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
             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
             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 also becomes

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