The Red Convertible

by Louise Erdrich

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What is the claim in "The Red Convertible" by Louise Erdrich?

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"The Red Convertible" is a story that readers could find several claims within. It is probably best left to individual reader opinion to pick out the one theme/claim/lesson that he or she believes is most important to the story.

While I do see themes about brotherhood and freedom found in transportation, I think this story's main message is about the far-reaching repercussions of war and combat. I think that in general, when people hear about war and casualties of war, they think about soldiers that experience physical trauma. It's too often assumed that a soldier that comes home in "one piece" is good to go back to the life and the societal role that they had before. While this might be true of some combat soldiers, it isn't taking into account a person's entire health and wellness. A person's overall health is a combination of physical health, mental/emotional health, and social health. The story makes it clear that when Henry returns from Vietnam, he is not the same person. The war has changed him, and that makes sense, but it also affected his mental health. He returns a jumpy, silent, moody, and detached individual that rarely laughs or smiles. He's beyond a bad mood or slightly depressed feeling. There is something that isn't healthy about his mental state. It could be PTSD or something similar, but it is severe enough to cause Henry to commit suicide. The story has a strong message to readers that war has far-reaching consequences beyond what happens on the battlefield.

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Erdrich makes a number of claims and statements in this story. There is the theme of brotherhood in general, but this story particularly shows how American/European influence puts strains on Native American culture, family life, and that same brotherhood. Lyman and Henry bond over the red convertible. The car is an American symbol. Their trip to Alaska brings them together and the experience is more particular to their Native American heritage. In Alaska, with constant daylight, they experience something more like a dream, away from mainstream modern American life. With the convertible and this trip, they get a sense of both American and Native life. But this appealing blending of cultures is short-lived.

Henry is drafted (forced to fight) in the Vietnam War. Consider this from his perspective. He is made to fight a war that has nothing to do with his heritage. Needless to say, Vietnam was never a real threat to America itself. It was a political war based on ideological differences. So, Henry is jaded about this and his experience has left him with PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder). He is never able to get over this and it results in his suicide. So, Erdrich also illustrates the casualties and effects of war. In this particular story, she shows the complexities of multiculturalism and the way that war experience affects a Native American man.

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