In "The Red Convertible," explain the following quote: "We owned it together until his boots filled with water on a windy night and he bought out my share."

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accessteacher's profile pic

accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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This quote is an example of foreshadowing, as it points towards the tragic ending of this story and how the relationship between Lyman and Henry is brought to a sudden end. Let us remember what happens at the end of the story. Henry, having fought in Vietnam, returns home but is clearly not the same and has been damaged by his experiences. It is only when Lyman and Henry go on another car journey together that Henry fights with Lyman about who should have the car. In the end, he jumps into the river and lets himself be washed away by the current. His act of committing suicide is therefore what Lyman somewhat ironically interprets as "buying out his share," as his death meant that they no longer owned this car together. It is part of the brilliance of Erdrich as a writer that she does not immediately reveal through this quote the tragic ending that awaits Henry, though of course when we get to the end of the story, we come to realise the full meaning of her words. It is Henry who, after jumping into the stream, comments upon how his boots are getting filled with water before he drowns.

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mwestwood's profile pic

mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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As previously mentioned, Eldrich's statement presages the ending of her story, hooking readers and leading them through the narrative.

After Lyman's restaurant burns and he receives his insurance money, he and his brother Henry go to Winnipeg where they discover the red convertible:

There it was, parked, large as life. Really as if it were alive. I thought of the word, repose

The brothers purchase the car and decide to take a road trip. So, they drive all the way to Alaska, and they thoroughly enjoy themselves. In Alaska, Lyman explains, "You never feel like you have to sleep hard or put away the world."

Unfortunately, when the brothers return home, it is just in time "for the army to remember Henry had signed up to join it." During Henry's absence, Lyman works on the red car that seems to him to really just belong to Henry. By the time Henry returns home, the red convertible is in almost perfect shape. But Henry is not. He sits in front of the color television that Lyman has purchased, and he seems jumpy. Erdrich writes, "When he laughs, it sounds like a man choking." One day he bites through his lip, bloodying it. When Lyman walks over to the television to smash it for causing Henry pain, Henry attacks his brother and they fight. Fortunately, their mother is able to diffuse the situation. But she and Lyman know that Henry has problems.

After unsuccessfully trying to interest Henry in the red convertible, Lyman decides to damage the car. It takes Henry a month to discover the car, but when he does, he tells Lyman that the car looks terrible. They argue some, and Henry speaks more than he has since his return home. He sets to work on the car and repairs it. Then, one day he simply says, "Let's take that old —— for a spin."

Henry wears his "field jacket and worn-in clothes," and Lyman notices that Henry's face looks "clear, more peaceful." Soon, Lyman feels as though something squeezes and tightens him; he notices that Henry seems to feel the same closing and opening. Lyman shakes his brother, shouting, "Wake up! Wake up!" Henry's face is white, and he says, "I know. I can't help it. It's no use."

The brothers talk and Henry tells Lyman that he has known all along that he smashed the car on purpose. Also, he wants Lyman to have the car, but Lyman refuses to take it. After this refusal, the brothers fight with one another until Henry's eyes fill with blood and tears, and he laughs hysterically, "Ha! Ha! Take good care of it!" They laugh for a while; then Henry's mood changes again. Suddenly, he shouts that he must cool off and he runs to the river and jumps into it. So strong is the current that Henry is swept quickly away. Lyman hears him say, "My boots are filling," in a strangely normal voice.

Although he jumps in quickly, Lyman's efforts to save his brother are futile because he cannot catch up to him. Pulling himself onto a snag, Lyman manages to get back onto shore. He walks to the red convertible and drives it to the riverbank. He puts the car into first gear and jumps out, sending it along to Henry, who has "bought out [his] share."

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