The Red Convertible Symbolism

Length: 5 Pages 1232 Words

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. L Continue...

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Thus, although the convertible retains its association with Henry's calm personality, it also becomes associated with the carefree bond between the two brothers. After trying one last time to save his brother, Lyman returns to the red convertible, puts on the high beams, drives it to the riverbank, and gets out. Meanwhile Lyman, who had meticulously maintained the red convertible during Henry's time in Vietnam, now methodically damages it, hoping that Henry will decide to repair the car and in doing so will begin to repair himself. Unable to bear it any longer, Henry leaps into the river. Similarly, Henry at first possesses a natural calm and repose. In a striking sign of his new, unnatural state, Henry does not even notice the blood as he goes in to dinner, "even though every time he took a bite of his bread his blood fell onto it and he was eating his own blood mixed in with the food" (148). Unfortunately, Henry loses his natural repose when he is sent to Vietnam, where he sees nine months of combat and spends another half year as a prisoner of war. The television so upsets him that once while watching, he bites through his lip until blood flows down his chin. As the automobile follows Henry into the river it is once again personified: the headlights "reach in . At this point, Erdrich inverts her method of associating the car with Henry: Whereas the red convertible had earlier been portrayed in terms associated with humans, after his Vietnam experience, Henry is portrayed in motion-dominated terms ordinarily associated with automobiles.