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The Red Convertible is about a changing relationship between two brothers. The story is set in North Dakota in the 1970s, where the brothers live on a Chippewa Native American reservation. Lyman and Henry Lamartine are Native American brothers that end up purchasing a red Olds Mobile convertible together, which they use to travel throughout different places from North Dakota through to Alaska and back. Throughout these trips the brothers create an extraordinary bond between each other from great time spent traveling. Lyman is the younger brother and compared to his brother he had all the luck. Lyman mentions how he is able to afford purchasing the vehicle with his brother. He worked his way from dishwasher and up, by sixteen he was the owner of the Joliet Café, before it was torn down by a tornado. He explains that his one talent was that he could always make money. When he made more of it, the easier the money would come. Besides a hard worker, Lyman is beyond thoughtful and loving and has a sense of attachment to his brother and family.
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Unfortunately, the bond between them was interrupted right when the Lamartine brothers make it home. “I don’t wonder that the army was so glad to get my brother that they turned him into a Marine,” Lyman recalls when his brother was drafted (Erdrich 444). Henry had given the Olds to Lyman when he had left, but Lyman acted as if it was Henry’s while he was away. Lyman would send letters to Henry reminiscing about the great times they had and also kept him informed about how the Olds was doing never knowing whether the letters would reach him. Henry sent only two before the enemy had gotten to him.
After three years of distance between the brothers, Henry finally made it home after the Vietnam War. Even though the war ended, “for him it would keep on going” (Erdrich 444). Henry came back physically, mentally, and emotionally different, the war had changed him and it was not for the better. Lyman bought a color television for his mother while Henry was away and eventually regretted it once Henry came back. Henry would stay motionless reliving the war through the color television, tightening his grip to the chair and breaking through his lip with his teeth clenched. Henry became more violent because of it.
Lyman remembered about the great times they had spent driving the car they bought together around everywhere. Henry did not even see the car since he had left for the war. He was disgusted and hurt about how Henry became, Lyman wanted to interest Henry with the car, though it was in mint condition, he grabbed a hammer and busted up the vehicle. It worked, Henry then used his time to repair and fix the convertible. “After that I thought he’d freeze himself to death working on that car…He was out there all day, and at night” (Erdrich 445). Once Henry had finished repairing the car he invited Lyman out for a drive to the river. There the brothers had an argument, Lyman argued that the car should be Henry’s and Henry argued that it should me Lyman’s. The argument resulted into a small fist fight then into a joke, where the two shared the only laughing moment since Henry arrived back from the war. Henry then jumps into the river to “cool off,” a moment passes and Henry says calmly but questionably that his boots are filling. Lyman jumps to the rescue but Henry is gone. Lyman in turn drives the car to the bank and the river and watches it plow through the water as the wires short out and it all goes dark.
In this emotional short story there is a strong theme of brotherhood and great symbolism of their relationship with one another. Erdrich uses the red Olds Mobile represents their relationship it almost goes through exactly what the brothers go through during the story. When they first get the car it is brand new, bright, exciting, spontaneous, and represents their relationship before the war. After Henry arrives back from the war distant and different Lyman beats up the red convertible, almost parallel to how he feels about his banged up relationship with his brother. As the story goes on the car changes as the relationship does. Towards the end of the story the brothers go on a trip to the river where Lyman starts to believe their relationship is becoming fixed, just as the car was fixed by Henry. Going back to the theme of strong brotherhood Henry brings Lyman here out of trust to share this tragic moment of Henry’s suicide. Lyman pushes the car to rest with his brother, hence the introductory of the story, “We owned it together until his boots filled with water on a windy night and he bought out my share. Now Henry owns the car, and his younger brother Lyman (that’s me), Lyman walks everywhere he goes” (Erdrich 442).
The Red Convertible is strictly in first person point of view and is narrated by only Lyman. Erdrich made a perfect choice of first person narrative for the story because this way the readers can get that emotional connection with Lyman. The readers can understand him on a more personal level rather than a by-standard. The style and tone of this short story seems emotionally sincere and open. The readers can connect with Lyman through his reliability and can believe him when he tells the readers his feelings at any given point throughout the story. Especially, when he describes the feelings he goes through when it comes to his brother; excitement, love, pain, and sorrow.
Erdrich, Louise. “The Red Convertible.” Literature Craft & Voice. By Nicholas Delbanco and Alan Cheuse. 2nd ed. NewYork: McGraw, 2012. 442-47. Print.
“The Red Convertible” by Louise Erdrich
The Red Convertible is a well-rounded short story that hits a lot of different aspects in this relationship between two brothers that go through a common but harsh time back in the 1970s and Vietnam War. I chose this story because I grasped the symbolism quite easily and felt that love for the relationship of a brother. Erdrich configured this writing well and I connected easily with Lyman and Henry, which made this story an easy choice for me to write about.
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