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The Red Convertible by Louise Erdrich

The Red Convertible by Louise Erdrich

In the Red Convertible by Louise Erdrich, the main character Henry loses his hold on reality. The story takes place in North Dakota on an Indian Reservation where Henry lives with his brother Lyman. Henry and Lyman buy a Red Convertible that later in the story illustrates Henry’s lack of ability to stay sane. The brothers take a summer trip across the United States in the car. When they return, Henry is called to join the army, which turns out to be the transitional point in Henry and Lyman’s personal life. The Vietnam War changed Henry’s appearance, psyche, and his feelings about the Red Convertible.

Before the Vietnam War, Henry’s appearance was cheerful and energetic. Henry enjoyed the time he had with Lyman, working on the Red Convertible, and traveling across the U.S. during the summer. They went from Little Knife River to Alaska without a worry in the world. Henry was talkative and friendly to even strangers. For example, when they pass a woman on the side of the road Henry says, “Hop on in”, indicating his friendliness and confidence (975). Henry’s appearance before war suggests that his life was complete.

However, after war, Henry’s appearance was one of depression and dishevelment. When Henry returned Lyman said “[he] was very different, and I’ll say this: the change was no good (977).” Henry was 180 different than he was before the war. “He was quiet, so quiet…,” said Lyman, not talkative and cheerful like he was before (977). Henry and Lyman had went on a long trip in the Red Convertible before the war, but now Henry is “never comfortable sitting still anywhere (977).” They used to sit around the whole afternoon before, but now Henry is always ...

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...y’s feelings soon changed. Henry one day comes home and says, “the red car looks like *censored*”(978). This one point in the story where Henry’s past actions before war were still there after war, completely surprise Lyman.

As the Red Convertible progresses Henry’s appearance, mental state, and feelings about his once cherished car change because of the Vietnam War. The war had extreme effects on Henry and his brother throughout the story. 57,000 men and women died in Vietnam, and the soldiers that survived suffered the same post-war feelings that Henry did. Seeing death causes every person to change in some way, but when it is as gruesome and seen as repeatedly as some soldiers did, it changed their lives forever.

Work Cited

Erdrich, Louise. "The Red Convertible." The Story and Its Writer. 5th ed. Ed. Ann Charters. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin's, 1999.

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