The Red Convertible
Brotherhood usually lasts forever, but in the short story, "The Red Convertible," Louise
Erdrich demonstrates the relationship of the Lamartine brothers; Lyman and Henry. The two
brothers, who are the main characters in the short story of the Red Convertible takes a sudden
turn. This is after Henry joined the army and returned home with changed personalities.
Therefore, Erdrich illustrates the effects of civil war on people and their families. This paper
highlights Henry's transformation as a result of his involvement in the Vietnam war. Also, the
paper will analyze whether Henry’s jumping into the river which made him drown was
accidental or suicidal.
Analysis of Henry Lamartine in Erdrich’s the Red Convertible
Louise Erdrich has precisely depicted the kind of relationship that existed between Henry
and Lyman. Erdrich illustrates their strong bond through the red convertible car which they both
purchased together. The red convertible facilitated their adventurous activities, in addition to
strengthening their relationship. Henry and Lyman enjoyed each other’s company very much.
One day, the two brothers drove to the red river to have a view of the high water. Henry
claimed he wanted to cool his body and thus he jumped into the river of which later he drowned
(Erdrich, 1993). Henry’s drowning was not accidental. Henry had a soar relationship with his
brother soon after he participated in the Vietnam war. Lyman tried to bring back his brother by
making him repair the red convertible which he had patched. Lyman believed that the repaired
car would mean a repaired relationship. Henry worked on the car just because his brother needed
it. The red convertible played a major role in their lives together. Henry’s attempts to come back
was futile hence resorting to repairing of the car for the sake of his brother. This suggests that
Henry’s jumping into the river was more of intentional rather than accidental. He went to the
river with the intention of committing suicide. Henry couldn’t come back (Erdrich, 1993). He
lied to his brother, by telling him he was going to cool off to avoid Lyman accompanying him.
Additionally, Henry did not call his brother to help him and only did that when it was too late.
Probably, the memories and pain of war Henry felt triggered his move to commit suicide since
he wouldn’t simply live with such pains (Erdrich, 1993).
Henry and Lyman are portrayed as naïve and carefree (Erdrich, 1993). They would hang
out together most of the time and they even bought a red convertible together which was part of
their lives. Erdrich depicts them as adventurous boys. They spent all of their money to buy a car
which facilitated their mobility to no real destination. Henry and Lyman were simply exploring
the country, going where the roads would take them. The two brothers had no responsibilities,
had no worries and "just lived their everyday lives here to there." (Erdrich, 1993, p. 461) They
would sleep under willow trees, wake up and continue driving again. But this was not until
Henry came back from the Vietnam war. Henry had joined the military where he was stationed at
the Northern Hill Country (Erdrich, 1993).
Louise Erdrich demonstrates the effects of war and how it changes people. Erdrich uses
Henry to illustrate how war affects people, for instance, Henry was affected psychologically.
One can tell the differences between his personalities at the time before he joined the military
and after he returned home from war. Before he joined the army, Henry is portrayed as a carefree
soul who likes having fun (Erdrich, 1993). But this is not the case moments after he returned
home from the Vietnam war. After the war, Henry is portrayed as a quiet and a very defensive
person (Erdrich, 1993). He became restless and kept moving around and always watched his
back as if waiting for someone to ambush (Erdrich, 1993). Lyman reminisces back, way before
Henry joined Army on how they used to sit still for the better part of the afternoon. They would
sit still for hours doing nothing but just moving their muscles, shifting their weights on the
ground, conversing with people who they might have sat next to and had a good view of things.
Henry was not that person anymore but now was a quite person (Erdrich, 1993).
Henry’s personality was also greatly affected by the Vietnam war. Before he joined the
army, Henry was a jokester (Erdrich, 1993). Him with his brother loved telling jokes and having
fun. When they picked up the girl named Susy and drove her home, Henry showed his funny
side. He joked to Susy by saying "I always wondered what it is like to have long pretty hair,"
(Erdrich, 1993, p. 462) they all laughed. However, this funny personality of Henry ended when
he joined the army. Lyman went to the extent of comparing the old Henry to the new one. The
old Henry was funny because he used to joke a lot although later this personality changed. Henry
would hardly laugh and if he did, he sounded like a man choking. His attitude was completely
the opposite of the old self. Lyman described him as being “jumpy and mean” (Erdrich, 1993, p.
The Red Convertible is an entertaining and interesting short story that can be used to
educate the society about the effects of war on people and their families. War can transform an
individual to acquire different characteristics as evidenced by Henry Lamartine in the Red
Convertible. This essay can be used as an essential referencing material for individuals interested
in analyzing Louise Erdrich’s work.
Erdrich, L. (1993). The red convertible. New York: Henry Holt and Co Inc.