Study Guide

Minerva Mirabal in In the Time of the Butterflies

By Alvarez, Julia

Minerva Mirabal

Minerva Mirabal, the third sister, is the ringleader of "the butterflies." She's the spunkiest, smartest sister, and arguably the bravest (though we think they're all really brave). Minerva is the one who brings the revolutionary connections to the family, and the first one to open her eyes to the injustice in society.

Restless

Even as a little girl Minerva is restless, knowing that she wants to study law. She argues with her mother long before the troubles start, telling her, "It's about time we women had a voice in running our country" (1.1.65). Even that kind of a statement is dangerous, because it could be seen as a criticism of Trujillo, but Minerva always says what she thinks.

She can't wait to get away to boarding school, to begin taking steps toward her dream. She likens herself to a bunny in a cage because she's always having to get permission for everything. She even goes so far as trying to set an actual bunny free, except that when she tries she can't make it bounce away:

But she wouldn't budge! She was used to her little pen. I kept slapping her, harder each time, until she started whimpering like a scared child. I was the one hurting her, insisting she be free.

Silly bunny, I thought. You're nothing at all like me. (1.2.4-5)

Minerva is like the bunny in the cage; she's grown up but confined to her house. But she, unlike the rabbit, is not used to her cage—she knows she wants to get out and can't wait until she gets the chance.

The restless Mirabal girl is jealous of her friends in the capital and is sure that they are having a much more exciting time than she is:

The worst part was getting newsy letters from Elsa and Sinita in the capital. They were taking a Theory of Errors class that would make Sor Asunción's hair stand on end even under her wimple. They had seen Tin-Tan in Tender Little Pumpkins, and been to the country club to hear Alberti and his band. And there were so many nice-looking men in the capital! (2.6.9)

Elsa and Sinita are living the dream that Minerva has planned for herself. The university classes, the culture, and, yes, the hawt guys all inspire her. It's everything she doesn't have access to at home, and she is dying to get out.

An Idealist

Even though Minerva is a little bit of a rebel (okay, a lot bit) she bases her rebellion on her principles. She's actually really idealistic, always looking for justice in every little thing. For example, when she first meets Sinita she asks if they can sleep next to each other instead of getting assigned beds alphabetically:

Sor Milagros hesitated, but then a sweet look came on her face. Sure, she said. But when some other girls asked, she said no. I spoke right up, "I don't think it's fair if you just make an exception for us." (1.2.30)

Even though Minerva has what she and her friend want, it's not enough. She thinks that the same rules should be applied to everyone so that no one is more or less privileged than anyone else. These are the idealistic politics she'll carry into later life.

When she gets involved with Lío her politics are compromised by her temptation to fall in love with him. But her ideals are stronger:

All I knew was I was not falling in love, no matter how deserving I thought Lío was. So what? I'd argue with myself. What's more important, romance or revolution? But a little voice kept saying, Both, both, I want both. Back and forth my mind went, weaving a yes by night and unraveling it by day to a no. (2.6.24)

Her daytime ideals win out.

Her idealism doesn't die in prison, either. Mate complains to her journal about her sister's principles:

We could have been out with Miriam and Dulce a whole week ago. But no, we Mirabals had to set a good example. Accepting a pardon meant we thought we had something to be pardoned for. Also, we couldn't be free unless everyone else was offered the same opportunity. (3.11.99)

So the point is that Minerva puts her money where her mouth is.

A Better World

Why is Minerva the way she is? What gives her the strength to stay in jail when she could escape? There are clues in the novel that tell us it's her belief in a better world, a better future for her country.

For example, when the girls are away at school, Minerva tries to stop her breasts from developing so that she won't ever catch Trujillo's eye and end up like her friend Lina (1.2.107). She believes that she can control destiny and escape the authoritarian regime.

When Mate asks her why she is doing such a dangerous thing as going to secret, forbidden meetings, Minerva says, "the strangest thing. She wanted me to grow up in a free country" (1.3.100). She is thinking of her sister, nine years younger than she is, and perhaps her future children. She risks her life for theirs.

It's the same story when her father is imprisoned. Minerva spends so much time helping an old man fill out his form that she misses her turn to ask about her father:

Mamá sighs when I tell her that we have to come back tomorrow. "Ay, m'ijita," she says. "You're going to fight everyone's fight, aren't you?"

"It's all the same fight, Mamá," I tell her.
(2.6.229-230)

Mamá is really only thinking about their case, but Minerva is thinking about the whole society. She believes that her actions don't affect just her, but her entire country. It's all one big fight.

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