The Red Convertible

by Louise Erdrich
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Who are the key characters in "The Red Convertible"?

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The key characters in "The Red Convertible" are two brothers, Henry and Lyman Lamartine, who are Chippewa and live on a reservation.

Henry is the older brother and co-owns the red Oldsmobile convertible with Lyman. In the beginning of the story, he is adventurous and funny, taking a...

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The key characters in "The Red Convertible" are two brothers, Henry and Lyman Lamartine, who are Chippewa and live on a reservation.

Henry is the older brother and co-owns the red Oldsmobile convertible with Lyman. In the beginning of the story, he is adventurous and funny, taking a road trip with Lyman and having fun with girls along the way. When they return home, Henry is drafted to Vietnam, and the experience forever changes him. Upon returning home, he can no longer tolerate being still and moves constantly. He refuses to laugh, and if he tries to do so, it sounds more like choking than laughter. On the final night he is alive, he seems to briefly find a semblance of his former self before throwing himself into a raging river. He makes no effort to save himself as his boots fill with water, and he then drowns.

Lyman is the younger brother and the narrator of the story. He considers himself "lucky" and confides that he never worried about personally being drafted to Vietnam. When Henry returns from Vietnam, Lyman longs to connect with him and to restore his spirits. Yet as he watches Henry continue to mentally deteriorate, Lyman isn't sure how to help his once fun-loving brother. Lyman finally decides to give Henry something to care about and intentionally beats up the underside of their car with a hammer. He leaves the car sitting out, waiting for Henry to notice it. It takes over a month, but finally Henry tells Lyman that the car "looks like shit." The scheme seems to work; Henry spends countless hours, day and night, restoring the damage that Lyman had done. Yet in the end, Lyman isn't able to save his brother, who has seemingly become overwhelmed with depression following the war. He jumps in to try to save Henry from drowning in the river but is unsuccessful. Unable to reconcile his loss with the car they had enjoyed together, Lyman rolls the car into the water as well.

Henry is likely to conjure feelings of deep sympathy. Because he is forced to serve in the Vietnam War, Henry's life is devastated. He transforms from a carefree kid to a despondent young man who is unable to participate in his own life. It is unclear whether he intentionally drowns himself or if this was yet another tragedy in his life, but he seemingly makes no effort to save himself, nonetheless.

Lyman seems to be a faithful brother. He is hardworking, albeit a bit arrogant about his own fortunes. He is young enough to be a bit naïve about how much war can affect people and perhaps should have intervened more, such as when he witnessed Henry bite through his lip without seeming to notice. Yet Lyman does try to help, going so far as to destroy the car they both loved in an effort to give Henry something constructive to do. Lyman's limited life experience likely lessens his ability to intervene in such weighty matters in a way that is able to truly provide the support Henry needs.

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