In Julia Alvarez’s In the Time of the Butterflies, the sisters Minerva and Patria observe two portraits of Jesus and the Dominican dictator Trujillo, side by side, and compare them (53). Patria knows of the various atrocities committed by Trujillo against her friends, acquaintances, and countrymen, and she is aware of the constant terror and destruction that the government wreaks upon her people, but refuses to apply this knowledge to her own existence.
Psychologically, Patria is erecting a mental barrier against the suffering through a credulous faith in the “virtues” of a passive God and a devastating dictator. She refuses to acknowledge the evil around her as real and thereby feigns an illusion of security for herself. These, after all, were the icons she had been groomed since childhood to submit to and not question.
Minerva flies in the face of the dominant and repressive paradigm, which urges one to sacrifice one’s self-interest to Trujillo and then some to God. The culture in the Dominican Republic is replete with institutional mental barriers, even as superficial as the artistic enhancements of Trujillo’s portrait, which serve to reinforce Patria’s mindset of willful separation from the truth.
Deliberations concerning the nature of a deity lead one to the insight that almost all of today’s major religions had been invented during antiquity, when (with few exceptions) the world was governed by fragmented tribal monarchies, and a God was fashioned in the image of the only ruler a people possessed as a model, a dictator.
The resemblances between dictatorship and non-modernized versions of the major religions are astounding in this novel and in real life, as one learns of the repressive theocracies in the Middle East. Both teach, overtly in many cases, the cult of submission, of subordination to the rule of a capricious autocrat; be he located in a palace or in heaven. The source of the dictates is considered more significant than their actual validity and benefit, and thus Patria, despite learning of the horrors of Trujillo and becoming disillusioned with Jesus and the Catholic faith is unable to fully relinquish both as she had fallen prey to the subservient paradigm in a manner that Minerva had not.
The author, however, conveys a certain philosophical recognition that Patria obtained despite her block, which is illustrated by the last sentence, “And the two faces had merged!”, which implies the congruence of all forms of submission and self-abnegation, no matter how divergent or incompatible they may seem on the surface.