In Louise Erdrich’s short story, “The Red Convertible,” she portrays the change that war imposes on the relationship of two brothers, Henry and Lyman. She uses symbolism to reveal the hardships Henry brings back from Vietnam, and she also uses it to show how Lyman dealt with the separation and the effect of the war on his brother. Edrich’s main purpose in “The Red Convertible” is to communicate the emotional afflictions war has on a soldier and his or her relationships through symbolism.
Throughout the story Edrich uses the red convertible as the main symbol in the story because the red convertible symbolizes Henry and Lyman’s friendship. At the beginning of the story, the brothers use all their money to purchase a red Oldsmobile which they shared. They went everywhere together in the red Oldsmobile. They used the Oldsmobile to travel to Canada and around the continent together. In this part of the story the convertible represented the fun and extreme closeness of their relationship before the war.
When Henry is drafted and goes to war, their relationship changes and Lyman demonstrates their separation by taking the car apart. When Henry returns from the war he is a scarred and changed man; he loses his usual interest in the convertible, as well as in Lyman and their friendship. Lyman bangs the car up, as a result of being neglected by Henry.
The car portrays the “banged up” relationship he feels between his brother and himself. When Henry sees and realizes that the car, as well as his relationship with Lyman is damaged, he confronts Lyman. When I left, that car was running like a watch. Now I don’t even know if I can get it to start again, let alone get it anywhere near its old condition” (pg397). When Henry expresses this concern about bringing the car back to its old condition Erdrich uses symbolism here to express the concerns soldiers have regarding the future of their relationships after war. They fear things will never be the same or even worse, that the relationship itself will become one of the many casualties of war.
When Henry starts fixing the convertible, it also represents the repair of his relationship with his brother. After he finishes fixing the car, he asks Lyman to go for a ride with him, which causes Lyman to believe their relationship has been fixed right along with the car. Lyman realizes that their relationship isn’t fixed like he believed it was when Henry jumps into the lake and drowns. Lyman knows he will never see his brother again, so he runs the convertible into the river. Now the red convertible is gone forever, along with his and Henry’s relationship.
Now Henry owns the whole car, and his younger brother… walks everywhere he goes” (pg398). Erdrich connects the death of Henry with the death of the convertible and with the death of his relationship with Lyman. She uses this symbolism to represent how relationships are affected by war. Their relationships start out healthy, and then going to war transforms them; they hope to return to normalcy, but in the end, the war destroys the soldiers as well as their relationships with the people they know and love.
Erdrich uses her short story to make a statement that the Vietnam War did not just have a horrendous effect on the soldiers who participated in it, but also on the people who knew them before the war. She depicts a more realistic view of war by showing soldiers for what they really are, human beings with emotions and who are ultimately damaged because of war. Erdrich’s use of symbolism brings her audience the understanding that war affects more than just the soldier. Much like death it affects everyone and everything the soldier is involved in. Work Cited Edrich, Louise. “The Red Convertible. ”