“The Red Convertible” by Louise Erdrich is a short story from the collection of stories named Love Medicine. The short story focuses on the relationship between two brothers Henry and Lyman Lamartine. From the very beginning of the narrative, the two brothers, who are in a close relationship, decide to jointly buy a red convertible. After purchasing the car, they went on a driving spree during summer and drove all the way to Montana. The brothers were on the road for almost half of the summer. They even gave a ride to a girl called Susy, who was on her way back home to Alaska. The turn of events happened when Henry decided to join the army in Vietnam. Lyman keeps writing letters to his brother, but Henry hardly replies. Further, when he gets back from the war, he changes drastically. Lyman is very disappointed with such a turn of events, but he decides to watch on.
Erdrich has perfected the art of characterization and symbolism, which helps to clearly bring out the themes in the narrative. The characters of the brothers come out distinctively from the beginning of the story. Lyman portrays himself as a lucky person, especially with regard to finances, while Henry is always struggling. Moreover, Henry does so many things unsuccessfully. Even edging out a living is a hard task for him. Symbolism, on the other hand, is a major literary tool employed in the narrative. It is applied in the title of the story itself as well as in depicting of the two brothers, Henry and Lyman.
The main themes that pass through “The Red Convertible” include change, sacrifice, brotherhood, and emotional effects of war. The theme of brotherhood is all over the narrative resonating with the state of the red convertible.
The purchase of the car on a whim defined the relationship of the two brothers. The car represented their union as brothers, and even the red color of the convertible itself symbolizes blood, which is the ultimate link between the brothers. Blood is a symbol of a bond, which is used in the Bible too. The issue of blood appears in the short story to show the reader a strong family relationship that used to be between these two brothers. They travelled together for almost the whole summer before coming back home in Dakota. At home, they found out that Henry was leaving for army. Lyman kept and maintained the car as a symbol of the good memories of his brother while he was on the war. However, when his brother came back, Lyman noticed the changes that had happened to his brother immediately. Henry became quieter than before and was not as funny as he used to be.
Brotherhood comprises of people who live together in a unity, take care of each other, help to solve the problems whenever they arise, and love each other. In “The Red Convertible”, the theme of brotherhood is prevailing. Being out of desperation, Lyman wrecks the car, thinking that in such a way he may fix the broken brotherhood. The trick worked, but its effect lasted only for a short while. Henry repaired the car, and it even seemed to Lyman that his brother has become better than before. Lyman thought that his dream of having his older brother back was almost achievable.
Once the car was repaired, the brothers rode it to the Red River. Henry has not been there since his return from Vietnam. The brothers reminisce the old times, and it seems for a moment that Henry is really back to his old self. He even confesses to Lyman that he was aware of his motive of damaging the car, and he repaired it for his brother. The episode shows that, despite the fact that Henry was torn down by the war, he still cared about his brother. However, Lyman wanted Henry to have the car, and they ended up in a scuffle, because neither of them wanted that car. The brothers have a drink, and Henry starts dancing, making his brother burst into laughing. Henry then jumps into the river, but he cannot swim well. He shouts to his brother that his boots are filling up. Lyman tries to help Henry but in vain. Lyman then walks to the car, puts on the first gear, and watches it plunge into the river. Therefore, it was the end of the brotherhood.
The car is used in the story as a metaphor for the dynamic bond between the brothers. At first, the brothers enjoy their youth together. When Lyman damages the convertible, the relationships become deteriorating. Lyman is trying to revive it, but nothing can be saved. Finally, Lyman trashes the car into the river, which means the end of the road for the brothers. However, the story shows how deep is Lyman’s love for his brother. The car brought them so much happiness, and Lyman cherished it as a symbol of his love for Henry.
There are various themes evident in “The Red Convertible”, including the theme of love, unity, and brotherhood. Each of these themes speaks for itself and is presented clearly in the story.