Summary: Chapter 9
1994 and 1960

As the interview ends and the woman is leaving, Minou, Minerva’s daughter appears. She reports that Fela has not heard from the sisters and thinks they must be at rest. The sisters have been with me all afternoon, Dedé tells Minou. Minou asks Dedé why she did not join her sisters in the resistance. Dedé tells her the story.

Patria had come to Dedé one day and asked if they could bury some boxes in the cacao fields on the property. Dedé’s husband, Jaimito, refuses to allow it. Dedé sends a note informing Patria of Jaimito’s decision, but she’s embarrassed, and avoids her sisters.

The three sisters show up at Dedé’s house. An assassination of Trujillo is being planned. They ask Dedé to join their cell, and tell her she can invite Jaimito. Dedé tells them Jaimito will leave her if she joins them. But Dedé decides she will attend the meeting at Patria’s. She will leave Jaimito. 

Dedé hears Lío on the radio, and is now more determined than ever to join her sisters. She worries, though, about the fate of her boys. She arranges to get advice from a priest, against the wishes of Jaimito. She makes her way to the parish where she sees pine boxes filled with guns in the vestibule. She knows there are guns in them, Padre de Jesus has joined the resistance, but Dedé is too afraid. She returns to an empty house, Jaimito having taken the boys to his mother’s.. Manolo and Minerva, who take Dedé to her mother-in-law’s home, tell Jaimito that Dedé hasn’t been to any of their meetings, and Dedé says she went to see the priest to try to save their marriage. Jaimito tells her she cannot have the boys if she joins the resistance. Dedé realizes the chance to leave him has passed.

The terror begins a week later. SIM (secret police) officers arrest Leandro, and then Pedrito, Nelson, and Manolo. And a few days later, Dedé must pick up Minou because her mother, Minerva has been arrested and taken to prison. When Dedé arrives back at Mamá’s, Captain Peña, head of the northern division of the SIM, arrests María Teresa. 

After Minerva and María Teresa are finally released from prison and living with Patria and their children at Mamás, Dedé visits regularly, and argues with Minerva. Rumors are everywhere that Trujillo wants Minerva killed. Strangers approach Dedé and tell her to “take care of our girls.” Other times she receive notes: “tell the butterflies to avoid the road to Puerto Plata. It’s not safe.” A dark night is falling, thinks Dedé, “the center of hell maybe.”

Summary: Chapter 10
January to March 1960

Patria has lost her house, husband, son, and peace of mind. Yet, she slowly recovers from the trauma. She lives with Mamá in Mamá’s new house. It will be three months before she can see her husband, Nelson, María Teresa, or Minerva. 

Patria, who’s mantra during this period has been “And on the third day he rose again,” senses the “resurrection gathering speed.” At Mass, Padre Gabriel preaches a sermon about justice and human dignity. All over the country, the Church is waking up to the injustice. The following week, Trujillo sends people to desecrate the church, but they are chased out by the women.

One day, a woman comes to the house and gives Patria a note. María Teresa has written from prison! Patria can now send supplies to her sisters through this woman’s intermediary. Patria offers the woman money, which she refuses. Instead, she hands Patria a card with her name on the back, “Margarita Mirabal, to serve you.” She is Papá’s daughter with Carmen. 

Margarita continues to bring notes from the sisters, and Patria continues to ask Captain Peña for permission to visit them. Weeks pass, and Peña arrives with news. He has three visitor passes, and Nelson will be in the next round of prisoners released. The family goes to the National Palace for the release. They bring along Tío Chiche, a favorite of Trujillo, as a form of insurance. Because of Trujillo’s lustful tendencies, Patria keeps Noris close during the release. They take Nelson home.

Summary: Chapter 11
María Teresa
March to August 1960

María Teresa’s diary describes prison life. She writes about her cell, the women in it, and their daily routines. She daydreams about her daughter, Jacqui, and commits to doing one good thing for a cellmate, every day. Meanwhile, she is losing weight, and can’t keep her food down. The girls wear crucifixes that Patria had smuggled in, but guards confiscate them and Minerva is thrown into solitary confinement for what the authorities call the Crucifix Plot. 

After seventy-seven days, Mamá and Patria are allowed to visit. They share the news that Nelson is free and Leandro is alive. Next week, they’ll bring Jacqueline so that María Teresa can see her from the window. Meanwhile, María Teresa’s period is late, she thinks she might be pregnant, but begins bleeding. When the bleeding stops she writes, “I’ve either bled a baby or had a period. And no one had to do a thing about it after the SIM got to me.” She had been tortured in order to put pressure on a male prisoner (we don’t know who) to give up information. 

The girls use María Teresa’s hair to hide notes, which Patria can carefully slip in and out of her braid when in the visiting hall. News of the assassination attempt on Trujillo is smuggled into the prison in this way.

After she and Minerva are released from prison, María Teresa anonymously gives the diary entry describing the horrific torture she endured to the OAS (Organization of American States) Committee investigating Human Rights Abuses. 

