Study Guide

Maria Teresa Mirabal (Mate Mirabal) in In the Time of the Butterflies

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María Teresa "Mate" Mirabal

María Teresa, also known as Mate (pronounced MA-tay) for short, is the youngest of the Mirabal sisters, "butterfly" number three. We get to know her through her journal entries, from when she's a little girl all the way up into her young adulthood. And we also get to watch her grow up from a fairly frivolous child into a serious revolutionary. Buckle up: Mate's journey is a bumpy ride.

The Baby of the Family

Mate is really a baby when the book opens. She is worried about what shoes to wear to church and crying over the other girls' teasing her. She doesn't recognize that she's young at the time, though (and who does when they're young, really?). Check out this entry:

Dear Little Book,
I don't know if you realize how advanced I am for my age?
I think it's because I have three older sisters, and so I've grown up quick. I knew how to read before I even started school!

Mate's position as the youngest in the family gives her some advantages; she has learned a lot from her older sisters. It also has some pitfalls, though.

As the youngest, Mate's the only one left in the house when her sisters have all married. Minerva is the last one to go, and her marriage to Manolo leaves Mate alone with their mother:

"Just my baby left now," she says, smiling at me.
"Oh diary, how I hate when she forgets I'm already eighteen."

Even though she is growing up, Mate's mother (and probably her sisters) still see her as the "baby." This is hard on Mate, because no one sees her for herself; they see her for her position in the family.

When she gets older, though, and breaks down in prison, she reverts back to that baby in need of her mother:

[S]uddenly the walls were closing in, and I got this panicked feeling that I would never ever get out of here. I started to shake and moan, and call out to Mamá to take me home. (3.11.35)

When she's overwhelmed by the jail conditions, Mate calls out to her mother; she becomes a child again, in need of comfort and care.

A True Romantic

All of the girls have romantic feelings and fall in love at some point or another in the novel, but Mate is a bit love-crazy. She's obsessed with love, hearts, and cupid arrows. She's like a walking, talking valentine. As a child she's not too excited about sex [she writes in her diary that she is "hoping a new way will be found by the time I am old enough to be married" (1.3.39)], but she gets over the fear of cooties pretty quick when her cousins Berto and Raúl start coming around. (Oh, yeah, we know it's kind of weird to have crushes on your cousins, but these two dudes are too dreamy.)

For a while she is angry with men when she finds out about her father's second family, but she almost has to convince herself to feel that way:

I can't stop crying! My cute cousins Raúl and Berto are coming over, and I look a sight. But I don't care. I really don't.
I hate men. I really hate them.

It seems to be a case of protesting too much. She isn't too sad to notice the cuteness of the boys and get upset about her ugly cry face. Also, the repetition and the emphasis "really" she adds make it seem like she's trying to make herself be angry with men… which goes against her romantic nature.

Mate is even able to make prison into a romantic experience. When she and her sister are finally released, she writes a heartfelt journal entry:

What hurts is thinking of those I'm leaving behind.
Every time I look at Magdalena I have to look away.
I've learned so much from you, I tell her. This has been the most meaningful experience of my whole life, I tell her.
I'm going to start crying before the party even starts.

Mate has found a way for that love she has always felt to spill over and land on everyone around her—not just the cute boys. She thinks of her cellmates as her friends, especially Magdalena, her closest friend besides Minerva in prison. Her exaggerated style shows up here, too ("most meaningful experience of my life"), but that's just Mate's way.

My How You've Grown

The youngest butterfly, always seen as the baby of the family, really comes into her own with the revolution. She withstands torture without cracking, survives a prison sentence, and steadfastly continues visiting her husband and brothers-in-law in jail after she is out. But even when she grows up, on her last day of life, she still comes across as youthful.

The man who runs the restaurant where they make their last stop before the ambush remembers her:

He said at the last minute the cute one with the braids decided on ten cents' worth of Chiclets, cinnamon, yellow, green. He dug around in the jar but he couldn't find any cinnamon ones. He will never forgive himself that he couldn't find any cinnamon ones. (4.13.6)

The girlish wish for chewing gum fits with Mate's innocent personality.

That innocence never goes away, even when she has matured into a full-blown revolutionary. When she and her sisters invite Dedé to join their cell, she excitedly tells about their plans to assassinate Trujillo. Dedé asks if they themselves are going to do it, and Mate answers her comically:

"Heavens no," Mate said, horrified at the thought. "The Action Group does the actual justice, but then all the different cells will liberate their locations. We'll be taking the Salcedo Fortaleza." (3.9.80)

So Mate is fully ready to join the revolution, design and build bombs, and plan the assassination… but she wouldn't think of actually being the one to do it herself. That mix of innocent naiveté and adult bravery is the most grown-up she ever gets in her short life.

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