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The short story the red convertible has some important elements which are fundamental in supporting and developing the central theme of brotherhood. First of all you will see the lesson that the author intends to give through the road trip and secondly you will be persuaded on how the war had an effect on relationships as seen through Henry and Lyman.
The title of the story The Red Convertible makes the chapter of Erdrich's novel Love medicine to have profound significance. The three words of the title offer a theme which provides unity for the story from its beginning to its end. Far more than being a shiny car, red old convertibles portrays many meanings through the cultural and symbolic connotations attributed to the color red by the Chippewa culture (Danziger, 326). The vehicle (not physically) carries the audience from its lighthearted and care free beginning to its movingly tragic end. In the normal world cars move and transport people to places, offer autonomy and in many senses define what we are. The red convertible plays quite a different role in that it brings together the two brothers in a special relationship in their walks in life. The vehicle also corresponds and foretells many of the events of the story. It removes the brothers from dreary life in the reservation and casts them into a life of peace, quiet, freedom and contentment. The color red is a symbol, of many things and foreshadows.
The title of the story is a forceful selection to use for the title of the chapter. "There it was parked, large as life. Really as if it was alive, Thought of the word reposed, calm and gleaming" (Erdrich 355). It is the color and pose of the car that makes the reader to be so interested in the car. It is as if the car has a life of its own which is also paralleled in Henry's life and is also a symbol of the profound relationship between the brothers Lyman and Henry. All thought the story the car keeps on changing just like Henry's story. At the commencement of the story the vehicle is a symbol of happiness and satisfaction but at the end it becomes a symbol of sadness and tragedy. The figurative connotations portrayed add to the profound intensity and intricacy of the story. In Henry's first view of the vehicle it was just like him in harmony with the universe and alive.
At the end of the story the swollen raging waters of the red river chocked with winter sludge are responsible for Henry's decease. With help from Lyman the red convertible is taken by the river too. When he is unable to rescue Henry he drives the convertible to the edge of the river and lets it fall slowly into the river (Erdrich 362). Similar to the scenario in which a vibrant and full of life Henry gets ravaged emotionally and affected by the devastating terrors of the Vietnam War, so is he overwhelmed by the current of the raging river. The raging currents consume the convertible as surely as Henry is also taken. The present turbulence consumes both the joy and restfulness of the ancient times.
According to Chavkin (324-26), the purchase of the red convertible stands for the piece of the puzzle which builds up the strong bond of brotherhood between Henry and Lyman. As brothers and co owners of the vehicle they share a common attachment. The car is a symbol not only of Lyman and Henry as a team but also it creates new profound friendship. The vehicle transports them all over the country which gives them a great opportunity to develop a strong bond of brotherhood and friendship. The car goes ahead to give the brothers a complete love cycle. Their feelings towards the car are so profound that they give it human characteristics. This makes the car to be like a second brother to them which makes their bond even stronger. The brother's though are oblivious of the war's capacity to break their bond which happens when Henry goes to Vietnam. Upon the return of Henry from Vietnam, Lyman has the expectation of continuing their relationship from where they had left off.
However, this is not possible as Henry has been changed by the war. He has become quiet and withdrawn as he feels resentment towards Lyman who did not go to the war and hence is free of trauma. Henry has been changed by the war yet Lyman has remained the same, this is the root of Henry's resentment (Smith 178-97). Lyman is at peace with life and does not understand the grumpy Henry. He has the desire to have the old peaceful Henry back and this is not possible. Erdrich then uses the symbolic nature of the car to portray the brother's relationship. Lyman resorts to smashing up the car which formed a very strong bond between him and Henry. He does this in the hope that he will get Henry's attention. Lyman knows how important the vehicle had been to the relationship and expects that by smashing it he would send a message to Henry of their failing relationship. Lyman is ready to do anything even if it entails the destruction of the red convertible which played a great role in building the brotherhood bond. However, Henry is so withdrawn that it takes him a long time to discover the smashed up convertible.
Henry leads himself to believe that the restoration of the red convertible to what it once was would mend their damaged relationship. It doesn't take long for him to realize that his plan is doomed for failure and he resorts to another plan. He now endeavors to black out all of his past experiences. He even refuses the car which is offered him by Lyman by acknowledging that it would be useless trying to regain what he had lost. This paln ultimately also fails which lead Henry to decide on the last option of suicide. Allthrough this time Lyman still had hope that the bond they had shared could be repaired. It is only with the suicide of Henry that he realizes this can never be and thus he lets go of the car which was the symbol of that bond (Chavkin 64-70).
