Symbols are objects, characters, figures, and colors used to represent abstract ideas or concepts.
The caged rabbits symbolize people held without freedom. Minerva, frustrated in early childhood by having to ask permission to go places, sees the rabbits as being like herself. However, when she tries to free one of them, the rabbit will not leave its cage and reacts to Minerva’s attempts to push it into the world with terror. Minerva cannot understand that the rabbit takes comfort in its cage and fears the world outside, while Minerva herself longs to leave the village for school and the greater world. Throughout the book, Minerva encounters people like the rabbit: more afraid of rebelling against a system that controls them than of remaining captive to the regime. Dedé is the example nearest to her, a woman too afraid to risk seeking freedom by joining the Mariposas or even by leaving her abusive husband. Like the rabbit, Dedé prefers her cage, no matter how much her sisters encourage her to leave it.
At the Discovery Day Dance, tables are decorated with model ships in honor of Columbus’s arrival in Hispaniola. The ship Minerva takes as a souvenir for Mate symbolizes the fragile hope of safety for the family as they enter an increasingly dangerous time in their relationship with Trujillo and his regime. While the caravels at first seem charming and clever to Minerva, as the evening goes on, they are vulnerable to the chaos of the evening. As the dancing begins and Minerva is summoned to Trujillo, ships begin crashing from tables, alarming the soldiers guarding the party. After Minerva refuses Trujillo’s advances and slaps him, her sisters are described as scanning the room like as if they are lookouts on the mast of a ship. As they escape and Minerva realizes that forgetting her purse containing Lío’s letters has left the family in even more peril, she feels the model caravel in the folds of her skirt, sunken like a ship in a stormy ocean, representing the trap she and her family are caught in.
Trujillo’s Loaded Dice
The dice Trujillo keeps on his desk symbolize his corruption and cruelty. He claims that they are made from Columbus’s bones, an attempt to link himself to the power of the explorer and European conqueror of Hispaniola. However, Papá reacts to them with horror, recognizing them as human teeth. Papá‘s reaction suggests familiarity with the torture carried out in Trujillo’s name. Both Mamá and Minerva attempt to use the dice to their advantage. Mamá tries to win sympathy from Trujillo by emphasizing her connection to her uncle, who gave Trujillo the dice. Minerva, noticing that the dice weigh more than the other pair Trujillo keeps on a set of scales on his desk, realizes that they are loaded, symbolizing corruption. She tries to use Trujillo’s tools against him by challenging him to a game to determine whether she can go to law school, risking being forced into becoming his lover if he wins. However, Trujillo uses the same crooked dice, and the game ends in a tie. Even clever Minerva cannot fully prevail against Trujillo because every game he plays is rigged in his favor.