Summary: Chapter 12
August to November 25, 1960

Minerva describes the sensory overload of coming home on house arrest after being in prison for seven months, and in solitary for much of that time. Her mind spins with thoughts of the past, of Papá’s funeral, of slapping Trujillo in the face, of her newborn baby girl. She thinks, I’m falling apart. Slowly memories fade into stories that she and María Teresa tell over and over “until the sting was out of them.”

Captain Peña makes frequent supervisory visits, always reminding the girls of Trujillo’s generosity towards them. Guards are at the house day and night, snooping and listening to every conversation. 

Mamá hides their radio from Minerva so she is cut off from the news. But every week, an old friend obtains a pass to visit and brings news. One day, she reports that the OAS has imposed sanctions. The sisters celebrate this news, and dress up for their weekly visit to see their husbands in prison. Dedé comes over the night before these visits, hoping to talk her sisters out of going. She fears they will be attacked in-route, and in the least, should not all travel together. Their favorite driver, Rufino, assures her he will not let anything happen to the butterflies. But Trujillo’s cruelty only increases with more arrests, and prison visits are suspended. 

When prison visits are allowed to resume, the sisters discover that men are being taken out of their prison cells in small groups and killed. Minerva resolves that the butterflies will not give up. News reaches Mamá’s house that Trujillo says he has two problems: “the damn church and the Mirabal sisters.” Though cautioned that they shouldn’t visit their husbands, Patria insists they will not abandon them. They receive news that Manolo and Leandro are being moved to Puerto Plata, closer but over a mountain pass. 

On one of their visits to Puerto Plata, Rufino picks up a young soldier. He tells the sisters about a rumor he’s heard that the two political prisoners who arrived recently will be returned to the capital in a few weeks’ time. This news doesn’t make sense to Minerva. The next day, the three sisters go to the prison. Mamá doesn’t go with them, which terrifies Dedé. Surely the authorities would not harm her sisters if they were traveling with an old woman. On the way, Patria, María Teresa, and Minerva notice Captain Peña’s car parked near one of Trujillo’s abandoned estates along the road. Thoughts of ambush cross their minds, and when they arrive at the prison, their husbands are angry that they have come alone. The men want the sisters to stay the night, but they start back up the mountain that afternoon. Minerva expects to see lights on in the abandoned mansion.

Analysis: Chapters 9–12

In this section of the book, Minerva, María Teresa, and Patria become Las Mariposas, the Butterflies. Taking on the name Mariposa symbolizes their transformation into full revolutionaries. As caterpillars transform into butterflies while hidden in cocoons, the sisters undergo their transformations in secret as well. Although María Teresa is living in Minerva and Manolo’s tiny house, she only discovers Minerva’s new identity when she accidentally meets Leandro, who is secretly delivering a crate of weapons. When María Teresa becomes Mariposa #2, she must continue attending university classes to maintain her cover identity as an architecture student. Patria’s house becomes the motherhouse of the movement, her identity as devoted wife and mother melding with and simultaneously obscuring her life as Mariposa #3. Their revolutionary activities occur in place of womanly domesticity, guns sorted in the frilly pink haven of Noris’s bedroom, bombs called Nipples assembled at the kitchen table using María Teresa’s embroidery skills to handle the wires. The Butterflies are heroes because of their femininity, not in spite of it, further underscoring the theme of feminism found throughout the novel.

María Teresa’s diary is filled with young men she is attracted to and who compete for her attention, but it is meeting Leandro that causes her to focus that energy on one man and on the movement. Although her initial involvement is based on a desire to be part of whatever he is working for, she throws herself whole-heartedly into the struggle for the rest of her life. Alvarez uses this transformation to challenge the common idea that youth and especially girlishness is incompatible with serious thought and activism. María Teresa is a hero and a young, vivacious woman. She is no less a revolutionary because she enjoys clothes and fun. At the same time, the seriousness of her life and the suffering of the family after Papá’s death is underscored by María Teresa’s recurring nightmare of her father in his coffin, covered by the satin pieces of her wedding gown. Each time she has the dream, she pulls the cloth away to find a different man dead in the box, and she screams and drops her “contaminated” wedding dress. The dream foreshadows the losses coming for all the sisters.

While María Teresa is full of youthful adventure and excitement, Patria has, as the Bible commands, built her house upon the rock, part of the theme of religion in the novel. When she discovers that Nelson wants to join the revolution, she panics and seeks stability where she has always found it: the church. However, as her pilgrimage to the Virgin Mary earlier in the novel restored her faith in God, her retreat with the church to the mountains pulls her further into the resistance. When bombs fall on the retreat house, Patria takes shelter in a nook that once held a statue of the Virgin. In order to fit herself in the safe space, she pushes the statue out, effectively taking the place of Mary herself. She witnesses government soldiers shoot and kill a revolutionary no older than her son Nelson, and suddenly recognizes that all the revolutionaries are her children. Thus, she joins the movement as their protector, vowing not to watch her babies die, even if that is God’s will.