Bruchac, Joseph. “Whatever Is Really Yours: An Interview with Louise Erdrich.” In Survival This Way: Interviews with American Indian Poets. Tucson: Sun Tracks and University of Arizona Press, 1987.
Coltelli, Laura. “Louise Erdrich and Michael Dorris.” In Winged Words: American Indian Writers Speak. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1990.
Erdrich, Louise. “Where I Ought to Be: A Writer’s Sense of Place.” The New York Times Book Review 91 (July 28, 1985): 1, 23-24.
Erdrich, Louise. “The Writing Life: How a Writer’s Study Became a Thing with Feathers.” The Washington Post Book World, February 15, 2004, 13.
Hafen, P. Jane. Reading Louise Erdrich’s “Love Medicine.” Boise, Idaho: Boise State University Press, 2003.
Meadows, Susannah. “North Dakota Rhapsody.” Newsweek 141, no. 8 (2003): 54.
Rifkind, Donna. “Natural Woman.” The Washington Post Book World, September 4, 2005, 5.
Sarris, Greg, et al., eds. Approaches to Teaching the Works of Louise Erdrich. New York: Modern Language Association of America, 2004.
Stookey, Loreena Laura. Louise Erdrich: A Critical Companion. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1999.
“The Red convertible” of Louise Erdrich is the second chapter of the novel “Love Medicine”. First it was published in 1984. This is the story of two brothers; one of them is the narrator and protagonist. Lyman Lamartine and his brother Henry are native Indians, they live in reservation. Lyman has a talent to make money, and even his losses turn to the money too. Along with his brother he bought the car, red convertible. All the summer brothers rode their new car and enjoyed life. But this was their last happy summer. Henry received the call-up papers and went to Vietnam. Three years later he returned home. He changed, became dismal and gloomy and lost the interest for life. His brother decided to awake him and spoiled his only valuable thing, the red car. Henry was infuriated, but Lyman celebrated this new emotion. Henry repaired the car. Then brothers went to the river, where Henry told his brother to take care about the car, danced and then jumped into the river and drown. After Henry’s suicide his brother drove the car into the river too.
“The Red convertible” is the standalone story and the brilliant example of Erdrich’s writing. Analyzing the text I want to show that red convertible is the symbol of brotherhood in the story.
The theme analysis
The main theme of the novel is the difficulties that many veterans of Vietnam War (probably any war) and their families faced at the post-war times. Difficulties, pain and suffering changed Henry as they changed many other soldiers. Besides, many of them went through the captivity, as well as Henry. The short mention that “the enemy caught him” (Erdrich, 1030) led the readers to think that he was tortured and the drastic changes in his personality confirm that. Understanding of his impossibility to adopt in the peaceful life makes Henry to commit the suicide. Near 9.7% of that generation, and near 1.7% of them committed suicide after returning to their Motherland. Medical journal “Federal Practitioner” reports that 20 thousands of Vietnam veterans killed themselves (1993), but other sources give us up to 129 thousands of deaths because of stresses and suicides after war. So this theme found a broad response among readers.
Another theme of the story is the Native American culture in the modern world. In fact, the theme of living in the reservation was not emphasized in the story, only a few phrases remind us that Henry and Lyman are Chippewa Indians: “reservation roads, which they always say are like government promises—full of holes” (Erdrich, 1035). But the trips taken by the brothers have something in common with nomadic lifestyle of Indians. And Henry’s fancy and wild last dance could symbolize the fighting of the warriors. The ritual dance of Chippewa Indians symbolized the call to put down the weapon. Henry calls warriors in his head to stop killing each other, but they don’t, and Henry kills himself.
The theme that is most interested for me is brotherhood. Generally, the red convertible is the symbol of brotherly love. Brothers bought the car together and they did not need to discuss it – they understood each other without a word. “”…we never mentioned a car or anything, we just had all our money.” (Erdrich, 1031). When Henry returned, he did not interested in the car – and his brother understood that he did not interested in the life at all, because that car was the life for him before the war. Lyman decided to spoil the car in the reckless attempt to return “old” Henry, and he almost felt the pain, “It just about hurt me, I’ll tell you that!” (Erdrich, 1035). Henry was outraged, but Lyman was happy to hear “more than six words at once.” (Erdrich, 1035).
If the spoiled car was the gesture of brotherly love by Lyman, the repairs became the response of Henry. Henry put his whole sole in this car. He could not repair himself, but the fixed car had to save all his love to brother. Lyman did not understand that and worried that Henry “was such a loner now that I didn’t know how to take it.” (Erdrich, 1037). Later on, when Henry told him to take care about the car, Lyman understood that Henry prepared to the death. To fix the car for his brother was the final aim of Henry’s life. Probably he could commit suicide much before, but he could not leave the car broken. Henry finished his task and felt he was ready to die.
Lyman doesn’t take the car as the aim. He thinks this is just the instrument to return his brother to life, to awake him, to help his revival. After Henry’s death the instrument is useless. Lyman likes the car but he loves his brother. After all Lyman returned the dying gift of his brother. Indians used to bury rich gifts along with those who have died. Red convertible was buried at the same tomb with Henry.
