Louise Erdrich Short Fiction Analysis
Just as fiction in general has opened up to a diverse ethnic spectrum of writers, so too has short fiction, and Louise Erdrich’s stories stand as excellent examples of contemporary Native American literature. Like Leslie Marmon Silko, Linda Hogan, and Paula Gunn Allen, Erdrich has taken a place as one of the prominent female Native American authors of short fiction. Even among American Indian stories, Erdrich’s stand out for their multiethnic nature. Erdrich’s stories include not only Native American characters but also characters of German, Swedish, and other European descent. Likewise, many of the stories’ themes are not specifically Native American themes. Indeed, the themes of Erdrich’s stories range from the effects of war on families and personal identity to loss of heritage and family and personal relationships.
Stylistically, Erdrich’s stories reveal many similarities to the stories of writers she has said had significant influence on her. The distinct sense of place, of character, and of history that colors the works of Toni Morrison, William Faulkner, and Italo Calvino is similarly prominent in Erdrich’s stories. She has said of Calvino that “the magic in his work is something that has been an influence,” which is clear especially in stories like “Fleur” and “Snares.” As Faulkner does with Yoknapatawpha County, Erdrich creates a world of the Chippewa reservation and the town of Argus, in which and around which nearly all of her stories occur. Many of her characters are employed repeatedly in her stories. Minor characters in one story may be the central characters in another or relatives of characters in one story are featured in later stories. Thus, most of Erdrich’s stories connect to create a fictional world, which appears as true as the real world.
Erdrich has said that “the story starts to take over if it is good.” Her stories fulfill this criterion, capturing readers’ imagination and carrying them along on an intense mental ride. Her stories truly “touch some universals” that embrace readers of all ages, cultures, and beliefs.
“The Red Convertible”
“The Red Convertible” is Erdrich’s first published story. Like many of her stories, this tale of two brothers later became a chapter in the novel Love Medicine. On the surface, the story appears to be merely a simple tale of two brothers and the car they share. Lyman Lamartine, a young Indian man with a “touch” for money, and his brother Henry save enough money to buy a used, red Oldsmobile convertible. Lyman tells the story, describing the early adventures he and his brother shared in the car. However, as the story progresses, it becomes clear that much more than the car is important in this story. Lyman describes how Henry changed when he returned home from the Vietnam War. While the family tries to help the deeply depressed Henry, Lyman tricks his brother into fixing up the car that he damaged. While Henry does improve, even the car cannot save him as he commits suicide in the end. In this story, the red convertible represents the freedom and innocence of youth, yet once those things are lost due to war in Henry’s case and due to the altered Henry in Lyman’s case, they cannot be regained; they must be let go. While the story unfolds mainly on the reservation, part of its success is that the topic itself (the loss of innocence, the effects of war) is universal, which allows any reader to understand and be intrigued by the...
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