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
Thus, although the convertibleretains its association with Henry's calm personality, it also becomesassociated with the carefree bond between the two brothers. After trying one last time tosave his brother, Lyman returns to the red convertible, puts on thehigh beams, drives it to the riverbank, and gets out. Meanwhile Lyman, who hadmeticulously maintained the red convertible during Henry's time inVietnam, now methodically damages it, hoping that Henry will decide torepair 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 andrepose. In a striking sign of hisnew, unnatural state, Henry does not even notice the blood as he goesin to dinner, "even though every time he took a bite of his bread hisblood fell onto it and he was eating his own blood mixed in with thefood" (148). Unfortunately, Henry loses his natural repose when he is sent toVietnam, where he sees nine months of combat and spends another halfyear as a prisoner of war. Thetelevision so upsets him that once while watching, he bites throughhis lip until blood flows down his chin. As theautomobile follows Henry into the river it is once again personified:the headlights "reach in . At this point, Erdrich inverts her methodof associating the car with Henry: Whereas the red convertible hadearlier been portrayed in terms associated with humans, after hisVietnam experience, Henry is portrayed in motion-dominated termsordinarily associated with automobiles.