It is important to mention, that the narrator describes his family with little but accurate details. Brothers don’t look like each other: “They couldn’t get over me and Henry being brothers, we looked so different. We told them we knew we had the same mother, anyway.” (Erdrich, 1032). Thus, the reader understands that they have different fathers but don’t care about this. One more mention about their fathers could be founded in the middle of the story, when Lyman and his mother discuss Henry’s health. “…my mom couldn’t come around to trusting the old man, Moses Pillager, because he courted her long ago and was jealous of her husbands.” (Erdrich, 1036) That is why the brotherhood is so important for Lyman and Henry. The reader surprisingly understands that Lyman and Henry have a little sister – because the narrator mentions about her only once, to describe their picture with Henry. Probably Lyman really cares about his sister, but the elder brother is more important for him.
Generally, the story “Red convertible” is the story about brotherly love as a highest value in the life of the man.
It is not easy to highlight the conflict of the novel, because it happened in the man’s soul. New, transformed Henry can not adopt in the old world. He went through the terrible war and captivity and stayed alive – but when he returns home, he understands that he can not live anymore, and thus he had no reason to survive. As stated before, this was the problem of the whole generation, and the author discloses it with her novel. She does not describe the war itself – no through narrator, neither through dialogues – but the reader gets the burden of guilt and pain.
Erdrich avoids the direct characterization of the characters, quite the contrary; she creates the image of every personage through his or her actions. Lyman is clever and full of energy man, who loves his relatives very much. However his self-portrait is very ironic for sometimes. He is proud with his talent to make money, but the remark “unusual in a Chippewa” is full of bitter irony. Lyman’s love to his relatives could be understood just at the beginning of the story:
“…before I lost it I had every one of my relatives, and their relatives, to dinner.” (Erdrich, 1030)
Describing Henry, author allows the reader to look at him with his brother eyes. When Henry is playing with the girl’s long hair, and the reader understands his easy nature. Later the narrator mentions his strong body:
“I don’t wonder that the army was so glad to get my brother that they turned him into a Marine. He was built like a brick outhouse anyway.” (Erdrich, 1031)
The drastically transformation of Henry’s personality were exposed in two scenes. Henry bites his lips and doesn’t notice the blood on his chin. The reader understands that the pain in his soul is much worse. And Henry’s laugh that was changed after the war symbolizes the changes of all Henry’s nature:
“He’d always had a joke, then, too, and now you couldn’t get him to laugh, or when he did it was more the sound of a man choking, a sound that stopped up the throats of other people around him.” (Erdrich, 1033).
Thus, the author characterizes her characters through their actions.
The descriptions of setting help the author to create the mood in the story and to highlight the feelings of characters. At the beginning, before Henry goes to war, setting forms the untroubled feeling of happiness and hope.
“I remember I lay under those trees and it was comfortable. So comfortable. The branches bent down all around me like a tent or a stable. And quiet, it was quiet, even though there was a; powwow close enough so I could see it going on. The air was not too still, not too windy either. When the dust rises up and hangs in the air around the dancers like that, I feel good.” (Erdrich, 1031).
In the end of the story the picture of spring nature helps to understand that there is no awakening for Henry and his wounded soul.
“When everything starts changing, drying up, clearing off, you feel like your whole life is starting” (Erdrich, 1039).
The main tool of author symbolism is the red color. And this is not only the color of dream-car. This is the color of the blood and the skin. Red Tomahawk was the legendary Indian , and Red River became the tomb of Henry and the car. Returning to the settings, it is important to mention that the descriptions of the nature in the story always have symbolic meaning.
“The water hadn’t gone over the banks yet, but it would, you could tell. It was just at its limit, hard swollen, glossy like an old gray scar.” (Erdrich, 1039).
“The Red convertible” is the story of struggle and disaster. But what is more: this is the story of deep true feeling, the love to the brother. Erdrich’s literary devices allow to show it in the details and to live the deep track in the soul of the reader.
Erdrich, Louise. “The Red Convertible.” The Art of the Short Story: Stories and Authories in Historical Context. Ed. Wendy Martin. Boston : Houghton Mifflin, 2006. 1029-1040.
“Louise Erdrich”. Contemporary Authors Online. Gale. 2009. http://www.gale.cengage.com/free_resources/whm/bio/erdrich_l.htm. Retrieved November 21, 2009.
Castillo, S. “Postmodernism, Native American Literature and the Real: the Silko-Erdrich Controversy” Notes from the Periphery: Marginality in North
American Literature and Culture. New York: Peter Lang, 1995. 179-190.
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Jacobs, Connie A. The Novels of Louise Erdrich: Stories of Her People. Peter Lang, 2001.
Vecsey, Christopher. Traditional Ojibwa Religion and Its Historical Changes. The American Philosophical Society, 1983.
Wong, Hertha Dawn, ed. Louise Erdrich’s Love Medicine: A Casebook. Oxford University Press, 1999.