Study Guide

Patria Mercedes Mirabal de González in In the Time of the Butterflies

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Patria Mercedes Mirabal de González

Patria, the eldest Mirabal sister and butterfly number three, is the slowest of the three sisters to join the struggle because she takes her time and must choose what she believes is the right path. That commitment to her values reflects the importance of faith and religion to Patria throughout her life; she was born reaching up into the heavens and attempts to do right ever after.

Goody Two-Shoes

Patria made life hard for her younger sisters… but not by bullying them. No, instead she set way too high of a standard, so that it would be impossible to live up to. She was the perfect child. "From the beginning, I was so good, Mamá said she'd forget I was there" (1.4.5). That ease makes it so most people (even us readers) don't really worry too much about Patria—she can not only take care of herself but will take care of everyone else, too.

Even Patria thinks of herself as a goody-goody. She quotes the Bible and follows it, too:

Build your house upon a rock, He said, do my will. And though the rain fall and the floods come and the winds blow, the good wife's house will stand.
I did as he said. At sixteen I married Pedrito González and we settled down for the rest of our lives.

For the first thirty-two years of her life, Patria has an uneventful existence, following God's plan for her life. She believes that she has built her life (her house) on a firm foundation, a rock (her faith). For her, that's enough to know that her family will be safe no matter what.

When she loses her family to the SIM, Patria has a harder time believing in God's plan. When she thinks of her teenaged son, beaten and imprisoned, she breaks down: "I've been good," I'd start screaming at the sky, undoing the "recovery" (3.10.15). Patria's goodness has been like a bargain with God… and He doesn't keep his side of the deal.

Wife and Mother

Even as a little girl, Patria is clearly cut out to be a mother. She's less than a year older than Dedé, but she takes care of her baby sister as though she were her own:

One morning, [Mamá] found me changing Dedé's wet diaper, but what was funny was that I hadn't wanted to disturb Mamá for a clean one, so I had taken off mine to put on my baby sister. (1.4.5)

Talking about giving the shirt off your back. Although we'd definitely prefer a hand-me-down shirt to a diaper.

After her first couple of kids, several years go by and Patria is surprised by another pregnancy, long after she expected to have any more babies. By this time her revolutionary ideals have taken root in her heart, and she combines her motherly calling with her guerrilla one: 

On my own I would never have thought of naming my son after revolutionaries. "Ernesto," I said, "I'm going to name him Raúl Ernesto." (2.8.31)

She names her son after the heroes of the Cuban revolution.

When her son Nelson and husband Pedrito are imprisoned, Patria turns into the ultimate self-sacrificing mother. She offers herself daily in prayer, to both God and Trujillo, in exchange for her boy. She tells the portrait of Trujillo,

Hear my cry, Jefe. Release my sisters and their husbands and mine. But most especially, I beg you, oh Jefe, give me back my son.

"Take me instead, I'll be your sacrificial lamb." (3.10.30-31)

This prayer is a little perverse, given that it's directed at Patria's number one enemy instead of her god, but the offer is pure.

Avenging Angel

Patria's religion is what finally brings her around to joining the revolution with Minerva and Mate. She first finds her sympathy with the people on her pilgrimage to see the Virgin Mary in Higüey:

I stared at her pale, pretty face and challenged her. Here I am Virgencita. Where are you?
And I heard her answer me with the coughs and cries and whispers of the crowd: Here, Patria Mercedes, I'm here, all around you. I've already more than appeared.

After the death of her third baby, Patria doesn't feel any connection to her faith anymore. By hearing the Virgin's answer in the crowd, she begins to place her faith on earth, with the people, rather than in heaven.

It is on another religious journey that Patria has her second epiphany. After the attack on the retreat in the mountains, she comes down with a new kind of faith, a revolutionary one:

Then I tried looking up at our Father, but I couldn't see His Face for the dark smoke hiding the tops of those mountains.

I made myself pray so I wouldn't cry. But my prayers sounded more like I was trying to pick a fight.

"I'm not going to sit back and watch my babies die, Lord, even if that's what You in Your great wisdom decide." (2.8.114-116)

The smoke of the shelling and fighting has obscured the sky, where Patria used to look for guidance. Now she must look inside of herself to know what's right, and she finds the answer: fighting.

She joins the new action group that the priest organizes, and the priest notices the change in Patria. She has become an avenging angel for the Lord and the revolution: "We would spread the word of God among our brainwashed campesinos who had hunted down their own liberators" (2.8.130). Now she is using her religion as a tool for resistance, and missionary work is also spreading the ideals of the revolution.

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