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The power of relationships is a very powerful force. It can change the course of one person’s life or the lives of many people in a positive or negative manner. The connection between family members is especially strong and it is believed that it can stand the test of almost anything that is thrown towards the family members. However, this is not always true. There are many things that can tear apart relationships and ties within a family, such as war and death. Death simply severs the relationship very bluntly and devastates a family. War can cause a soldier to act differently towards their relationships and to never be able to become their old selves again. In the story of “The Red Convertible” by Louise Eldrich, the very same happens to brothers Henry and Lyman Lamartine. Henry’s appearance, the photograph of the brothers, and convertible symbolize the change in their relationship from the time before and after Henry goes to war.
Henry’s physical appearance has changed since coming home from war, as well as how he acts around his family. After coming home from war, Henry wore the same outfit everyday. He wore his army jacket and his army boots, and he never took them off. This unwillingness to change out of his army clothes shows that Henry feels that he is permanently connected to the war. Generally when soldiers wear their army clothes, even after they arrived home, it signifies their need to go back into combat because it is all that they had come to know and that they do not know anything outside of combat. It is often thought that soldiers feel the need to go back to combat so that they can die within a situation that they had come to know. Additionally, the soldiers that are able to return back home feel guilty for living and want to go back to war to die so that they can get rid of the guilt they feel.
The army boots that Henry wears constantly brings about his literal death with Lyman describing, “â€¦his boots filled with water on a windy nightâ€¦” (394) and Henry drowning as the result. The boots also symbolize the war and since the boots filled up with water and caused the death of Henry, the war itself drowned Henry. Henry was not able, or rather was unwilling to save himself from drowning, the weight of the horrors of wars. Henry’s personality changed since coming home from war. He used to be a carefree young man that would joke around with his brother, such as when he went to Alaska and joked, “‘I always wondered what it was like to have long pretty hair.'” (395) when they discovered that Susy had hair that reached the ground. Lyman recalls these times and notices the change in his brother from being playful and happy-go-lucky to a man that cannot laugh anymore, stating ” He’d always had a joke, then, too, and now you couldn’t get him to laughâ€¦” (396). Henry also could not sit still after coming home from war, probably fearing that if he sat still for too long then the images of war would creep back into his head.
The photograph that is taken by their younger sister Bonita indicates the change that Henry underwent prior to the war and after coming home from the war. The picture shows the contrast in their personalities after Henry returns. Lyman describes himself as being “â€¦right out in the sun, big and round.” (398), showing that Lyman’s soul is whole and content with life, while Henry is described as having “â€¦shadows on his face as deep as holes.” (398), indicating that is soul is scarred and broken from what he experienced while at war. This photography also introduces the first time that Henry smiles since coming home. His smile is described as if it “â€¦looked as like it might have hurt his face.” (398) and this represents the aftermath of the war and the inability to be truly happy again.
The convertible epitomizes the freedom that Henry and Lyman experienced and their relationship between each other. The freedom they experience is shown by the road trip they had the summer before Henry was drafted to war. This freedom that they had before the war is destroyed by the war. Henry’s refusal to do anything with the car shows his feeling of losing his freedom and that he feels that he is a slave to the war. Both brothers were untroubled by the worries of the world and traveled around the United States together. Their relationship becomes stronger after they bought the convertible, repaired the car, and traveled around. After coming back from war, Henry loses interest in the convertible and more importantly, his brother.
The convertible also represents the war-torn relationships of soldiers. Lyman’s destruction of the convertible after he had spent a great deal of time and money on fixing it up represents the broken relationship between the brothers. When Henry confronts his younger brother about it, Henry claims, “â€¦when I left, that car was running like a watch. Now I don’t even know I can get it to start again, let alone get it anywhere near its old condition.” (397). Henry is communicating that he does not know how to fix the broken relationship with his brother and that he is uncertain of the future of their relationship. Henry also knows that he cannot restore their relationship back to the way it was before. When Henry works on fixing the car, it shows his attempt to fix his brotherly relationship to the best of his ability and Henry’s reasoning for trying to fix his relationship is his realization of his brother’s love. When Henry enters into the river intentionally drowning, the bond that the brothers shared was severed. Lyman is left the convertible, which Henry had fixed for him. Lyman pushed it into the river to that he does not have to carry the guilt of not being able to save his brother.
The relationship between Henry and Lyman is struck a deadly blow by the Vietnam War. Henry and Lyman’s relationship undergoes a transformation with the significance in change in appearance of Henry, a photograph of the brothers after the war, and the convertible that they purchased together. Henry’s appearance signifies his attachment to the war he left behind in a different country and this affected how he interacted with his brother. His boots were symbolic of the war causing his death, even though he was not in Vietnam when he died. The photograph of Lyman and Henry compares how the brothers differed after Henry’s return from war. The convertible indicates the actual relationship between the brothers and how the condition of the car reflects the integrity of their relationship.
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