Discussion Questions

Questions about style and author’s choice

1. What value/benefits does having different characters’ perspectives in the first person have? What potential challenges do you think the author had while writing this way?


2. Why would the author choose to write this book as fiction instead of nonfiction? She gives some thoughts about this topic in the postscript – what do you think of them? Do you think that books should completely abide by the facts as much as possible, or is it okay to “take liberties” while writing the book?


3. Pick out parts or sentences of the novel where you think Alvarez employed especially good writing. Why do you like these parts?


4. What did you think of Alvarez’s choice to include herself in the book as the person interviewing Dedé?


5. What do you think of the author’s choice to write Maria Teresa’s parts as diary entries? How does this format add to the book?


6. How do you feel about the sudden jumps through time in this novel? Do you think it adds to the story when Dedé is physically in the present and recalls the past? Why or why not?


Questions about characters


1. Where do you see hints of Minerva valuing freedom, even before the revolution?


2. When and how does Minerva first discover that Trujillo isn’t actually the holy figure she thinks he is? How does this affect her? (see Minerva’s first chapter)


3. Describe Minerva’s interaction with Trujillo at the Discovery Day Dance. What does he do that makes her uncomfortable? What does she do in return? (p. 97-100)


4. On p. 138, what shock does Minerva get? Why do you think Trujillo did this?


5. Why does Minerva decline the pardon from prison (p. 236)? What do you think about this decision – would you go along with her? How does Maria Teresa feel about it?




1. When and how does Dedé first find out about Trujillo’s real agenda? How does it affect her? (p. 75)


2. On p. 83, what does Dedé do that is a shift in her character up to that point? How is this event different from what you would expect her to do?


3.On p. 180, what life-altering decision does Dedé make and why? How does the revolution get in the way? What happens?


4. How does Dedé’s relationship with Jaimito negatively impact her involvement in the revolution? Would she have had a role that was equal to those of her sisters if she were with Lío? Why or why not?




1. In Patria’s first chapter, what is the decision she is struggling to make (or what is she waiting for)? What happens to push her to make up her mind, and what does she finally decide? Why do you think she chose that path? How does she explain her choice? What does this say about her?


2. What realization does Patria have on p. 58? Why is this significant?


3. What is the significance and meaning of Patria “praying” to the portrait of Trujillo hanging in the entryway on p. 202?




Maria Teresa

1. When and how does Maria Teresa first find out about Trujillo’s real agenda? How does it affect her? (see Maria Teresa’s first chapter)


2.What disturbing event happened to Maria Teresa in prison? What does this scene in the novel bring forward about the power of Trujillo’s regime? What does the format of this section do to enhance its significance? (p. 254)




1. What role does Lío Morales play in the book? What is his relationship like with each sister?

    • What is Lío’s relationship with Minerva? (Minerva herself describes this relationship on p. 86).
    • On p. 76, Dedé doesn’t understand the relationship between Minerva and Lío . What do you think the author is trying to convey here?



Questions about themes

1. What do people in the Dominican Republic think about Trujillo before signs of the revolution? What happenings in the book support this mindset?


2. Papa says on p. 23, “‘Lina Lovaton is just a sad case, because she really does love him.’” How does Lina’s experience with Trujillo mirror that of the people’s experience with him? Do some research – how do autocrats exercise their power and image to keep hold of their people? Where are these kinds of methods shown in the book?


3. Compare and contrast the roles of the men versus the roles of the women in this novel. Would you say that these go against “traditional” gender roles? Why or why not? 


4.Where do you see feminist arguments in this novel?


5. What role does the Mirabal family’s faith play in times of hardship? Why do you think it is a significant part of the novel?


6. On p. 217, Patria says about Captain Peña, “The devil I was so used to seeing disappeared, and for a moment. . .I saw an overgrown fat boy, ashamed of himself for kicking the cat and pulling the wings off butterflies.” First of all, how does this sentence have a double meaning? Second of all, what do you think about the balance of evil and good/remorse in people? Is anyone actually completely evil?


7. If the Mirabal sisters were men instead, do you think this story would have carried as much weight and been as popular?




Questions about general comprehension

1. How are the living conditions in the prison in which Minerva and Mate are being kept? How does this relate to today’s conditions for immigrants?


2. On p. 122, what two sections of poems are quoted? What are they saying? What do you think – which poem do you agree with more? How do these poems illustrate differences between Minerva and Maria Teresa?


3. What happens on p. 160 at the church, and what did the priests (and churchgoers) form as a result? Would you expect the church to do this?


4. The Mirabal residence is constantly surrounded by spies during the later parts of the novel. What are some “tricks” or actions the Mirabal sisters take against theses spies? How do they respond to the spies’ reactions?


5.What signs do the sisters have of their impending doom at the end of the book? Do they listen to those signals? Why or why not? Do you think that they thought their deaths were inevitable?


In the Time of the Butterflies Homepage

Jenna Whiting, Emily Fishel, & Noah Aungst, 2019

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