Study Guide

In the Time of the Butterflies Society and Class

By Alvarez, Julia

Society and Class

"Enrique, those girls need some learning. Look at us." Mamá had never admitted it, but I suspected she couldn't even read.

"What's wrong with us?" Papá countered […]. In the last few years, Papá had made a lot of money from his farm. Now we had class. And, Mamá argued, we needed the education to go along with our cash. (1.2.13-14)

The change in cash flow has changed the family's position in society. Rather than being poor, struggling farmers, they now are firmly part of the upper classes. Mamá recognizes that while poor families might get away with having uneducated daughters, now that they are rich they must educate their daughters so that they can marry well and take care of their own property.

"Charity student," the gossip went round. "So?" I challenged the giggly girl with curls like hiccups, who whispered it to me. She shut up real quick. It made me glad all over again I'd given Sinita that button. (1.2.28)

Minerva shows her sympathy with all classes at an early age—she quickly makes friends with the girl who is obviously poor (the worn-out clothes and shoes give it away). By defending Sinita she elevates her friend in the eyes of their classmates, transcending the class division between them.

I thought she was always poor, but it turned out her family used to be rich and important. Three of her uncles were even friends of Trujillo. But they turned against him when they saw he was doing bad things. (1.2.53)

One of the ways that Trujillo maintained control of people in the country was by punishing their entire family by ruining their finances. Sinita's family went from rich to poor by losing all of the moneymaking men in the family.

Now that Papá had become rich, he got invited to a lot of official parties and functions. (2.6.51)

Trujillo takes notice of whoever has money in the country, so that he can keep tabs on who has resources to make any moves against him. That way he can keep the rich on a short leash. Anyone who gets out of hand will be ruined in short order, like Sinita's family.

Meanwhile, Jaimito's father is calling on his colonel friend to see how the fire can be put out. Pedrito is visiting the in-laws of Don Petán, one of Trujillo's brothers, who are friends of his family. Whatever strings can be pulled, in other words, are being yanked. (2.6.164)

After the family leaves Trujillo's party early, they have to do everything they can to calm the general's wrath. Anyone who has any sort of social or political clout is being called upon to do what they can, put in a good word, or call in a favor to save the family's skins.

I am so hoping that now that Minerva has found a special someone, she'll settle down. I mean, I agree with her ideas and everything. I think people should be kind to each other and share what they have. But never in a million years would I take up a gun and force people to give up being mean.

Minerva calls me her little petit bourgeois. (2.7.73-74)

Mate hasn't yet come all the way over to the revolutionary side. She thinks that by marrying Minerva will get rid of her crazy communist ideas because she'll be entering into traditional society. That "never in a million years" thing is ironic, given that very soon Mate will be in the bomb-building business.

The only consolation is that if I was hot, "Queen" Angelita must have been burning up.

Imagine, in this heat wearing a gown sprinkled with rubies, diamonds, and pearls, and bordered with 150 feet of Russian ermine. It took 600 skins to make that border! All this was published in the paper like we should be impressed. (2.7.171-172)

When the women are forced to march in "support" of Trujillo (can you call it support if it's required?), his daughter Angelita presides over the parade. Her show of wealth, with jewels and fur, is ridiculous in the tropical heat, but it's meant to elevate her above the ranks of the common people.

Mate and Leandro had already had two different addresses in a year of marriage. Renters, they called themselves, the city word for the squatters we pity here in the country. (2.8.8)

Patria is showing her snobby side here. For her, owning land, like she and Pedrito and her parents do, is the only way to be respectable. Her sisters and their husbands are pitiable because they rent. Of course, she doesn't realize yet that Mate and Leandro aren't settling down because they're working on a bigger scheme than just a farm.

"All human beings are born with rights derived from God that no earthly power can take away."
[…]
"To deny these rights is a grave offense against God, against the dignity of man."
[…]
The church had at last thrown in its lot with the people! (3.10.65-71)

The letter read in the pulpits on the Sunday that the Catholic Church in the Dominican Republic finally decides to take a stand against Trujillo uses the language of human rights, aligning them with religious principles. Check out the UN's Declaration of Human Rights and for a comparison.

She says we don't want to create a class system in our cell, the haves and have nots. (We don't? What about when Tiny gave Dinorah a dulce de leche as payment for her favors, and she didn't offer anyone a crumb, even Miguelito?)

Minerva gives me a speech about how Dinorah's a victim of our corrupt system, which we are helping to bring down by giving her some of our milk fudge. (3.11.69-70)

Minerva takes her communist ideals to the prison cell, forcing her sister to share anything their family sends in the secret care packages with the other prisoners. This is her way of spreading her revolutionary messages through actions, not just words. Even though the other prisoners aren't "politicals" but rather just common criminals, she wants to convert them to her cause.

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