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Three Butterflies in a Spider's Web - Colonialism in Julia Alvarez's in the Time of the Butterflies

Autor:   •  May 18, 2017  •  Essay  •  1,739 Words (7 Pages)  •  223 Views

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In 1491, somewhere between 250,000 and one million people lived in relative peace on the island that would soon be called Hispanola. The Taino, or “Good People” as they called themselves, lived in a matriarchal society that afforded it’s women considerable control over their lives, as well as the men they lived with.

And then, in 1492, Christopher Columbus sailed the ocean blue.

By 1495 Columbus began cutting off Taino hands if they failed to produce enough gold.

By 1497 half of the original population was dead. Infanticide ran rapid, with mothers drowning their starving children.

By 1550, only 500 of the original Taino inhabitants were left.

And by 1650, they were gone. Christopher Columbus, the original conquistador, had erased the Taino from their island.

This is the brutal, but seldom mentioned, backstory behind In The Time of The Butterflies by Julia Alvarez. Indeed, Alvarez’s story takes place at the literal Ground Zero of European Colonization of the Americas. And despite the fact that Alvarez only mentions “the conquistador¨ by name a handful of times, she uses this motif to illustrate Minerva´s gradual realization of the patriarchy's relentless attempt to conquer and colonize her body and mind.

Alvarez first introduces us to Minerva as she stands outside the pen of her pet rabbits. She looks in on them and mocks their captivity. ¨Silly bunny,¨ she thinks, ¨You´nothing like me.¨ We can gather two important things from this scene. The first, and most obvious, is that Minerva has yet to become aware of her own constraints, and of the invisible societal bars holding her in her place. But despite her explicit rejection of the notion that she is not free, she still thinks to compare herself to the rabbits. Alvarez’s decision to juxtapose Minerva’s situations with the rabbit´s illustrates the fact that despite her feeling of freedom she, like the rabbits, remains conquered and colonized. Ten years later, however, we see that this seed of Minerva’s consciousness has grown, and she has become more directly aware of her condition.

When Minerva attends Trujillo's party we see a perfect example of how Alvarez employs the motif of the conquistador to show show the impact of patriarchy on Minerva’s life. From the second the Mirabals arrive, it is obvious that a shadow of fear lurks over the party. Jamito parks the the car facing outwards, ready for a quick escape. The sky releases an unusually heavy downpour, and Minerva expresses her “theory” that, “The god of thunder Huracan always acts up around the holiday of the Conquistador, who killed off all of his Taino Devotees.” This line marks a major development in Minerva's understanding. First she has become aware of the bloody history of her homeland, and she understands that the actions of the conquistadors continue to affect her and her country today. Here we begin to see how Alvarez make a direct connection between Minerva and the Tainos. Like the Tainos, Minerva understands the threat of the conquistador. Indeed, the god of thunder sends rain, and similarly, Trujillo, a man who has actively pushed the slogan “God in heaven, Trujillo on earth¨, passes out mandatory invitations.

Despite the omens, however, Minerva enters the party, and eventually dances with Trujillo. Over the course of their conversation Trujillo refers to MInerva as the “National treasure”, and expresses his desire to “conquer this jewel as El Conquistador conquered our Island”. By choosing to use the language of conquest in this dialogue, Alvarez develops two points. First, she she highlights the blatant objectification Minerva faces daily. The second point is that just as Columbus and Spain sought to conquer land, Trujillo seeks to conquer and colonize Minerva’s . For example, when Minerva asks Trujillo about attending law school, he says, “The university is no place for a woman.” Clearly, Trujillo is about more than possessing Minerva’s body. He seeks to control thoughts and actions. The episode at the party, however, was not Minerva's first encounter with Trujillo “The Conquistador”. Five years earlier she stood before him, powerless, bound with rope.

As part of her school, Minerva travels to the capital to perform a skit in honor of Trujillo, the ¨great benefactor¨. In the skit, she plays the role of the enslaved in the process of being liberated. In this scene we are once again shown an image of a powerless Minerva, waiting for Trujillo to remove her chains. This scene marks Minerva’s realization of the fact that she is bound, like the rabbits of her childhood. However, Minerva does not become fully aware of the source of her captivity, until she stands in the office of “The Conquistador”.

We see the motif of the conquistador arise again, when the Mirabal family is summoned to one of Trujillo's mansions to apologize for leaving the party early. On El Jefe’s desk Minerva notices a “set of scales like the kind justice holds up, each small tray bearing a set of dice.” After he notices her interest, Trujillo recounts the story of how he


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