Literary critic Marvin Magalaner has stated that in Louise Erdrich's
Love Medicine, "water is the all-pervasive symbolic link with the past
[...] and with the natural environment," whereas "the unnatural
present is epitomized by the automobile" (101). But in the chapter of
Love Medicine entitled "The Red Convertible"--a chapter often
anthologized separately as a short story--just the opposite is the
case: The automobile is associated with a more natural state of
affairs--farther in the past, whereas water is associated with
unnatural times much closer to the present. The chapter is organized
around its closing paragraph, in which a red convertible is swallowed
up by the Red River. This closing image symbolically restates what has
happened to Henry Lamartine, both individually and in his relationship
with his brother, Lyman.
Throughout the chapter, Erdrich associates the red convertible with
Henry's state of mind. The first time the convertible is mentioned, it
is personified. Lyman, the story's narrator, says that when he and
Henry first saw the car, it looked "really is if it was alive" (144).
But the car isn't portrayed as having merely human traits; it is
portrayed as having what at first are Henry's traits. Lyman emphasizes
the peaceful quality of the convertible by stating that when he first
saw the car, sitting "calm and gleaming," he "thought of the word
repose" (144). Similarly, Henry at first possesses a natural calm and
repose. Lyman fondly recalls times when he and Henry "sat still for
whole afternoons, never moving a muscle, just shifting our weight
along the ground" (147).
But of course, automobiles are normally associated with movement
rather than with repose. As Lyman says of the months after buying the
red convertible, "We went places in that car, me and Henry. We took
off driving the whole summer" (144). Thus, although the convertible
retains its association with Henry's calm personality, it...