The Red Convertible Symbolism in Louise Erdrich’s “The Red Convertible”

Exclusively available on PapersOwl
Updated: Apr 30, 2024
Cite this
Date added
Pages:  5
Words:  1388
Order Original Essay

How it works


Louise Erdrich uses something in life to heal a person’s problems. She uses an object to symbolize a type of medicine for a person. ‘The Red Convertible’ uses the car to help the lives of Henry and Lyman. This story tells about the lives of the two brothers and the problems they have in life. The oldest brother, Henry, goes off to war, and when he returns, he is mentally unstable. Then, he begins restoring the convertible, and it helps him to overcome some of his problems.

Need a custom essay on the same topic?
Give us your paper requirements, choose a writer and we’ll deliver the highest-quality essay!
Order now

Then, the two boys go off in the car on a road trip, and Henry drowns. Next, Lyman runs the car off into the water behind Henry. The car was a type of medicine for Henry. By letting go of the car and facing the death of his brother, Lyman was able to stand up and finally become a man. ‘The Red Convertible’ presents stories that propose an emotional healing. I really like the way Erdrich shows how if we as people just pay attention to certain details in life, it may help us through the problems that we are having. I really think both of these are great poems, and I enjoyed the deeper messages they revealed in the end.


‘The Red Convertible’ is set in 1974 on a Chippewa Native American reservation in North Dakota. The setting briefly extends as far as Alaska when Lyman and Henry embark on a road trip.


Informal, reminiscent, wistful, melancholy (Lyman is angry with Henry for avoiding him, so he beats up the car.. Henry quickly gets his life back and fixes it again. They soon realize that they value each other more than the car).

Point of View:

First-person point of view, Lyman Lamartine, a young Native American, follows the story of his brother, Henry. Lyman uses the past tense when he recounts events and when he quotes himself, Susy, his mother, and Bonita. However, when he quotes Henry, he always uses the present tense, even if the action takes place in the past. The present tense is also used exclusively from the time the brothers arrive at the Red River to the end of the story. For Lyman, Henry does not exist in the past. Instead, Lyman’s loss of his brother is always fresh, like a wound that will not heal. Finally, the red convertible itself serves as a narrative device to illustrate Henry’s changing mental state throughout the work. When Lyman and Henry first purchase the automobile, Lyman describes the car as “reposed” and “calm,” which reflects Henry’s personality at the beginning of the story. Later, after Lyman damages the car, Henry seems to recognize that the dented convertible is a physical reflection of his wounded psyche. In repairing the automobile, Henry is attempting to heal himself. When he fails to achieve the same state of wholeness as the car, he realizes that it is “no use” and tries to give the convertible to Lyman. Lyman, who realizes that the car mirrors Henry’s struggles, transfers complete ownership to Henry by sending it into the river after his brother drowns.


Louise Erdrich’s short story ‘The Red Convertible’ is about the clash between Native American and Western warfare values. Erdrich depicts Native Americans as warriors, which is clearly seen in his reference to Red Tomahawk, a Yanktonai of Dakota known for shooting the Sioux tribal chief Sitting Bull for resisting arrest and rebelling against the US government. It is due to the Native American drive to be warriors that Henry decides to enlist in the Vietnam War. However, when Henry is captured as a prisoner of war and witnesses all of the horrors.


Protagonist: Lyman Lamartine, a young Native American, is attempting to hold on to his youthful innocence in the wake of his brother’s change during the Vietnam War. Antagonist: the effects of the war, which irrevocably change Henry’s personality and lead to his eventual demise. There are examples of man vs. self with Henry, especially as he struggles to find a way to return home and fit in again. This proves impossible because the war has changed him so much.

Lyman Lamartine – narrator of the story.

Henry Lamartine – Lyman’s brother and closest companion, is drafted into the Vietnam War and returns a changed man.

Susy – a girl that the brothers meet on a road trip who lives in Chicken, Alaska.

Bonita Lamartine – the boys’ 11-year-old younger sister.


The author uses vibrant, vague imagery when describing the brothers’ joyrides in the red convertible to emphasize their pleasurable yet ultimately fleeting nature.


The red convertible symbolizes Henry and Lyman’s youthful innocence and the freedom that comes with it. When they first see the convertible for sale, they are electrified by it like their youth. It seems to them “alive” and alluring. They buy it almost without thinking, recklessly spending all their money and leaving barely enough to buy gas to get home. Then, they ride all over North America in it, still carefree and paying little attention to maintaining the car. When they return home, however, the car isn’t in great shape, and Henry gets drafted into the war. Their carefree, youthful behavior, it seems, is catching up to them and coming to an end. He is now uninterested in the car, which shows his distance from the freedom, youth, and innocence it symbolizes. Lyman damages the car in an attempt to get Henry to fix it, thereby giving him a hobby and a purpose. For a while, this seems to work. Henry fixates on repairing the car, and he seems in better spirits; he even invites Lyman on a joy ride to the river once the car is fixed, which hearkens back to their carefree traveling days. However, the innocence and freedom of youth can’t be regained once lost on that trip. Henry drowns, and when Lyman cannot save him, Lyman pushes the car into the river, destroying it in the same way that his own freedom and innocence have been destroyed by his brother’s death.


Lyman Lamartine narrates the story and recounts memories of his relationship with his brother, telling of the good times they had with the car until Henry’s deployment to Vietnam and the events following Henry’s return. Three years after enlisting, Henry returns home, and Lyman sees how he has changed during his time away. The old Henry has been replaced by a war-hardened soldier who cannot simply rejoin his and Lyman’s youthful brotherly relationship. Henry wears only broken-in clothes and military boots from his time in Vietnam; he is either withdrawn or ‘jumpy and mean.’ The brothers enjoy a short moment of laughter and then sit and think about how things used to be. Then Henry tells Lyman that he needs to cool off, so he runs and jumps into the river. Henry remarks apathetically that his boots have filled with water, and he goes under in the current. Lyman rushes to rescue his brother but to no avail. Lyman then turns on the car and sends it into the river, watching it sink to its demise, just like Henry.


The main themes in “The Red Convertible” include change, sacrifice, brotherhood, and the emotional effects of war. The theme of brotherhood is all over the narrative, resonating with the state of the red convertible. Throughout the story, he shows that situations can have life-altering effects. Erdrich takes the reader on a journey of two brothers whose names were Lyman and Henry. He covers us from the time they buy their first car to the time of the death of Henry, the older brother. The story is told from Lyman’s point of view; the reader has no direct insight into Henry’s thoughts and feelings. His words and actions, however, indicate that he loved his brother very much and valued their relationship. When he prepared to leave to serve in the Vietnam War, he wanted to give his younger brother the car that had brought them so much happiness. Presumably, he did not know whether he would survive, and he wanted his brother to become more independent. This may also explain the infrequency of his letters home. After he came home from the war, he was a different man. 


  1. Erdrich, Louise. “The Red Convertible.”
The deadline is too short to read someone else's essay
Hire a verified expert to write you a 100% Plagiarism-Free paper

Cite this page

The Red Convertible Symbolism in Louise Erdrich's "The Red Convertible". (2023, Sep 02). Retrieved from