Motifs are recurring structures, contrasts, or literary devices that can help to develop and inform the text’s major themes.

Rain and Storms

Alvarez uses the motif of rain and stormy weather throughout the novel to indicate times of danger and suffering. The storm during the Discovery Day Dance and the long rainy period that follows exemplifies this pattern. The dance is a time of exposure and danger for the family, and for Minerva in particular, as they are called upon to present themselves to Trujillo. Placed in an impossible position, Minerva insults and strikes Trujillo, a shocking moment that brings his wrath down on the family. At the same time, the storm breaks, bringing destruction to the party. Alvarez describes the rain as “slapping” the tables, a deliberate echo of Minerva’s slap. The rain continues through the whole period of Papá’s subsequent imprisonment, with the sound of thunder compared to soldiers firing guns at the house and again on the day of his funeral, symbolizing a long period of struggle and sorrow for the Mirabals.


Pilgrimage is one of the structural motifs of the novel. The framing device of the story is the pilgrimage made by the Interviewer to meet Dedé and to worship the Mariposas at the shrine of their family home. Throughout the book, characters make journeys that transform them. Patria has profound revelations on pilgrimages to Higüey, where she first turns her faith outward, finding the spirit of the Virgin Mary in the crowd of people gathered to visit the holy image there. Later, on her retreat to the mountains with the women of her church, she witnesses soldiers killing a young revolutionary, inspiring her to fully embrace the cause of revolution as an extension of her religious faith.

While Minerva and Mate are in prison, Dedé and Mamá make regular journeys to La Victoria. Like religious pilgrims, they travel less with the belief they will really see the prisoners than with the hope that they might encounter a sign, such as Mate’s black towel hung from the window, to give them continued faith that the girls are alive. On one of their later trips, they bring baby Margarita and hold her up for Mate to see, as if they are bringing Mate an offering of hope. When the men are in prison, the Mariposas make similar journeys to Puerto Plato to visit Manolo and Leandro. In the Epilogue, people who saw the Mariposas in their final days or who heard the sounds of the crash journey to Dedé, whose role as the surviving sister is to receive them and hear their testimony. She describes herself as the oracle, the object of pilgrims from all over the country and even, like the Interviewer, beyond its borders, to whom she represents the chance to connect with the martyred Mariposas beyond the grave. 

The Virgin Mary

Throughout the book, Alvarez uses the Virgin Mary, the patron saint of the Dominican Republic, as a source of strength for the main characters and as a symbol of an authentic Dominican authority, in contrast to Trujillo. While images of Jesus are often found beside images of the dictator, Mary is found in opposition, for instance, on the opposite side of Dedé’s fan. Patria has a special association with Mary. Mary speaks to her during her pilgrimage to Higuey, directing her to turn her faith towards helping the people of the Dominican Republic overcome Trujillo’s regime. When Mamá calls out to the Virgencita, Patria answers, “I am here.” At the time of the retreat to the mountains that pushes Patria to fully commit to the revolution, Patria finds safety from the bombing by pushing a statue of Mary out of its niche, taking its place literally and also metaphorically. While she spends the bombing praying for the safety of her unborn child, by the end of the scene, she understands herself to be like Mary, the symbolic mother of the boy she sees the soldiers kill and of all Dominicans fighting for freedom. That internal transformation leads her to devote herself to the revolution as a sacred task, becoming Mariposa #3.