Summary: Chapter 6
What do you want, Minerva Mirabal?
Minerva, who graduated three years prior, is bored and “restless with jealousy” of her friends who are living in the capital. One day, on a “getaway rampage,” she drives down the roads that weave throughout their property. She sees the family’s Ford parked in front of a yellow house. She’s never met the campesino (farmer) family that lives there. One day, she asks the children at the house who their father is and discovers that the four “raggedy” girls are her Papá’s children.
One afternoon, Minerva is resting in Papá’s room, where it’s most cool. In his armoire, she finds a fancy invitation, and four letters addressed to her from Lío. She reads them. Why, he asks, hasn’t she responded to his plan for her to leave the country? What plan, she wonders. By the fourth letter, he guesses she’s not ready. Would my life be different, she speculates after reading the letters, if I had known my choices?
Angry, Minerva races to the yellow house. Papá is there. As he approaches, tears stream down her face. She backs the car up and speeds away. That night, Minerva and Papá have an angry encounter. He slaps her, and she tells him that he’s lost her respect.
Discovery Day Dance
Trujillo has invited the family to a party, and he’s included a special invitation to Minerva, who caught his eye at a previous party. The week before the party, Minerva takes Papá to the doctor. After the appointment, he lets her take him to visit his other children, and introduces Minerva to Carmen, his mistress, and their children.
The family arrives late to the party. Minerva is forced to dance with Trujillo who suspects she’s involved with Virgilio Morales, which she denies. When Trujillo obscenely thrusts himself at Minerva, she slaps him hard across the face. Saved by the weather, the rain comes down in sheets and the crowd rushes indoors. Minerva and her family leave the party before Trujillo does, which is against the law. In her rush, Minerva has left her purse behind. Inside it are the letters from Lío.
Two days later, Governor de la Maza brings Papá in for questioning. He suggestively tells Minerva that there is a way she can help her father, which infuriates Mamá. The government detains Papá in a hotel somewhere in the capital. Meanwhile, Minerva brings money to Carmen and her children. She tells Carmen that she wants to enroll Carmen’s children in school. Women need a chance, she tells her. Minerva hugs Carmen.
Minerva and Mamá go to the capital to search the hotels where Papá might be detained. The next morning, soldiers take Minerva in and interrogate her about Lío. She says that she and Lío are friends and they are not in touch. The officers want her to see Trujillo that night, to “bypass the red tape.” Minerva refuses.
After three weeks under house arrest at a hotel, Minerva and Mamá have an audience with El Jefe (Trujillo). They give him a letter of apology from the Mirabal family and secure Papá’s release. Minerva tells Trujillo she wishes to go to law school. Trujillo tells Minerva he wishes to sleep with her. They roll Trujillo’s dice to see which one will get their wish. Minerva knows the dice are loaded, reaches for the heavier pair, and rolls, landing a double. Trujillo takes the dice from her, and also rolls a double. He tells her that either they both get their wishes or they’ll just call it even for now. Minerva looks him in the eye and chooses even.
Analysis: Chapter 6
Secrets, a motif throughout the book, continue to define life for the Mirabals. In the first portion of the chapter, the secrets are within the family. Minerva discovers the second family Papá has kept hidden from them. Later, she discovers that he purposely withheld the letters Lío sent asking her to leave the country with him. These secrets cause a fight between Minerva and Papá and a rift in their relationship. It is only healed when Minerva insists on accompanying him to the other family’s home and introduces herself to them, a gesture she describes to Papá as “things a woman does.” This scene juxtaposes the actions men in the novel, such as acts of unfaithfulness, against the actions of women, implying it is a woman’s role to bind people together.
Minerva champions education and opportunities for women throughout the book, one important theme of the Butterflies’ work as feminist icons. In addition to continuing to advocate for her own dream of law school, Minerva arranges for her illiterate half-sisters to be enrolled in school. She and Carmen María agree that women need education in order to have better lives, and that agreement forms the bond that leads Minerva to embrace her.
A theme of frustration and misunderstood desire runs through this chapter. Minerva is rumored not to like men, but the truth is that she wants to go to law school more than she wants a romantic life, although that is not considered an appropriate desire for women. Lío desires a romantic connection with Minerva, but she does not feel the same way. When Minerva meets Papá’s other daughters, they rush at her car. But when she asks what they want, they have no answer. Minerva refuses to acquiesce to Trujillo’s sexual desire for her, at great cost to her family. When they meet again to negotiate Papá’s release from prison, she boldly tells him she wants to go to law school, further underscoring the importance of fighting for women’s education. However, when they tie at their dice game, neither Minerva nor Trujillo gets what they desire.
Storms and rain symbolize danger and suffering throughout the novel. Minerva and her family flee Trujillo’s party as a storm begins, hoping to use the commotion as an excuse for their disappearance. Minerva grabs the ship table decoration as a gift for María Teresa but leaves behind her purse in the chaos. The purse contains the letters from Lío that serve as proof she has both lied to Trujillo about her association with a noted dissident and humiliated him by denying his sexual advances. Thus, the purse metaphorically traps her in the storm with it. After, Minerva feels an object against her leg and briefly believes she hasn’t left the purse after all. But what she actually feels is a small, decorative ship, “sunk” in the folds of her dress. Ultimately, the regime discovers the purse, along with the letters inside, and uses them as evidence to imprison Papá, a time period marked in the book by endless rain.
Trujillo and Minerva meet twice in this chapter, each time a power struggle. Trujillo seems to have more than enough political and social power to control a young woman he desires, yet Minerva evades him both times, albeit at great cost to herself and her family. At the dance, he uses social position, charm, and finally physical might to attempt to capture her, but she rebels despite the danger, slapping him and then running away from the party without permission. After Papá is arrested, she refuses a meeting with Trujillo without her mother present, effectively blocking him from demanding sexual favors in exchange for her father’s release from prison. While in his office, Minerva notices that the scales on his desk, supposedly representing justice, hold loaded dice. This image is an example of irony, a symbol of the deceit at the core of the government. Seeing an opportunity to take advantage of his corruption, she agrees when he offers to toss dice to determine whether she gets her wish to go to law school or he gets his wish to sleep with her. Trujillo assumes he will win, but because Minerva sees that the dice are loaded, they tie. She cannot fully defeat Trujillo, but she does prevent him winning.