According to Barton and (Beidler 216-17) the use of the color red by Erdrich is a foreshadowing and a symbol of a variety of things in the story. The use of this color to a great extent serves to pepper the story's complexity, profundity and its effectiveness in general. Erdrich wants to draw the attention of the reader to the cultural connotation of the color red. The first connotation of the color red in the United States involves strength passion, love and energy which are shown through Lyman. The vehicle which is of the color red symbolizes the profound bond that is shared by Lyman and Henry. The color red is a representation of blood and this is the strongest bond that people usually have. Erdrich describes Henry's nose as sharp as a hatchet and compares it to the nose of a Red Tomahawk which is common on the signs along the North Dakota highways. According to the culture of the Chippewa red is a color which symbolizes communication. The communication between Henry and Lyman was to a great extent revolving around the red convertible (Stookey and Louise, 99-112).
According to Lyman, Henry had the physique of a brick house with the color red also being associated with bricks. The second connotation pertains to the negative perception of the color red to imply blood, danger, aggression and war which are exemplified in post war Henry. Red is a foreshadowing of Henry's time in the Vietnam during which he was involved in battle with the red communists who came fro the north. He is in the end taken captive and held prisoner by these communists. The color red is also a color associated to the fires and the explosion of bombs in the war. The color red is also the color of the blood that Henry shed and saw being shed in the jungles of Vietnam.
Upon his return from Vietnam the effects of the war are visible on him through his deep trauma and his misdirected aggression towards Lyman. He even at times bit through his lip and yet does not notice that he is eating food that is mixed with his blood. The association of red with Henry becomes a cycle when he gives the suggestion of going to Pembina and the Red River in order to see the high water (Nagel, 360). They go to the Red River in the red convertible where Henry is swept away by the river's strong current. Upon the realization of Henry's demise, Lyman pushes the red convertible into the river after him. In the mind of Lyman Henry and the car were on e and the same thing and without Henry possession of the vehicle would be meaningless.
Erdrich uses the connotation of the color red to show the deep connotations that are accorded this color in American culture. He shows this through the effects on relationships that are evident whenever the color red is mentioned or appears in relation to the brothers. Henry meets Susy during their trip to the Blood reserve and she goes on to affect him in great way by increasing his free spirited nature. When the two brothers take the convertible for one last spin to the red rock it is significant in that it marks the end of the free carefree days.
The red convertible possessing its diverse connotations and subtle shades is central to the story. It forms the pivotal point from which the actions of the story and the characters revolve. It provides the story's continuity and rising action which makes it of great significance. The whole relationship of the two brother centers on the red convertible. The red convertible is the bond which makes the two brothers relationship to continue. At the commencement of the story the car is a symbol of youth, adventure and the chance given to the siblings to get out of the borders of the reservation and explore the world. The red convertible goes full cycle from taking the two brothers out of the reservation into taking them back to face war and its effects upon their relationship (Stookey and Erdrich, 256-64)
Midpoint through the story, the car plays a central role in keeping Lyman in touch with Henry when he is fighting the Vietnam War. The end of the story again involves the vehicle which transports them to the place of saying goodbye. It is to be noted that the car is profoundly a symbol of Lyman's love for Henry. The root word of the word convertible is convert which is again very symbolic as standing for the changes that occur in the relationship of the two brothers all through time and the variety of experiences.
According to Barton and Beidler (468-83), All through the unfolding of the story, the state of the car is a parallel to the emotional state of Henry. Lyman has always kept the vehicle in immaculate condition during Henry's absence. When he learns of Henry's imminent return he intentionally does damage to the car in the hope that Henry would have the desire to repair it and hence himself. The damaged vehicle is a symbol of the relationship of the two brothers which just like the red convertible has been damaged.
This is very hard for Lyman to come to terms with as while the damaged red convertible can be repaired the emotional distress of the Vietnam War upon Henry is not reversible. Sadly in spite of the heroic efforts of Lyman, Henry's trauma is too great to be reversed. The strong current of the river robs Lyman of his brother Henry. By instinct, Lyman acknowledges that he must push the red convertible down into the river after Henry. The river's strong currents will continue to rage on unhindered just like the love that Lyman feels for Henry will continue to burn in his heart even after his decease (Nagel, 81-85)..
The red convertible remains the central tool of the two brothers' friendship and brotherhood. It is also the thing that tears them apart. It represents the first piece of the puzzle and also the last one. The red convertible and the war are responsible for the start and the end of the relationship of the two siblings. The red convertible is used symbolically by Erdrich to show how something deemed so insignificant by ordinary people may be to two people. It stands for the crafting of a strong bond and the ultimate breaking of the bond.