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The Red Convertible Symbolism

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...

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The Red Convertible Symbolism. (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 02:02, July 05, 2015, from