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4 Rewriting Master Narratives Julia Alvarez’s In the Time of the Butterflies Katie Daily-Bruckner Dear Little Book, Minerva gives you to me today for my First Communion. You are so pretty with a mother of pearl cover and a little latch like a prayerbook. I will have such fun writing on your tissue-thin pages. Minerva says keeping a diary is also a way to reflect and reflection deepens one’s soul. It sounds so serious. I suppose now that I’ve got one I’m responsible for, I have to expect some changes. —Julia Alvarez, In the Time of the Butterflies Building off the work of Benedict Anderson, Timothy Brennan claims that “nations are imaginary constructs that depend for their existence on an apparatus of cultural fictions in which imaginative literature plays a decisive role” (49). He argues that this need for a scaffold of cultural fiction “coincides especially with one form of literature—the novel” (4). In other words, literary imagination gives birth to narratives of nation in many ways, and the novel is an exemplary illustration of this phenomenon. In addition to the novel, another form of literature, the personal journal, is equally important in the creation of national stories, especially when taken in combination with more 85 86 Katie Daily-Bruckner traditional literary forms. Journals1 are the work of individuals, transposing the experiences, fantasies, and musings of everyday life as it happened in a particular place and at a particular time. Especially rich are the journals of women because they represent “a culture in which women have inscribed themselves” (Buss, “Introduction” 5). Studying these particular artifacts allows a removal from “the narrow boundaries in which established culture” limits our analysis owing to accepted master narratives, thereby giving us a new, enriched view of nation (5)—a view in which all citizens, male and female, are part of the nation’s archive. When the imaginative possibilities of novels and personal diaries collide, the result is a narrative that aims to envision a complicated nation using multiple literary forms and imaginative dimensions. Julia Alvarez’s In the Time of the Butterflies uses the medium of fiction to retell the historical story of the Mirabal sisters and their fight for both personal and national freedom in Rafael Trujillo’s Dominican Republic .2 The novel is divided into three parts in which Alvarez writes from each of the sisters’ (Dedé, Minerva, Maria Theresa, and Patria) point of view. Maria Theresa (Maté) Mirabal’s3 narrative, which is told through fictional diary entries, imagines that Maté is “inscribing [her] self” into Alvarez’s narrative (Buss, “Introduction” 5). Maté’s journal operates as a vehicle through which to build Dominican nationalism both in cooperation with and against prevailing political and private narratives of the Dominican Republic and the Mirabal sisters.4 Unlike the conventional narratives used to breathe life into the other Mirabal sisters, Maté’s journals produce the effect that we are reading the private thoughts of a real person. This bidirectional reader-subject relationship creates history through participation and reader response, lessening the importance of the fictionality of these particular diaries and capitalizing instead on the journal’s mode, marking the appearance of Maté’s diary as worthy of consideration simply by virtue of its presence. For readers, engaging with the journal form “requires sophisticated interpretive strategies” that go beyond traditional literary analysis, allowing readers to attend not only to what is on the page, but its greater historical context as well (Smith and Watson 150). Previous scholarship on In the Time of the Butterflies focuses on Alvarez’s project of reimagining and reversing the deification of the Mirabal sisters. These readings ignore the critical role of Maté Mirabal ’s narrative as participating in nation building. Butterflies, through 87 Rewriting Master Narratives Maté’s journals, relies upon life writing, archive creation, and diary fiction, not only to widen our understanding of Maté Mirabal, but also to revise Dominican nationalism.5 Butterflies engages in, as Mempo Giardinelli explains, Latin American narrative that “encourage[s] a testimonial, historical, and biographical literature” (qtd. in Ciria 406), and the fictional diary entries are part of that project, creating a literature that moves beyond simply telling a story. Specifically, Maté’s journals reimagine the historical master narrative by creating the Mirabal sisters as three-dimensional characters, thus transforming fiction into personal, and, in this case radical, history. Criticism of Alvarez’s novel generally misses both the formal and political efficacy of Maté’s diaries...


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