Sometimes Dedé worries that she has not kept enough from the children. But she wants them to know the living breathing women their mothers were. They get enough of the heroines from everyone else.

In Part II, chapter five, Dedé and Minou argue over Dedé’s decision to make Fela remove the altar in the shed, where she speaks to the spirits of the dead Mariposas on behalf of those who come to them for guidance and cures. Minou challenges Dedé’s assertion that the practice would be abhorrent to the Catholic Minerva because Dedé has already told Minou about Minerva’s falling out with the church. As the keeper of her sisters’ legacies, Dedé balances honoring their heroic deeds with making sure their children can know them as real people. Dedé draws a distinction between the version of the sisters she presents to visitors to the house and the private reality she owes to the family. Just as Dedé tells Minou she has the right to be herself, not only the daughter of a legend, the novel depicts the famous Mariposas as fully human, not only heroes. 

I hid my anxieties and gave everyone a bright smile. If they had only known how frail was their iron-will heroine. How much it took to put on that hardest of all performances, being my old self again.

After Minerva is released from prison, in Part III, chapter 12, she struggles to recover from pneumonia and from the psychological damage of her incarceration. Alvarez describes her as suffering from many symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, including flashbacks, sensory overload, and panicked overreactions to things that remind her of prison, such as the sound of Minou hitting a pipe on a railing. Nevertheless, she is aware that others count on her as an inspiration. Her time in prison has made her into an important symbol of the resistance movement, and so she cannot show that she is suffering mentally. In this passage, Minerva describes how she hides her weakness to look strong in public. Alvarez uses this moment to portray Minerva as a real, imperfect human being. Minerva fights back against the regime even while in prison, but even Minerva does not escape those conditions without paying a price. 

Minerva just got back with a very special secret. First, I told her my secret about B. and she laughed and said how far ahead of her I am. She says she has not been kissed for years! I guess there are some bad parts to being somebody everybody respects.

Eighteen-year-old Mate writes scene this in her diary in Part II, chapter seven, after Papá has died. In this section of the book, Alvarez illustrates Mate becoming aware of the revolution through Minerva while remaining largely focused on more typical teenage concerns, including romance. Her observation that Minerva’s intellectual reputation prevents her from being kissed provides a playful example of the problem of heroes not being seen as real people. In this chapter, Mate’s own path to heroism comes through her very human desire for romantic love, not in spite of it. Mate agrees with many of Minerva’s principles in theory, but states she will never take up arms for those beliefs. What changes her mind is not high-minded ideas but attraction to Leandro, whom she meets when he delivers guns to Minerva and Manolo. Falling in love with him sets Mate on the path that will lead to her becoming a hero. Like all the Mariposas, Mate is both heroic and fully human.