Louise Erdich's compelling short story "The Red Convertible" depicts the relationship between two Native American brothers and a red convertible. The story begins with the narrator (Lyman, the younger of the two brothers) telling the tale of a carefree summer in which the brothers purchase an old convertible and traveled, followed by many more encounters the brothers share. Symbolism is used very heavily on this story, and as suggested by the title, the red convertible is quite important, it quickly becomes a symbol of the brothers relationship in many ways, including the representation of Henry's health, as well as both bringing them together, and simultaneously ending the bond.
Erdrich begins with the back story of the narrator, and how he and his brother obtain the convertible. In the beginning the car is in tip-top condition- and so are the brothers. Henry is healthy, and relaxed. They spent their summer stopping and going- like the narrator explains "...just lived our lives here to there". The brothers were carefree, and at peace. The two of them got along, met people, camped, and experienced life through the convertible. They made it all the way to Alaska. The car symbolized unity within the brothers, the bond they shared, as well as the condition Henry is in at the time. Erdrich described the car as "reposed" and "calm", which is also representative of Henry's mannerisms at the time. Upon returning home that summer, Henry was drafted into the army, and during the years he was gone the convertible spent most of its time on blocks. The relationship between brothers, much like the condition of the car was neglected.
While Henry is gone the narrator spends some time fixing up the car, and hopes that consequent to his brothers return their relationship will return to the condition they, as well as the convertible were both in many summers before. It is when Henry returns with PTSD, and is not the same person he was when drafted that Lyman destroys the car in hopes that Henry will notice, and it will help him to return to who he once was. The destruction of the car is symbolic of a few things, but firstly of Henry's mental condition. He is broken, as is the car, the mental toll of war has worn away at Henry, and Lyman had no way of understanding the problems occurring, and altering the car is his only way of getting his brothers attention. After several months Henry takes notice he confronts Lyman "I kept that car in A-one shape. You don't remember. You're to young. But when I left, that car was running like a watch. Now I don't even know if I can get it to start again...". I believe this statement is not only relevant to his feelings toward the car, but simultaneously symbolic of Henry's feelings towards the relationship between he and Lyman. When Henry left, he and Lyman were great, their relationship was tight-knit and smooth, and Henry was healthy, but now that he has returned there is an obvious rift between the two, similar to the dents of the car. The lack of communication parallel to the lack of care for the car is symbolic to the bond, or lack of between bothers, and Henry is unsure if they, or even he, will ever be good again- much like he doesn't know he can get the car back in running condition.
Although Lyman believes that if his brother works on the car, it will also work on their relationship, and they will return to A-one condition. In the conclusion of the story the brothers take another trip to a place called the Red River because Henry wanted to see the high water. The car was back in running condition, and Henry appeared to be better as well, dancing, and joking, Yet after parking, and fighting over ownership of the car the brothers make peace, share a few laughs, and Lyman notices a shift in Henry's mood. Henry then jumps in the river. "My boots are filling" he yelled across the river, and it is the last thing he says before he is...
Cited: Anonymous. "Why You Should Use Symbolism In Your Writing - The Write Practice." Web log post. The Write Practice RSS. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Sept. 2014.
"Louise Erdrich, Paula Gunn Allen, and Wendy Rose—Important Women in Native American Writing Renaissance." DISCovering Multicultural America: African Americans, Hispanic Americans, Asian Americans, Native Americans. Detroit: Gale, 2003. Academic OneFile. Web. 20 Sept. 2014.
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