The Red Convertible In her short story “The Red Convertible”, Louise Erdrich focuses on the relationship between two Indian brothers and how this relationship had bee devastated by the Vietnam War. The author embodies the red Olds, which strengthens their relationship. Throughout the story, Erdrich uses characterization and imagery to reveal this theme effectively. The red convertible characterizes the bond between Lyman and Henry. Until the day Henry left to join the army, the brothers had shared good moments, enjoying the life. The two Indians spent the whole summer travelling, driving the car they owned together.
The first time they saw the car, “…it was parked, large as life” (237). It symbolizes how their lives were in the beginning, before Henry was shipped off to Vietnam. Their lives were energetic, adventurous and joyful. Henry and Lyman were motivated by their freedom and had a real love for the land. They went to different places in that car. All the brothers wanted was just live their everyday lives here to there. They went from Montana to Alaska and then back to their reservation during the summer. They “made most of the trip …. without putting up the car hood at all” (238).
Lyman was the kind of laid back boy, he enjoyed more their trip adventures and life in general. He “never worried about the draft [himself]” (238). Henry “was never lucky in the same way as [Lyman]” (238). He also seemed more centered and responsible than his younger brother. When Henry went off to Vietnam, he wrote a few letters to Lyman; “he wasn’t such a hot writer” (238). Lyman “wrote him back several times …. [He] kept him informed all about the car” (238). At this point of the story, the car takes a great importance in the relationship between Lyman and Henry.
After the older brother had left, Lyman took care of the car and put it into almost perfect shape. “[He] always thought of it as [Henry’s] car” (238). Lyman was doing it as a signal of the love he felt for his sibling. Being part of that terrible war was very hard to Henry. When he came back home, he was different. The war was devastating to him and it destroyed him not just physically, but also emotionally. “He was quiet …. and never comfortable sitting still anywhere but always up and moving around” (238). Henry was away even being close to his family again.
In his mind, the war kept on going and it had imprisoned his feelings. Henry became “jumpy and mean” (239). He didn’t even care about the car for a while. In this situation, the change that overcame the sibling’s relationship is symbolized by the distance Henry kept from his red Olds. Lyman was concerned about his brother. “[He] thought the car could bring the old Henry somehow” (239) and this way they could have that bond again. Lyman’s idea of damaging the car was somewhat a way of touching Henry’s life and make him react and wake up from the inherently nightmare.
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