Essay > Words: 1977 > Rating: Excellent > Buy full access at $1
The Red Convertible By Louise Eldrich
“The Red Convertible” by Louise Erdrich tells the tragic story of two Native American brothers and their experience with regard to how the United States governments broke promises. Literary elements such as conflict and characterization are used to depict how their pursuit of the most basic American promise- freedom, turned both futile and fatal.
The brothers’ names are Henry and Lyman and they grew up on a reservation with dreams of living free. The time period was set in the 1970’s and the United States military was actively drafting young men into the service. Lyman was fortunate enough in life to escape the draft and use his intellect and entrepreneurship to acquire a taste of the American dream. His brother on the other hand, was not as fortunate and landed up being drafted into the war, where he was most likely captured and held as a prisoner by the opposition for years. Eventually, He is released and returns home but the war has taken its toll on him. By modern day terminology he suffered from a serious case of post traumatic stress disorder. The condition in which he returns is very hard for his family to cope with, especially his brother Lyman and in the end it becomes evident how the brothers have been wronged and how their pursuit of freedom and the American dream were almost futile from the start because so many promises made by the American government fall short, especially for the Native American people.
The very first line of this story sets a tone of conflict between the Native American culture and the American government for anyone privy to the history between the two. Erdrich subtly does this by mentioning that the narrative voice of the story, Lyman, was raised on a reservation. It is a place where the Native American culture has had their freedom restricted by being isolated from mainstream society. The fact that Lyman said “I was the first one to drive a convertible on my reservation” (Erdrich, 231) is revealing in another way too. It goes to show the extent of the isolation and Lyman’s interest to be free of it.
Lyman in fact is after the American dream, he’s is in pursuit of money and power and he thinks that will bring him happiness and freedom. He has been successful in making money and climbing his way up the employment latter. At 15 he was “shining shoes” (232) in the American legion hall and by 16 he had become “part owner” (232) of a restaurant and says “there’s no stopping me” (232). Unfortunately, it appears that Lyman’s success was unable to bring him the happiness and freedom he was ultimately searching for.
The characterization of Lyman in the story goes to show how even with success a person can fall victim to the empty promises of our government, that money and power don’t really buy happiness and freedom. When the story began Lyman was a strong character, he was mentally focused, ambitious and motivated. He was hungrily pursuing the American dream, hustling money however he could, owning businesses and buying fancy cars. His brother Henry junior and he actually shared a red Oldsmobile convertible. This car, temporarily allowed them to share in the joy of being free to travel the country, but it wasn’t actually the car that made the free, it was the spirit the already possessed to travel the country and adventure out that did. Either way, Lyman loved that car and cherished it. When His brother Henry was eventually sent to the Vietnam War, Lyman fixed up the car. He “put it into almost into perfect shape” (234) in anticipation of his brothers return. Lyman never expected his brother to return anyway other than he left. Our governments promise the best technology, equipment and training to our soldiers, and should something happen to them in battle there are supposed to be all kinds of benefits to aid their recovery. This didn’t prove to be the case in Lyman and Henrys experience. His brother didn’t come home the same and the impact that had on Lyman and his family was profound.
As Native American people Lyman and his family were particularly vulnerable to the effects of war and the false promises our government makes. There is a lack of trust between the cultures which is evident when Lyman alludes to the native American saying “reservation roads… are like government promises -full of holes” (235) and perhaps it was this predisposition toward our government that was the chink in Lyman’s character, because the once mentally strong and motivated person that was introduced in the beginning seems to be no more by the end. Lyman is so distraught over the occurrences relating to Henry that by the end of the story he is getting “a little drunk and stoned” (236) …”shaking” (236) and feeling like he “couldn’t stay in the room” (236) with a picture of his brother. Maybe this is because …
Henry, Lyman’s brother was “never lucky” (234). Henry never had much success with jobs and making money and pursuing the American dream. He was mentally weaker than Lyman but physically stronger. “He was built like a brick outhouse” (233) and Lyman said that “I don’t wonder that the army was so glad to get my brother that they turned him into a marine” (233). So right there eldritch is using the literary element of external conflict, between America and Vietnam to introduce the effects of America at war on a Native American family.
This conflict more importantly illuminates a crack in the foundation of the promise of freedom in this country for native America people because it depicts the hypocrisy of our government. We are supposed to be protectors of freedom yet here we have isolated a culture on reservations, taken their sons and sent them to fight in far off l.............
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