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Red Convertible

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Perceptions & Deceptions: Life before and after Vietnam for Henry

Have you ever wanted to take the summer off from work and escape from reality in order to travel around the world without having any worries? Well this is what Henry and Lyman in the "Red Convertible" by Louise Erdrich decided to do one summer. Henry and Lyman are two brothers who grew up on the Indian reservation. They perceive life on the reservation as an ongoing circle with a harmonious atmosphere. During their trip to Montana and Alaska Henry and Lyman's idea of a carefree life is only reinforced, but when Henry is sent to Vietnam this perception is surpassed by a new reality and changes Henry's reactions to the surrounding circumstances. Henry and Lyman grew up on the reservation where life was peaceful and harmonious. The two brothers had a very close relationship growing up together and were able to expand their adolescence and simplicity with the purchase of the red convertible. A red convertible was not the typical car you would expect to see on the reservation but Henry and Lyman saw the car and bought it on a whim. They traveled to many different places with the car. The red convertible only let the two brothers enjoy their summer by taking them to many comfortable and peaceful places other than the reservation. One of the places they traveled to was filled with willows. "I remember I laid under those trees and it was comfortable. So comfortable. The branches, bent down all around me like a tent or a stable… I felt good." (Erdrich, 284). This exemplifies Lyman's sense of harmony and displays the carefree attitude that Henry and himself were both experiencing. During the rest of the trip through Montana and on to Alaska, the boys' experiences only reinforce their attitude towards the carefree atmosphere. While visiting Montana, the brothers came across a hitchhiker. Henry just has the girl hop in the car without even asking her where she was headed. When Henry finds out that the girl needs a ride to Alaska he replied with "okay" and they continued driving. "We got up there and never wanted to leave" (Erdrich, 285). The boys liked the fact that "the sun didn't truly set there in the summer". This gave the boys a sense of continuity and enjoyment. They never wanted their trip to come to an end. Eventually the summer came to a close along with their adventure. The two boys came home just in time for Henry to be reminded that he had signed to join the army a few months previous. When Henry left for Vietnam a strong sense of reality succumbed Lyman. With Henry being gone, Lyman took care of the car and restored the damage that the engine had acquired during the long trip. All along Lyman had always thought of the car as Henry's "even though when he left he said, "Now its yours", and threw me his key."(Erdrich, 286). Lyman anticipated Henrys return home and wrote him several times informing him of the progress on the car "even though I didn't know if the letters were getting through"(Erdrich, 286). Lyman prepared for his brothers return home for the next three years, but never once did he anticipate the change that was about to take place. When Henry finally returned home, "Henry was very different, and I'll say this: the change was no good" (Erdrich, 286). Lyman never expected his brother to change for the better, but at the same time he never expected the change to be so drastic either. Lyman couldn't wait for his brother to see the car and how much work he had put into it, but Henry never did. "I thought the car might bring the old Henry back somehow. So I bided my time and waited for my chance to interest him in the vehicle." One night Lyman came up with a plan that would not fail in grabbing Henry's attention. Since Henry had not noticed how great the car looked, Lyman hoped that if the car were beaten to pieces he would finally take notice. "By the time I was done with the car it looked worse than any typical Indian car that has been driven all its life on reservation roads, which they say are like government promises – full of holes." (Erdrich, 287) Lyman's plan finally worked even though it took a full month before his brother finally noticed. Henry was used to the harmony that life on the reservation provided before he left for Vietnam. When Henry was at war, there was everything but harmony. He was used to seeing land being destroyed and people dying. Henry had been desensitized from the attachment that he once had with nature, the reservation, his family, and with the car. This is the reason as to why he finally noticed the car in its state of destruction.
Destruction was what Henry was used to. Henry was a changed man when he returned from Vietnam and everyone in his family noticed the change. Henry reacted differently to his surroundings when returning from the war in comparison to prior the war. The war desensitizes Henry with horrible flashbacks and painful memories. Vietnam War had ended, yet the war was still occurring for Henry in his own mind. Henry displayed a carefree attitude prior to leaving for the war and experienced harmony on the reservation. Henry's experience in the war gave him a new perspective on the reservation. It was hard for him to value nature and reality when the land that he was fighting on had been destroyed in seconds. Henry's surroundings really played a significant role in developing his reactions to existing circumstances.

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