Study Guide

In the Time of the Butterflies Courage

By Alvarez, Julia

Courage

I started crying, but I pinched my arms to stop. I had to be brave for Sinita. (1.2.75)

Minerva is terrified by Sinita's story of extreme revenge on her family. She starts training for her future life as a revolutionary by disciplining her body; causing herself physical pain to make herself stop crying is, in her mind, equivalent to being brave for her friend. That physical self-control will come in handy during hunger strikes and enduring torture.

But when we got to this part, Sinita kept on stepping forward and didn't stop until she was right in front of Trujillo's chair. Slowly, she raised her bow and took aim. There was a stunned silence in the hall. (1.2.138)

Sinita's violent act is purely symbolic; we're pretty sure she doesn't have a real bow and arrow and isn't really going to shoot Trujillo from the stage. But her gesture is understood loud and clear by the regime and gets her into all sorts of trouble.

She seemed pretty impressed with my arguing back at her like that. She's always telling me to stand up for myself, but I guess she didn't figure I'd stand up to her. (1.3.95)

Minerva values courage above all else. When her baby sister, María Teresa, stands up to her, demanding that she explain where she's been sneaking off to, she is so impressed by the courage that she's willing to give in and spill her guts. This early manifestation of bravery foreshadows Mate's involvement in the movement later.

I asked Minerva why she was doing such a dangerous thing. And then, she said the strangest thing. She wanted me to grow up in a free country. (1.3.100)

Minerva's courage isn't an empty value. It has a motivation: a better future. She uses her younger sister as inspiration, the idea that she can grow up in a free country is what gives her the courage to meet in Don Horacio's house, even though it's highly illegal to do so.

But without a plan Dedé's courage unraveled like a row of stitches not finished with a good, sturdy knot. She couldn't bear reading in the papers how the police were rounding up people left and right. (2.5.120)

We can't help but feel for Dedé—she's painted as the cowardly sister because she didn't die with Patria, Minerva, and Mate. But actually are her fears really any different than theirs? Her courage is compared to a row of stitches coming undone—it was there, holding her together, but she forgot to seal it with a knot (maybe Jaimito's approval?) to keep it in place.

"Ay, Lío," she said at last, weary with so much hope, so little planning. "Where is it you get your courage?"

"Why, Dedé," he said, "it's not courage. It's common sense."

Common sense? Sitting around dreaming while the secret police hunted you down! (2.5.123-125)

Dedé depends on a plan in order to have courage. She needs to know exactly what the revolution is fighting for and how they'll get there. Unfortunately, no one is able to tell her, in detail, what the plan is. So her courage melts away with the idealistic, abstract thoughts.

Dedé was scared, and angry at herself for being so. She was growing more and more confused about what she wanted. (2.5.127)

Dedé is angry with herself for being frightened, but do you think that fear and courage are really opposed to one another? We think her sisters probably felt scared, too, but are able to act even in spite of their fears. Dedé's problem is that her fear wins the day, choosing her path for her.

He yanks me by the wrist, thrusting his pelvis at me in a vulgar way, and I can see my hand in an endless slow motion rise—a mind all its own—and come down on the astonished, made-up face. (2.6.147)

Okay, now we're really not sure if this is courage or insanity. Slapping the president? When he's a known killer? Minerva seems to just have a natural courage—when something is wrong (like Trujillo's nasty boy act) her body takes over and reacts before she thinks.

Like I said, it must have been the Lord's tongue in my mouth because back then, I was running scared. Not for myself but for those I loved. My sisters—Minerva, Mate—I was sick sometimes with fear for them, but they lived at a distance now, so I hid the sun with a finger and chose not to see the light all around me. (2.8.35)

While Minerva's hand has a mind of its own, slapping Trujillo, Patria's tongue is where she keeps her courage. She contributes her bravery to the Lord, and confesses that she chose not to look directly at what made her frightened (check out the nice image of the sun) when it was too much for her.

I got braver like a crab going sideways. I inched towards courage the best way I could, helping out with the little things. (2.8.56)

We love this simile that Patria uses to describe her political evolution. Crabs walk sideways, so it looks like they're sneaking up on things. Patria began her life as a revolutionary with little actions, sneaking up on her full-fledged rebel life.

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