Why does Lyman fiddle with the television in Louise Erdrich's short story "The Red Convertible"?

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Tamara K. H. | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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In Louise Erdrich's short story "The Red Convertible," Henry's brother Lyman comes back from the Vietnam War with very severe post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) from having been a prisoner of war and witnessing atrocities. As a result of his PTSD, Henry only takes comfort in watching television all day long. One can presume it is because the images and the story lines of the shows help distract him from the horrible war-related images in his own mind. One can also presume he watches TV all day long because he feels too emotionally exhausted to do anything else.

Yet, Henry's television watching greatly disturbs Lyman because Lyman can sense Henry is not completely at ease. He is still troubled and anxious and hiding his troubled state of mind through keeping still and watching television. Lyman relates Henry's stillness to that of a rabbit "when it freezes and before it will bolt." Since Lyman knows that television viewing isn't really helping Lyman, just masking his symptoms, Lyman very much wants to destroy the TV set.

Lyman then gets the very brilliant idea of distracting Henry from the symptoms of his PTSD by encouraging him to repair their red convertible. While Henry is busy repairing the car, Lyman slips into the house and "fiddles around" with the innards of the TV set until he knew it is "almost impossible now to get a clear picture." The reason why is because Lyman wants to prevent his brother from slipping back into this unhealthy method of distracting himself from his unhealthy memories; instead, Lyman knows it will be far healthier for Henry to once again become engaged in the world.

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