Unit 4: ¡Viva Las Mariposas! Voice and Agency in In the Time of the Butterflies
Students will examine how Julia Alvarez structures her historical fiction novel and gives voice to the four Mirabal sisters as they come of age under Trujillo's dictatorship in the Dominican Republic.
In an interview with the National Endowment for the Arts, Julia Alvarez quotes German novelist Novalis who writes, "Novels arise out of the shortcomings of history." In Time of the Butterflies arises out of the incredible true story of the four Mirabal sisters–Minerva, Patria, María Teresa, and Dedé–young women who came of age during the dictatorship of Rafael Leónidas Trujillo in the Dominican Republic.
Alvarez moves beyond the myth of the sisters to depict them as real women with their own individual motivations, desires, and reasons for becoming revolutionaries, or not.
To begin the unit, students will read an informational text on Trujillo's rise to power and eventual demise, establishing some of the historical context of the novel. For the most part, though, students will learn about life during Trujillo's regime through the novel, considering the emotional impact of learning about events through historical fiction and characters rather than hard facts.
While reading the novel, students will analyze its nonlinear structure and narrative point of view. With each chapter being told from a different sister's perspective, students will examine how and to what end Alvarez creates a distinct voice for each sister. Through their individual thoughts and actions as women living in a patriarchal society and under an oppressive dictatorship, the Mirabal sisters will push students to think about what courage is and how it can be displayed in the face of adversity.
After reading the novel, students will complete a Performance Task in which they rewrite a scene from the point of view of a different Mirabal sister, channeling her voice and emotions while reimagining events from her perspective. Finally, students will read Alvarez's short essay "Butterfly Power," using it as inspiration to research a woman/group of women who are using their voices to create change in the world. Through this project, students will not only see that the legacy of the Mirabal sisters is alive and well but also contemplate how they can use their own voices to tell important stories.
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Book: In the Time of Butterflies by Julia Alvarez (Algonquin Books of Chapel)
Article: “Trujillo & the Mirabal Sisters” by Mike Kubic (CommonLit)
Video: “Interview with Julia Alvarez” by National Endowment for the Arts Podcast (2010)
Excerpt: Parable of the Pearl of Great Price, NKJV Matthew 13:45-46
Excerpt: Bible excerpts from the Gospels of Luke and Matthew
Video: “What's in the heads of heroes” by CBS 60 Minutes
Video: “The Danger of Silence” by Clint Smith (TED Talk)
Rubric: Narrative Writing Rubric
Rubric: Butterfly Power Research Rubric
This assessment accompanies Unit 4 and should be
given on the suggested assessment day or after completing the
Download Socratic Seminar
Download Free Response Question
Download Performance Task
Suggestions for how to prepare to teach this unit
Prepare to teach this unit by immersing yourself in the texts, themes, and core standards. Unit Launches include a series of short videos, targeted readings, and opportunities for action planning.
The central thematic questions addressed in the unit or across units
Literary terms, text-based vocabulary, idioms and word parts to be taught with the text
narrative point of view
third person limited
third person omniscient
To see all the vocabulary for Unit 4, view our 9th Grade Vocabulary Glossary.
Notes to help teachers prepare for this specific unit
Trujillo was known for his heinous human rights violations, including the torture and murder of anyone who challenged his authority. In addition, he was notorious for preying on young women, drugging and raping them. He orchestrated the murder of the Mirabal sisters, an act that was motivated by their gender. The novel alludes to and/or depicts Trujillo's sexual harrassment, sexual assault, torture, and violence. As always, preview the content ahead of time, and be mindful of the diverse experiences your students bring with them into the classroom and how the unit content might impact them.
Identify the key events from Trujillo's dictatorship in the Dominican Republic.
Analyze various accounts of Alvarez's reasons for writing the story of the Mirabal sisters as historical fiction.
Analyze how Alvarez structures her novel and characterizes Dedé and the Mirabal family in the first chapter.
Analyze how Minerva's experiences at school change her understanding and view of Trujillo.
Analyze the tone of María Teresa's diary and how it contributes to her characterization.
Analyze how biblical allusions and religious imagery contribute to an understanding of Patria's character.
Analyze how Alvarez establishes a unique voice for each of the Mirabal sisters and weaves together the chapters into coherent narrative in Part I.
Analyze how Alvarez develops her central ideas of storytelling and uses literary foils to characterize Dedé and Jaimito.
Analyze how Alvarez develops ideas about gender roles within Dominican society and how Minerva challenges her role as a woman.
Analyze how Alvarez uses symbols and motifs to convey important ideas and show Minerva's character development.
Analyze how María Teresa has changed since her last narrated chapter.
Compare and contrast Mate and Minerva's reasons for joining the revolution.
Analyze how religious imagery relates to Patria's decision to join the revolution.
Assessment: Socratic Seminar
Engage in a mid-novel Socratic seminar considering the larger themes and ideas in In the Time of the Butterflies, supporting arguments with strong textual evidence.
Analyze the factors that influence Dedé's decision to stay out of the revolution.
