The stories are a sophisticated way of conveying the authors’ message. There are numerous literary devices, which allow them to add more depth to the story, one of which is using symbols. ”The Red Convertible” by is an example of a Louise Erdrich is an example of a story with a complex theme and meaning. Noticing the symbols can completely change the perspective of the reader. Erdrich’s use of symbols helps her conceal the conflict between nature and human arrogance, which manifests in the dynamic between the natural phenomena and mechanical objects over the course of the story.
”The Red Convertible” is a story about two brothers, who grow from joyful and careless friends into distant and emotionally disconnected relatives. The story uses a narrator – Lyman, who is the younger of two brothers. The other brother is Henry. Both have native American descent and live in North Dakota. Although Lyman is the narrator, Henry is more likely the main character because the story unfolds as the result of his actions and feelings primarily. The critical point of the story is when brothers get separated by war, from which Henry returns as a completely different man and tries to fit back into the life with his brother, who is still the same. Therefore, the main theme of this story appears to be the influence of war on the psychological health of a person.
The theme is supported by extensive use of literary symbols. Naturally, the main symbol is what gave the story its name – the car. It is a complex object, which serves several functions in the story. First, it allows the reader to see the characters enjoy themselves on their journeys before the war. Second, the car motivates for Henry to return to being passionate about something once again. Third, the car is a symbol of the relationship between the brothers. It starts as shining, which reflects the mood of the brothers, then it stays unused in a garage, similar to the brothers who have no contact with each other. At the end, the car is being repaired, just like the brothers, who are trying to rekindle their relationship. Finally, as Henry commits suicide, the car is thrown into the water, symbolizing the end of the relationship.
However, there is also another meaning attached to the car. It is a mechanical object at odds with the nature. The car symbolizes the attempt of the brothers to solve their natural problems with technology. Many of the events in the story is accompanied by a certain manifestation of nature. It can even be stated that all major plot shifts happen precisely because of the intervention of the forces of nature. In this regard, the car is a symbol of overall technology and mechanics, which stand at odds with natural phenomena and life.
This conflict is evident almost from the beginning of the story. As Lyman becomes more and more successful in managing a cafe, a sudden tornado destroys it, leaving Lyman without the job. Although it is a minor episode, it foreshadows how important will be the role of nature in Lyman’s life and how quickly and utterly it can destroy what he has created. It is also important that Lyman does not even care about losing the cafe. His real passion is making money. He uses them to buy possessions and make more money: “I was the only kid they let in the American Legion Hall to shine shoes, for example, and one Christmas I sold spiritual bouquets for the mission door to door” (Erdrich 1). The decision to buy the car is almost made on a whim: “before we had thought it over at all, the car belonged to us” (Erdrich 2). Lyman’s obsession with money and material things compromise him as a selfish person who believes that money, mechanical objects, and possessions can solve all in life.
Lyman’s selfishness is evident further in the story, when Henry is conscripted into the army. Lyman thinks: “I always had good luck with numbers, and never worried about the draft myself” (Erdrich 5). However, his habit of solving life’s problems with technology is challenged when Henry returns from Vietnam. A shell-shocked veteran, he has trouble adapting into the normal life and exhibits self-destructive behavior: “he’d bitten through his lip. Blood was going down his chin” (Erdrich 6). Finally, Lyman decides to use another one mechanical object – the convertible to revitalize Henry. He seems to succeed as Henry becomes passionate about repairing the car to its former state despite the freezing weather.
Unfortunately, this does not mend Henry’s mental damage. Unable to overcome his PTSD, he decides to commit suicide. He pressures Lyman into agreeing to take care of the car, then he jumps into the river and notes that his boots are filling with water. The apathy in his voice indicates his lack of willingness to live. Lyman rushes to save him, but he is too late. He then proceeds to throw the car into the river, thus allowing the nature to destroy another one of his mechanical solutions to the life’s problems.
Altogether, it should be evident that what appears on the surface can in reality have a completely different meaning. Erdrich accomplishes this by carefully putting complex symbols in “The Red Convertible”. The story of brothers may seem to be about the consequences of war on the first read, whereas analysis of the appearances of nature and technology in the story showcases human delusions, arrogance and naïve belief that mechanical and material things can solve all life’s problems.
Erdrich Louise. The Red Convertible. HarperCollins, 2010.