The story “The Red Convertible” by Louise Erdrich takes place in 1974 when Lyman Lamartine resides with his family and tells a story of his elder half-brother, Henry, a war veteran. Erdrich uses Lyman as the narrator, who successfully accounts for his family relationship with Henry, who was previously deployed during the Vietnam War. Lyman tells the reader about various issues defining their childhood as brothers, including the youthful trouble they had to encounter, their unity, and the happy ties they shared until Henry returns home as a changed person (Erdrich 37). However, Henry returns home as a changed person. In essence, alongside other literary devices, the author usesIn essence, the red convertible as a symbol of Henry’s changed acquired personality and his relationship with Lyman to , as it affects the family unity, is areflect on perfect reflection of the impact of the Vietnamese War’s impact on soldiers and their families. at home.
This piece of literary work is primarily about the importance of unity and family. It revolves around the lives of two siblings: Henry and Lyman. The author creates the impression that the brothers found the car fascinating, which served as one of the symbols of unity in the family. It seems appalling that Henry is no longer interested in the item he would rarely spend a day without using, or at least, talking about before the Vietnamese War. This serves as an obvious sign of the family ties no longer being of interest to him. Given a chance, he could stay in isolation for the rest of his life. Lyman tries to cheer him up by damaging the car in order to test his interest and concern. Strangely, Henry remains unbothered, as he does not show any willingness to repair it.
The convertible car excited the siblings from the time they encounter the vehicle in an advert. The fascination with the vehicle symbolizes their initial perspective of an adventurous life. Erdrich effectively uses imagery with the aim of foreshadowing future activities in the story. The author introduces the two primary characters by their name, and their relationship is immediately developed. The car’s importance in the siblings’ lives is expressed in the same sentence that sets facts that they are living on a reservation. However, Erdrich poses the car as a mysterious symbol that remains unclear until the end of the story, when the audience learns that it represents Lyman and Henry’s youthful years. The convertible car is used symbolically to represent the brothers’ level of innocence during their childhood years.
“The Red Convertible” is a tale about the lack of hope after years of desperation. The narration follows a straight line in the form of a clear beginning, middle, and a coherent end. The narrator uses flashbacks to the good relationship he had with his brother and how they bought their red convertible car for long road trips (Erdrich 6). However, everything changed between them after Henry was drafted into the army, leaving his brother without a close associate. After he returns home completely lost and traumatized, he is not able to join Lyman in their brotherly and youthful love anymore. Their inability to recover the close relationship they had before brings great suffering to the brothers. Lyman realizes that their relationship is becoming problematic within a few days of Henry’s return. It was unusual that he (Henry) was no longer interested in his convertible car.
In this story’s narrative, Louise Erdrich employs various plot elements, such as exposition, rising and falling action, climax, and resolution. The exposition in the story occurs when Lyman explains how the siblings bought the car. He introduces himself as the character who can make a reasonable amount of money and get the red convertible car. This story’s rising action occurs when the two brothers drive around the country and bring a girl home in Alaska. Moreover, the two resolve to stay with the family for some time. Henry then goes to Vietnam and returns as a strangely changed man (Erdrich 37). The climax, which leads to the turning point of the story, is also clear, as Lyman destroys the red convertible car he had been responsible for while Henry was away. Lyman’s strategy seldom fails because Henry is reluctant to repair the car, although they somehow got their relationship back.
The falling action happens when Henry returns from the war and is emotionally charged. The siblings go on a shortened journey after the car is fixed, although they differ on who will own the vehicle after all. Henry then goes to the river, where he commits suicide by drowning himself. His brother searches for him and leaves the car in the river, which symbolizes that the vehicle will be with Henry. Ostensibly, Henry leaves a note informing Lyman that he had tried to “come back,” but he could not (Erdrich 23). The story’s resolution is seen when the narrator talks about the picture that Bonita took earlier that day. Henry was smiling and acting more like himself on the very last day he was alive. Thus, the author focuses on the psychological effects of involvement in war among soldiers, whose lives change completely from the horrors they had seen on the battlefields.
The story exclusively links war with the trauma, which comes with soldiers’ experiences in the center of battles and scenes of death. Henry goes to the war in Vietnam as a gentle and carefree man, but returns as a shell-shocked veteran and ultimately dies from an untreated mental disorder. Although the author significantly portrays Henry’s mental issues, the characters demonstrate a disregard for the war’s actual objective. The purpose of the action is not mentioned, as well as whether they supported or opposed it. However, it is apparent that before he experienced the trauma of the war, Henry was easy-going and generous. This is evident in the carefree and close relationship between him and his brother, Lyman, as well as in the way he interacts with Susy, a young girl, and a hitchhiker whom Henry had agreed to drive to Alaska.
The Vietnam War, as described in the story, was a traumatic encounter, which the government forced young people to participate in. Anyone interacting with the soldiers after returning home could easily notice the psychological sufferings they experienced. Lyman, as a concerned brother, was consistently thinking of ways to make Henry jovial. Unfortunately, Henry was still uninterested even as Layman damages the flash convertible car in a bid to arouse his curiosity. The war’s adverse impact on Henry and his family is exaggerated by the unspoken and unwritten masculinity rules that discouraged males from talking about their trauma (Erdrich 47). For Erdrich, masculinity norms were restrictive and could be very harmful. They coerced young males into wars, traumatized them, and gave them restricted ways of talking about their trauma later, which isolated them, making their suffering even more intense.
After the war ended, Henry was continuously haunted by the horrors he witnessed, and he found them to reintegrate into civilian life. He stopped making jokes or talking freely with other people, as he was traumatized. Henry was falling into depression as it was difficult for him to ask for help or address his challenging emotions. His situation could best be described as a perfect example of social alienation (Erdrich 39). Notably, Henry recognizes his lost sense and lack of touch with society, but he does not want to reform. In essence, his reluctance to any efforts to reintegrate into social life is an extension of the masculinity attitude acquired from the war. As a man, he should never admit to any defeat, even if it is an issue of his health, as is the case in the postwar period.
Vietnamese war scenes were frightening to the soldiers, just as they could be scary to the ordinary civilians. Erdrich creates an image of a veteran who cannot recover from the psychological effects of his exposures to war. Henry acknowledges his brother’s concern, although he is not interested in reverting to the joyous person he had been since their childhood. Particularly, Henry does not want people around him to struggle, trying to tolerate his acquired character. He opts to commit suicide to evade the realities of life by jumping into the roaring river. Henry could not live with the recollection of the war and the misery he felt. Ostensibly, his confession of having tried to “come back” in vain is a clear sign that he indeed was concerned about his family.
Erdrich, Louise. The Red Convertible. HarperLuxe, 2009.