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The novel “In the Time of Butterflies” is rich with Dominican culture and customs. Throughout the story we not only learn about their beliefs but also their government and how it affects their citizens on a day-to-day basis. The Dominican Republic is a vast region with many different customs and traditions and inspired the novel, “In the Time of Butterflies” while under the rule of dictator Rafael Trujillo. While their culture is very different than American culture, if you look beneath the surface, there are more similarities than some might think.
This particular Dominican story revolves around the Mirabal family, consisting of Patria, Minerva, Maria Teresa (also known as Mate), and Dede. It takes place from 1930 to 1961, during the time of El Jefe’s rule (Brown, 30). Three sisters are killed in a terrible car accident on the side of a cliff with one left to tell their story, Dede. The deaths of the three women are ruled as accidental, though they were amongst the leaders of the revolution against Gen.
Trujillo and the SIM were closing in on the people that posed a threat to the dictator. The novel tells the story of how Trujillo changed their lives from friends at school to being thrown in prison and murdered. The sisters are challenged with decisions to make that could cost them their lives as they try to overthrow their evil government. Even as young, innocent children they are exposed to the cruel truth of Trujillo’s rule (Alvarez, 19). Minerva is the first one to get involved into the politics of it all when her friend Sinita tells her about the death of her brother that was at Trujillo’s hands at a very young age (Alvarez, 18).
After that, all of the sisters get their hands dirty while helping to start the revolution against Trujillo, causing two of the sisters (Minerva and Mate) and three of their husbands to get thrown into prison. It is actually on the way home from visiting their husbands in jail when the fatal “car accident” happens.
“In the Time of Butterflies” wouldn’t be the same without Dominican culture and customs really livening up the story and pulling all of it together. The Mirabal sisters speak Spanish and are of the Roman Catholic faith, much like the rest of the Dominican Republic. The culture during Trujillo’s rule is similar to today in some ways, but also has major differences seeing that Trujillo was a cruel and discriminative ruler. During this time, religion was a major part of Dominican life, which is very common in most regions, such as the US. A lot of schools were religious, seeing that the Catholic church was very important in running a lot of Dominican schools. In the book, religion plays into so many things, such as when Patria begins to lose her faith when horrible things continuously happen to her (Alvarez, 53). Another way religion comes to play in the book is when the church stands up again Trujillo and makes a statement against him in front of all of their church members (Alvarez, 206). Dominican people valued family and loyalty to the family was a priority, again much like America. Extended family tends to live together or near each other, being that family is one of the most important things in Dominican culture.
Some customs from the Dominican Republic includes the holiday Three Kings Day where they commemorate the story of the three wise men bringing gifts to Jesus. One custom that is extremely popular in America as well as the Dominican Republic is Christmas. Both countries join in on the widely celebrated holiday along with multiple attractions to enjoy during the season. Food and dining is important to Dominican people, they have a standard dining etiquette that they use when guests come over, and expect the guest to return the same etiquette. Being that they used to be a Spanish colony, Spanish dishes are common in the Dominican Republic along with African and Taino dishes. One thing that is very different from America is that of their wedding customs. They have many superstitions that can help someone get married, like that of the US, but theirs are different such as bathing with the same soap as a bride prior to her marriage. One marriage custom they have in common with America is the throwing of the bouquet and the person to catch it is the next one to be married. Another marriage custom that is very, very different is in the Dominican it is not completely frowned upon and used to be tolerated by society was that a Dominican man could have a mistress (Brown, 89). Sometimes even the wife would tolerate her husband’s adultery. Even in the novel, the sisters’ father cheated on his wife and even had a seperate family with his mistress, though their mother did not divorce him when she found out about it (Alvarez, 92). In America, it is completely unacceptable and looked down upon to cheat at all, let alone against your married partner. Education in the Dominican Republic is kind of similar to education in America, with both public and private schools, but their education is split up differently and has different finances.
In conclusion, Dominican culture is very prominent in a story that focuses mostly on politics. The culture in the story is extremely fascinating and as you learn more about it, you see more similarities between American and Dominican culture. Through extreme loss and serious distress, the Mirabal family are one to look up to because of the way they faced those challenges. It is very nice to see that the family stayed together and kept their values through Trujillo’s rule. This book is a great representation of Dominican culture and customs, while also sharing an inspiring story about family, sisterhood, and doing what is right.
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