The Red Convertible

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Symbolism is a quintessential element in all writing, whether it is prose or a poem. “The Red Convertible,” a short story written by Louise Erdrich, tells the story of the destructive nature of war, via the strain caused on the families from improper deconditioning. The main characters in the story, Lyman and Henry Lamartine, are brothers that develop a seemingly inseparable bond through a car; a red convertible. Lyman, the younger of the two was very hard-working and could always “make money” (Erdrich 394). He manages to ascend up the employment ladder at Joliet Café from “washing dishes” (Erdrich 394) to eventually owning the establishment. Henry was soon drafted into the war and became a Marine. Upon returning from the Vietnam War “Henry was very different” (Erdrich 396) and “the change was no good” (Erdrich 396). Additionally, with the name in the title, it is only befitting that the convertible play a very important factor in the short story. The red convertible, Henry’s refusal to remove his war garments, and the picture of the two brothers are symbols that make the story complete by providing a view of their lives and personality.

Although there are many symbols throughout the story, the most established is the red convertible. Louise Erdrich uses the red convertible as a symbolic representation of not only Lyman and Henry’s relationship but all war separated families. The convertible served as a common enjoyment of both brothers and is representative of their independence. When Henry returned from the war scarred, “quiet, and never comfortable sitting still anywhere” (Erdrich 396). Lyman was upset that his brother was acting differently, so, in order to spark emotion and “interest” (Erdrich 396) Lyman damaged th...

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...d Lyman’s relationship. A noteworthy example is when Lyman “plows” (Erdrich 400) the automobile into the river. Eventually, the car engine dies; just like Henry and the relationship of the two brothers. Clothes, an occupational indicator in this instance, show Henry’s inability to remove himself from war. His garments act as a binding force and a memory that will oppress him until death. Comparatively, the picture serves as a reminder of the past that continues to haunt Lyman, so much in fact, that he “put the picture in a brown bag and folded the bag over and over tightly” (Erdrich 398). The author uses the most disparaging facet of living, death, to portray that life is not everlasting and that although we will not live forever, our memories will. Symbols deepen the story by opening a gateway into the emotional and physical states of the brothers.