Study Guide

In the Time of the Butterflies Religion

By Alvarez, Julia

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"Sweet Patria, always her religion was so important."
"Always?" the woman says, just the slightest challenge in her voice.
"Always," Dedé affirms, used to this fixed, monolithic language around interviewers and mythologizers of her sisters. "Well, almost always." (1.1.31-33)

Patria is the character most strongly related to religion and the church, because she has been "good" and devoted to the church since childhood. That "almost" always introduces a doubt in her faithfulness though. It foreshadows not only her decision not to be a nun, but also the loss of faith that she experiences after the death of her baby.

"Padre Ignacio says fortunes are for those without faith." (1.1.56)

When Papá begins predicting all of his daughters' futures, Mamá grows uncomfortable. She blames her unease on the church's teachings; the priest says that fortunes are bad news. But perhaps she doesn't like what the predictions themselves are saying: that Dedé will outlive all of her family.

Looking back, she thinks, Ay, Mamá, ease up a little on those commandments. Work out the Christian math of how you give a little and you get it back a hundredfold. (1.1.56)

When Dedé remembers her mother's rigid faith, scolding her father, she thinks that their marriage might have gone a little bit better if her mother had used religion not to be strict but rather to be generous with love. In many ways that "Christian math" is the logic that leads Patria to the revolution.

At home, Trujillo hung on the wall by the picture of Our Lord Jesus with a whole flock of the cutest lambs. (1.2.57)

Every home in the Dominican Republic was required by law to display a photograph of Trujillo, like this one. Its proximity to the picture of Jesus in the Mirabal home gives the dictator and God equal weight, from a visual perspective.

I resolve not to think of clothes when I am in church.
I resolve to be chaste, as that is a noble thing to do. (Sor Asunción said we should all resolve this as young ladies in the holy Catholic and Apostolic church.) (1.3.59-60)

When Mate is a little girl she doesn't take her faith very seriously; she sees it as something that gets in the way of her worries about fashion. Mate just absorbs the nuns' teachings without thinking about why she should behave in any way; she just wants to fit in at this stage in her life, and religion is the way she is able to do so.

From the beginning, I felt it, snug inside my heart, the pearl of great price. No one had to tell me to believe in God or to love everything that lives. I did it automatically like a shoot inching its way towards the light. (1.4.1)

Once again Patria is quoting that Bible. This time she refers to a parable that Jesus told about a man who sold everything he had in order to buy one "pearl of great price." This is to say that faith is worth all possessions, and once you have it you will do anything to keep it.

For Three Kings, I asked for a crucifix for above my bed. Nights, I laid it beside me so that my hands, waking, could touch his suffering flesh instead and be tamed from their shameful wanderings. (1.4.28)

The Three Kings holiday commemorates the story of the three wise men bringing gifts to baby Jesus. Patria uses the occasion in a very holy way, asking for a crucifix to distract her from masturbating.

I had seen the next best thing to Jesus, my earthly groom. The struggle was over, and I had my answer, though it was not the one I had assumed I would get. (1.4.40)

Up until now, Patria had assumed she'd spend her life married to Jesus, her heavenly groom. But one look at Pedrito's hairy feet (hey, whatever floats your boat) and she kisses the nun's life goodbye. But notice that Patria still associates her attraction and marriage to Pedrito with a religious calling.

El Jefe was no saint, everyone knew that, but among the bandidos that had been in the National Palace, this one at least was building churches and schools, paying off our debts. Every week his picture was in the papers next to Monsignor Pittini, overseeing some good deed. (1.4.57)

At first Patria doesn't see what the big deal is with Trujillo. She expects politicians to be crooks, so that part isn't surprising, and the church's support for him convinces her that he isn't all bad. Monsignor Pittini was the archbishop of Santo Domingo, and is often accused of putting the country under Trujillo's rule.

I turned around and saw the packed pews, hundreds of weary, upturned faces, and it was as if I'd been facing the wrong way all my life. My faith stirred. It kicked and somersaulted in my belly, coming alive. […]

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. (1.4.125-128)

Patria loses her faith when her baby is born dead, so it's a nice image that when it comes back to her, it's as though she were impregnated with faith. She feels it like she would feel a fetus in her uterus, moving in her belly. But now she doesn't look up to find her faith, she finds it in the faces of the people around her.

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