The Story of the Mirbal Sisters in "In the Time of the Butterflies"

The story of four sisters fighting against a brutal regime in their country would be interesting whether told in a book or made into a movie. In the situation where there is both a book and a movie of a certain story, many people wonder whether they should watch the movie or read the book and then if they do both they always wonder which one is better and more effective. A movie provides a visual experience that is quick and easy to understand but on the other hand, a book provides an indebt look at the characters with a developed plot and an unlimited amount of content.

The well-known story of the Mirabal sisters living in the Dominican Republic as they fight against the dictatorship of their leader Trujillo is honored and praised around the world. Their story has been made into a movie and a book called; In the Time of the Butterflies and both have been well reviewed.

Their story was first written as a book by Julia Alvarez and then made into a movie, directed by Mariano Barroso.

The film and the book both provide a historically accurate story with great detail and author’s craft. After taking into account the different elements of the film and the book such as the extended detail in the book and use of visual effects in the film, it can be concluded that the book was more effective in telling the famous story of the Mirabal sisters. The book portrayed the story of the Mirabal sisters better than the film because of how it creates symbols and motifs, explains the conflict the girls have with the rule of Trujillo, and fully develops each character in a way that is much more effective than the film did.

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In any movie there is a time limit, meaning parts of the story must be left out due to time restrictions. For example deleted scenes that are “extras” in a movie, these scenes are important to the movie but had to be removed in order to keep in a certain time. The advantage to a book is that there is no designated “time limit” and you can talk about all parts of the story, even in great detail. Because of this, some people who only see the movie or only read the book get a different story because of some of the things that got omitted.

This is most definitely true for In the Time of the Butterflies. In the movie certain details were taken out from those in the book because of the time limit that the movie had. Specifically details about the revolution and Trujillo’s rule where people who were watching the movie after reading the book made comments like, “If I had only seen the movie and not read the book, I would be confused as to why the girls got involved in the revolution”, additionally people said, “Trujillo seems nice”.

These comments seem insane based on the real knowledge of Trujillo’s regime in the Dominican but from how Trujillo was displayed in the movie, it is not a far-fetched conclusion. For example in the movie Trujillo goes to the Mirabal sisters house one afternoon. Although in the scene he seems to lurk in the corner and talked to the younger daughter in a “creepy” way that could be related to how he acted to LIna at the school who he took back to his estate, he still made the effort to come to the Mirabal sisters home and was portrayed in a sincere way.

At the home, he made comments like “I will do whatever I can to get the men out” making it seem like he is trying to do good and is a leader who cares about and is helpful to the citizens. In the book Trujillo is displayed more accurately and in a way that coincides with the sisters decision to take part in the revolution. For example, Minerva first becomes introduced to how evil Trujillo is when she goes to school and meets Sinita. Sinita was nervous about telling Minerva about what Trujillo did to her family because of her fear that the same thing would happen to her if she talked about it.

Sinita says, “People who opened their big mouths didn’t live very long, like my uncles, and then my father, then this summer, they killed my brother” (18). In the very beginning of the book an evil image is created of Trujillo that places the fear not only in the reader but also in the characters. Sinita told this story to Minerva and Minerva was the one to get the other sisters involved in the revolution, therefore further explaining the girl’s reasons in becoming involved.

Also the scene from the movie where Trujillo visited the girls house and was like the hero saying he would do whatever he could to get the men home wasn’t a part of the book emphasizing on the fully negative aspect of his character which encouraged the sisters to join the revolution in order to stand against him. Books always have the benefit of being able to include the excessive details and fully explain each event.

For “In the Time of the Butterflies” the movie struggled with having a time limit and having to remove some parts of the story that were essential to the plot where as the book was able to stand out because of the excessive details and explanation of all events.

A major aspect of an advanced or well-written novel or film is the use of symbols and motifs in order to enhance the theme or overall meaning. In the story of the Mirabal sisters, both in the film and the book, butterflies act as a motif to represent the sisters. Butterflies represent, “a symbol of life after death because of its stages of transformation from egg to adult” (Greene, Renee). The symbolism of butterflies can be related to the Mirabal sisters in how their stories live on even after their death.

The heroism and bravery that caused their death, is honored and remembered throughout the Dominican Republic even today. This idea is represented in both the film and the movie in different ways. The way in which the film portrays the symbols versus how the book portrays it is a important factor in deciding which is better. In the film the butterfly motif is portrayed more than obviously. In the beginning of the movie, Minerva gave a butterfly pin to one of her friend at school as a token of friendship. As the movie went on Minerva and the other sisters began getting referred to as the butterflies.

