July 2022
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