Symbolism in “The Red Convertible”

Symbolism in “The Red Convertible”.

Symbolism in “The Red Convertible”

Literary devices are used to make narratives lively and to involve the readers or listeners by capturing their attention. These devices include but not limited to imagery, characterization, conflict, dialogue, and symbolism. By definition, symbolism is the use of symbols in narratives to imply ideologies and perspectives but not in the literal sense (Tiwari 2-3). Typically, the story flows smoothly with the use of the symbol, but the objects or characters so chosen represent the deeper meaning of more significance compared to the literal context. In “The Red Convertible”, Symbolism has been effectively integrated into the story that involves two brothers Lyman and Henry. These two characters are very close and decide to buy an American dream car, a red oldie convertible to have good times with. However, after some period of enjoyment, Henry joins the army and goes to Vietnam for war. Unfortunately, he returns a depressed man after the war with a post-traumatic stress condition. His relationship with Lyman and the family dwindles and he eventually drowns. This paper will, therefore, delve into the use of symbolism as a literal device in the story by Louise Erdrich.

The main symbol used in the narrative is the red convertible car. This car represents many aspects, one of which is the relationship between the two brothers. When the brothers decided to buy the car, they were very close and confidants. They ride in the flashy red vehicle and have fun most of the summer. They rarely put up the hood of the car “…made most of the trip, that summer, without putting up the car hood at all” (Erdrich106). This implies that they were open and the two brothers did not have secrets. Their lives were open to each other including sharing the good times and luxurious moments that were filled with excitement. Additionally, the open roof of the car indicates the brothers interacted freely without restrictions.

The second aspect of the car is the looming conflict between the two brothers. When Henry went to war in Vietnam, Lyman was left servicing the car after the long summer trips. The repairing of the vehicle indicated the beginning of a troubled relationship. Lyman kept on sending letters to his brother but rarely got replies. Meanwhile, Lyman manages to get the car up and running but was riding alone. However, he felt proud of the red convertible that always reminded him of the strong bond he has with his brother. This implied that he was the one involved in keeping the relationship and communication alive with no contribution from Henry. Eventually, Lyman leaves the car lying in the garage without being used. This indicated that their relationship and brotherhood had stalled due to physical distance as well as ineffective communication between them.

After three years of communication breakdown, Henry returns home depressed and feeling the impacts of war. It is at this point that the red convertible turns into a symbol of suffering and conflict. Henry does not recognize the car and is no longer interested in it. This indicated that there was a psychological and physical disconnect between the brothers. Also, the connection between Henry and the rest of the people becomes troubled. To make matters worse, Lyman becomes disoriented with the situation and decides to dismantle the car on purpose. This was after he had refurbished it after the long summer trips they had made together. The dismantling of the once luxurious and valuable car indicated the suffering of Henry and the pain Lyman was undergoing after seeing the changes in behavior and his brother’s condition.

Finally, the car symbolizes death and disconnection between Henry and Lyman. The color red of the already damaged car symbolizes the instance defining Henry’s suicide at the Red River. The red color further indicates the bloodless death of the Henry as the currents overpower him and finally drowns. On witnessing this fatal eventuality, Lyman drives the red convertible into the river and watches as it sinks “…watch[es] it plows softly into the water…the sound of it going and running and going and running and running” (Erdrich114). This signified the end of the relationship between the brothers forever. Both the convertible car and Henry are lost in the saddest way, leaving Lyman lonely and disoriented about life.

Clearly, “The Red Convertible” was chosen by the author as an appropriate title to explain the brotherhood and dreams of Henry and Lyman, which do not materialize by the end of the narrative. Initially, the car indicated the vibrant relationship between the brothers but eventually symbolizes conflict and suffering. The car becomes less and less important to Lyman after Henry goes to war and after the war. He, Lyman, sinks it into the river after Henry drowns.


Works Cited

Erdrich, Louise. “The Red Convertible.”The Red Convertible: Selected and New Stories, 1978-2008. New York: HarperCollins, 2009. Print.

Tiwari, Nidhi. “Imagery and Symbolism in T. S. Eliot’s Poetry.” Chennai: Atlantic Publishers & Distributors, 2001. Print.

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Symbolism in “The Red Convertible”

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