At first Lio said to Minerva, “Welcome to the Revolution, butterfly” and then throughout the movie different people like the men in jail would say things like, “the butterflies are alive”. Probably the most obvious and emphasized time when the butterfly was shown was when the girls were in jail and they looked through the small window to see a man standing on a roof top, twirling around a butterfly in order to get their attention. Although the movie displays the butterfly motif, the way in which they do so is over used and made to obvious. In the novel the symbol is emphasized in a way in which the reader can notice it but at the same time needs to trace the moments and then can further look into the meaning in order to understand it and the significance.

Additionally because of how the author, Julia Alvarez only uses the butterfly motif sparingly, it is obvious that when the butterflies are mentioned it has a great significance to the text. One example of Alvarez’s use of the butterfly motif is on page 283. In this situation, Captain Peña is talking to the girls saying the men got moved to another location. Captain Peña says, “Why, I thought you would be pleased. Less distance for the butterflies to travel” (283). This use of the butterflies emphasizes how important this quote is because we know that in the end, the men getting moved to the other location is the reason that the Mirabal sisters died.

Also, the way in which the word butterfly is italicized shows the importance. In relation to the butterfly motif, Alvarez also creates a contrasting motif of a moth. A moth is generally described as a less lively, sadder or uglier version of a butterfly, portraying a negative image. The sisters are remembered and honored as the butterflies, a beautiful animal that represents the beauty in the sisters and their lives. The contrasting motif creates the idea that the sisters are everything opposite than negative and the difference in the motifs emphasize how positively the sisters are remembered for their death.

It is important that the butterfly motif was used both in the book and the movie because it is extremely important to the story, thus shown by the use of the word in the title. The butterfly motif displays a reason in which the book was better than the movie. In the movie the motif was overused making the meaning and importance difficult for the viewer to understand and trace. The book did a better job of creating the butterfly motif in how it only used it a few times to demonstrate the importance of those moments and also created the contrasting motif of the moth.

The way in which an author or writer narrates a book or movie has a huge effect on the viewers/readers experience. Julia Alvarez, the author of In the Time of the Butterflies wrote the book in an alternating narration between the four sisters. Additionally instead of writing all four sisters in the first person, Maria Teresa was narrated through journal entries and Dede was narrated through the third person.

The decision to switch the book from the narration of all four sisters allows you to get to know each sister personally and see their different views on the revolution. Also Alvarez uses author’s craft in the book by the decision to narrate Dede’s section through third person, differently than all of the other sisters. This has a huge impact on the book and emphasizes Dede’s separation from the sisters in how she was the only one who didn’t die in the “car crash”.

In the movie viewers barley got to know Dede. She was always in the background and because the movie was narrated through Minerva’s perspective Dede was no more than introduced. The way in which the movie was through Minerva’s perspective affected all of the other characters. The in depth details from the book about the other sisters lives and their individual stories about getting involved in the revolution were removed and their characters were very much under developed.

Solely focusing on the sister’s characters it can be concluded that their characters were not fully developed in the film. Starting with Patria major parts of her story weren’t part of the film such as her miscarriages and the scene at the retreat where she saw the young boy who was killed. After this scene she then decided that she needed to go against what Trujillo was doing because of the connection she had with the young boy dying to her children dying during her miscarriges.

The way in which these parts of Patria’s character were removed from the movie effect how personally viewers understood her character and also contribute to the idea that Trujillo’s character wasn’t displayed as how evil he actually was because showing innocent young boys getting killed wasn’t even mentioned in the film but in the novel was a huge example of his cruelty therefore influencing Patria’s decision to become involved with the revolution.

This final example of the how the book was better and more effective than the film is most definitely the most important. Characters are the most important aspect of both a movie and a book so the way in which the characters were underdeveloped movie, directly relates to how the movie wasn’t as good or effective as the book.

Both the book and the film are great pieces of work that represent the story of the Mirbal sisters. The visual effects of the movie such as the images from jail enhancing how severe the conditions were benefited the film yet the book was an overall better representation of the story. The details and use of different perspective really enhanced the book and helped readers understand and honor the lives of Dede, Minerva, Patria and Maria Teresa.

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The Story of the Mirbal Sisters in "In the Time of the Butterflies". (2023, May 05). Retrieved from

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