’s “The Red Convertible” Essay, Research Paper

Vanished Brotherhood

In the short story “The Red Convertible” by Louise Erdrich, you will find some important elements that are integral to the support and development of the theme brotherhood. First, you will see how the road trip gives a lesson in the story. Second, you will discover how the war affected the relationship of Lyman and Henry. Finally, you will understand the symbolism of the red convertible and the link it has between both brothers.

One important element that has a powerful lesson in the story is the road trip. While Lyman and Henry went on a drive one afternoon, they met a girl named Susy in the middle of the road. Susy had her hair in buns around her ears and was very short. They let her jump in the car and they take her to Alaska, where she lives. They stood in Alaska for a while and the night before they went back home, Susy stood up on a chair and unclipped her hair, and it reached to the ground. They were both astonished when they saw her hair. Not only because it was very long, but perhaps because they never seen her hair from that perspective, “You couldn’t tell how much hair she had when it’s rolled up so neatly” (Erdrich, Pg 462). The moral of that scene was that even if we see things one way, there is always a different perspective to see it. Even the relationship that anyone can have with someone else can be seen in different perspectives.

Another important element in the story is the effect that the war brought between both brothers. Henry is drafted to Vietnam as a soldier and when he returns from the war, he is nothing like his old self. As Lyman says laconically, “the changes in him from the war were no good.” Here you see that the effect of the war was negative. Lyman describes Henry as “quiet; he does not laugh, and when he did it was like a man choking; and he was jumpy and mean” (Pg. 463). This change, made a negative effect on the bond that both brothers shared. From this point on, Henry did not even look at the car that he and Lyman owned together. Obviously, they did not travel anymore or went anywhere together as before. This bothered Lyman, and attempting to bring him back to his own self, Lyman destroys the car and waits for Henry to find it. When Henry finds it, he begins fixing it, and as months passed by, he begins to act a little different. He was not as jumpy and disturbed as he was when he returned from the war. He finishes with the car, leaving it almost as good as it was before. He invites Lyman to go on a ride as they used to do before. They arrived at the river and begin drinking beer and laughing together. All of a sudden, Henry says, “got to cool me off” and troughs himself in the river, and let the current take him. Before he was gone he said, “My boots are filling” (Pg. 467). He probably meant that he was tired of living, waiting for his dreams and hopes to be fulfilled and being stuck in two different cultures. After Henry says this, he finally disappears, separating what was once a relationship between two brothers.

The car is one of the most important elements that develops and supports the theme brotherhood. The car is a symbol that is meant to show Lyman and Henry’s close bond, and it holds the key to their definitive separation. The red convertible is also a symbol of success, and a connection to the white world for both Henry and Lyman “ I was the first one to drive a convertible on my reservation” (Erdrich, Pg 460). However, both are willing to give it up for more important values. Henry gives it to Lyman when he leaves for the war, and Lyman damages it in an effort to bring Henry back to health. As the story develops, you could see how the physical condition of the car changes as so does the relationship of Lyman and Henry. When they bought the car, it was in such good conditions that it seemed “as if it was alive” (Pg.461). After Lyman and Henry came back from the road trip, the car was still in good conditions, as so was their bond. However, after Henry returned from the war in Vietnam, the physical condition of the car began to change, and so did their relationship. Lyman, trying to get his brother to be as he used to be, smashes the car to make Henry fix it back “I made it look just as beat up as I could” (Pg.464). Perhaps, Lyman did not do that just so that Henry could fix it, but also to let him see that the condition of the car was similar to their bond. In other words, Henry was smashing their relationship by acting so intolerant and mean. Lyman just wanted Henry to fix their relationship by being the way he used to be before he went to Vietnam. When Henry fixed the car, they both go on a ride as they used to do before. However, Lyman thought that everything was going to be as it was before, and he was wrong. As you can see at the end, when Henry trough himself in the river in an act of suicide, Lyman decided to sink the car also. Symbolically, Lyman was sinking their relationship and their success, which had been destroyed by the white culture.

Erdrich, however, associates the notion of sacrifice (blood) with the red race (a white label). Henry is can be seen as a kind of sacrificial lamb sometimes offered in rituals meant to please the gods, although it seems that the god here is the god of war. Henry is associated with blood because he bites through his lip and his own blood runs down into his food, and with the color red because “he has a nose like the Red Tomahawk Indian on all the road signs (Pg. 461), and he ultimately chooses to drown in “the Red River” (Pg 465).

As you can see, Lyman is inventive, clever, and hard working but he cannot, eventually, help Henry overcome his damage from Vietnam. Lyman attempts to bring Henry back to spiritual life by the connective link they share in owning a shiny red Olds convertible together, but Henry’s hopes and dreams slowly fade out. As for Lyman, he destroys the car in the end because it no longer represents success and good times to him. Instead, it represents the white world, which has destroyed Henry. He recognizes the big sacrifice that Henry has made for him on behalf of the white culture, “ He bought out my share” (Pg. 461). By submerging the car beneath the water he completely disconnects himself from the white culture and confirms his status as a Native American when he says, “Lyman walks everywhere he goes” (Pg. 461).


The Red Convertible by Louise Erdrich


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