Analyze how Dedé's ideas about bravery and courage develop and change.
Analyze how Alvarez uses religious imagery and symbolism to develop the reader's understanding of Patria after her family has been arrested.
Analyze how narrative point of view and structure contribute to the reader's understanding of how Mate's imprisonment affects her.
Analyze how Alvarez develops her central ideas about courage with Minerva's experiences outside of prison.
Analyze the structure of the final chapter of the novel before the Epilogue.
Analyze how the narrative point of view, structure, and imagery of the Epilogue contributes to the reader's understanding of Dedé at the end of the novel and develops Alvarez's central message about storytelling.
Assessment: Free Response
Analyze one of the central themes from In the Time of the Butterflies.
Performance Task: Narrative Writing
Brainstorm and plan to rewrite a scene from a different Mirabal sister's narrative point of view.
Draft a scene from a different Mirabal sister's narrative point of view.
Revise a scene from a different Mirabal sister's narrative point of view using feedback from a peer review.
Unpack the expectations of a research project, conduct informal research to select a topic, and brainstorm a list of research questions.
Evaluate the credibility of sources while gathering information and taking notes on a research topic.
Draft and then create a final postcard that highlights the story of a woman or group of women fighting against injustice around the world.
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The content standards covered in this unit
— Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English grammar and usage when writing or speaking.
— Demonstrate understanding of figurative language, word relationships, and nuances in word meanings.
— Determine a central idea of a text and analyze its development over the course of the text, including how it emerges and is shaped and refined by specific details; provide an objective summary of the text.
— Analyze how the author unfolds an analysis or series of ideas or events, including the order in which the points are made, how they are introduced and developed, and the connections that are drawn between them.
— Analyze various accounts of a subject told in different mediums (e.g., a person's life story in both print and multimedia), determining which details are emphasized in each account.
— Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.
— Determine a theme or central idea of a text and analyze in detail its development over the course of the text, including how it emerges and is shaped and refined by specific details; provide an objective summary of the text.
— Analyze how complex characters (e.g., those with multiple or conflicting motivations) develop over the course of a text, interact with other characters, and advance the plot or develop the theme.
— Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in the text, including figurative and connotative meanings; analyze the cumulative impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone (e.g., how the language evokes a sense of time and place; how it sets a formal or informal tone).
— Analyze how an author's choices concerning how to structure a text, order events within it (e.g., parallel plots), and manipulate time (e.g., pacing, flashbacks) create such effects as mystery, tension, or surprise.
— Analyze how an author draws on and transforms source material in a specific work (e.g., how Shakespeare treats a theme or topic from Ovid or the Bible or how a later author draws on a play by Shakespeare).
— Initiate and participate effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grades 9—10 topics, texts, and issues, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.
— Integrate multiple sources of information presented in diverse media or formats (e.g., visually, quantitatively, orally) evaluating the credibility and accuracy of each source.
— Present information, findings, and supporting evidence clearly, concisely, and logically such that listeners can follow the line of reasoning and the organization, development, substance, and style are appropriate to purpose, audience, and task.
— Adapt speech to a variety of contexts and tasks, demonstrating command of formal English when indicated or appropriate.
— Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts, using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.
— Write informative/explanatory texts to examine and convey complex ideas, concepts, and information clearly and accurately through the effective selection, organization, and analysis of content.
— Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, well-chosen details, and well-structured event sequences.
— Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.
— Develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, editing, rewriting, or trying a new approach, focusing on addressing what is most significant for a specific purpose and audience.
— Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects to answer a question (including a self-generated question) or solve a problem; narrow or broaden the inquiry when appropriate; synthesize multiple sources on the subject, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation.
— Gather relevant information from multiple authoritative print and digital sources, using advanced searches effectively; assess the usefulness of each source in answering the research question; integrate information into the text selectively to maintain the flow of ideas, avoiding plagiarism and following a standard format for citation.
— Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.
Standards that are practiced daily but are not priority standards of the unit
— Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English capitalization, punctuation, and spelling when writing.
— Apply knowledge of language to understand how language functions in different contexts, to make effective choices for meaning or style, and to comprehend more fully when reading or listening.
— Acquire and use accurately general academic and domain-specific words and phrases, sufficient for reading, writing, speaking, and listening at the college and career readiness level; demonstrate independence in gathering vocabulary knowledge when considering a word or phrase important to comprehension or expression.
— Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.
— By the end of grade 9, read and comprehend literary nonfiction in the grades 9—10 text complexity band proficiently, with scaffolding as needed at the high end of the range.<br />By the end of grade 10, read and comprehend literary nonfiction at the high end of the grades 9—10 text complexity band independently and proficiently.
— Use technology, including the Internet, to produce, publish, and update individual or shared writing products, taking advantage of technology's capacity to link to other information and to display information flexibly and dynamically.
— Write routinely over extended time frames (time for research, reflection, and revision) and shorter time frames (a single sitting or a day or two) for a range of discipline-specific tasks, purposes, and audiences.
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