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The Red Convertible Essay

In the criticism by Pratima Dutta “Erdrich’s the Red Convertible” she presented valid arguments that Louise Erdrich, the author of the story “The Red Convertible”, is a nationalist of the Native American culture despite her frequent use of symbols of the western civilization in the text of the story. Pratima claimed that the tragedy of Henry was in his inability to resist the influence of the western civilization, though she failed to address contradictory evidence in the story “The Red Convertible” by Louise Erdrich, that makes Pratima’s claims less convincing and weak.

In the story “The Red Convertible” the narrator’s voice belongs to Lyman Lamartine who describes his relationships with his brother Henry and their ownership of the red convertible Oldsmobile that served as a reflector of their relationships in a certain period of time throughout the whole story. Louise Erdrich has built the plot of the story around the red convertible Oldsmobile, that was in the spotlight both in the very beginning of the story and in the end, and she had very good reasons for it.

Pratima Dutta wrote in her criticism piece that, “The red convertible, although extremely western in its resonance, is the only native link between Lyman and Henry” (121). Her statement precisely highlights the importance of the red convertible in the story and it’s significance to the both brothers Lyman and Henry. The red convertible had a great influence not only on the lives of both brothers, it also had a great value for the author of the “The Red Convertible” Louise Erdrich. She grew up near Sioux Indian reservation and was raised in between the western and Native American philosophies of life, which she deeply incorporated into her stories, so deeply, that even Pratima Dutta stated that, “According to the Native American critics, she is not a true Native American writer and does no justice to Native American storytelling traditions.

Erdrich has also been incriminated by having catered to a non-native readership” (Dutta 119-120). Erdrich’s frequent use of the symbols of the western civilization in the story “The Red Convertible” does not necessary mean that she is not a Native American nationalist, it shows that she was able to adapt to the influence of the both cultures and link both cultures through accepting some of the western symbols, and keeping the Native American spirit at the same time.

Pratima Dutta in her criticism wrote that, “Western influence has corrupted Henry and has taken his free American Indian spirit away” (120), and here she has missed the true meaning behind the red convertible, that not the western civilization had such a bad influence on Henry, but his inability to adapt and find his place in the changing world, like his brother Lyman managed to do, has destroyed him and led to such a tragical end. On example of Lyman, Louise Erdrich has shown that it is possible to live in the symbioses with both European and Native American cultures.

From the story “The Red Convertible, we know that Lyman bought a red convertible, he owned an American cafe and even worked as a kid in the American Legion Hall, and at the same time he has managed to keep his Native American spirit and love to the nature and travel. Lyman described his feelings while him and Henry were on the road trip in the red convertible, “I do remember this one place with willows. I remember I laid under those trees and it was comfortable. So comfortable. The branches bent down all around me like a tent or a stable” (Erdrich). Like a true Native American, he felt the nature and it’s calming power without letting western influence to interfere and prevent him from enjoying his historical connection with nature.

Though Pratima has made a very valid statement in her review that, “Western influence cannot be done away with. To live with it, one has to find a middle ground that satisfies nativism as well as Europeanism’ (121), though she has failed to mention and indicate that any war, no matter in what culture, has extremely devastating effects on those who participate in that war. It was not the western civilization that corrupted Henry’s free Native American spirit, as Pratima stated, but the war and all the horrors Henry saw during the combat.

Towards the end of the literary criticism, Pratima states that, “A Native American soul needs native healing and not a western invention” (121), and she was completely right about it. We can see that Lyman tried to “cure” his brother, at first, through a television set that his bought, and later through the red convertible, in which Lyman and Henry spent so much time touring native lands and spending so much time together, but both attempts were only worsening Henry’s condition, and have led to the final tragical death of Henry. Lyman’s mistake was that he tried to restore his relationship with Henry and close connection with him using some western culture objects such as television and red convertible, neglecting, at the same time, professional medical help that Henry could receive in a modern veteran’s hospital. Lyman and his mother decided not to send Henry to a white hospital, because “They don’t fix in those places […] they just give them drugs” (Erdrich).

In the very end of the criticism by Pratima Dutta, she states that, “Erdrich highlights the true essence of nativism, illuminating the fact that even in the presence of foreign influence, the true native spirit can never be lost” (121), that explains very well the true symbol of the red convertible in the Erdrich’s story and clearly points out the theme that could be seen since the first brother’s encounter with the red convertible, until the tragic ending in which both Henry and the car have drowned in the river. The car was the link between two different cultures, and when the car couldn’t help Henry adapt to the new world, he decided that he can’t live in any of them. Louise Erdrich in her story presented a great example of two cultures colliding, and has shown on example of Henry and Lyman that inability to embrace the changes can lead to very tragical events, and those who adapt can preserve their old traditions and native spirit.

Erdrich, Louise “The Red Convertible.” Ann Lewis. English Writing 300.
Course home page. Jan. 2015-May 2016. Dept. of English, Sacramento City College. Web. 6 Apr. 2015

Dutta, Pratima “Erdrich’s The Red Convertible.” Ann Lewis. English Writing 300.
Course home page. Jan. 2015-May 2016. Dept. of English, Sacramento City College. Web. 6 Apr. 2015

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