Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

A member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa, Erdrich considers herself a storyteller first and a writer second. Love of storytelling, which grew out of tribal oral tradition, is a primary means of keeping Native American cultural values alive within the community. The first-person narrative technique Erdrich employs in “The Red Convertible” reflects her affinity for storytelling. She has often said that she “hears” her characters talking before writing dialogue. Lyman speaks in his own voice, which lends an immediacy and poignancy to the narrative. The first-person narration also allows Erdrich to convey the speech patterns of modern Native Americans and to portray the hardships of reservation life realistically.

In addition to Lyman’s first-person account, the fact that the story is told from his point of view is also a significant element of the narrative structure. Throughout most of the work, Lyman uses past tense when he recounts events and when he quotes himself, Susy, his mother, and Bonita. However when he quotes Henry, he always uses present tense, even if the action takes place in the past. Present tense is also used exclusively from the time the brothers arrive at the Red River to the end of the story. For Lyman, Henry does not exist in the past. Instead, Lyman’s loss of his brother is always fresh, like a wound that will not heal.

Finally, the red convertible itself serves as a narrative device to illustrate Henry’s changing mental state throughout the work. When Lyman and Henry first purchase the automobile, Lyman describes the car as “reposed” and “calm,” which reflects Henry’s personality at the beginning of the story. Later, after Lyman damages the car, Henry seems to recognize that the dented convertible is a physical reflection of his wounded psyche. In repairing the automobile, Henry is attempting to heal himself. When he fails to achieve the same state of wholeness as the car, he realizes that it is “no use,” and tries to give the convertible to Lyman. Lyman, who realizes that the car mirror Henry’s struggles, transfers complete ownership to Henry by sending it into the river after his brother drowns.

Historical Context

(Short Stories for Students)

American Involvement in the Vietnam War
The Vietnam War lasted from 1959 to 1975, with the North Vietnamese and the...

(The entire section is 412 words.)

Literary Style

(Short Stories for Students)

First-Person Narrator
‘‘The Red Convertible’’ is told entirely in the first person from Lyman's point of view....

(The entire section is 720 words.)

Compare and Contrast

(Short Stories for Students)

1984: The Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., is completed. Dedicated in 1982, the wall displays the names of...

(The entire section is 286 words.)

Topics for Further Study

(Short Stories for Students)

Research assimilation and acculturation as they apply to Native Americans. What are the main differences between the two, and what are some...

(The entire section is 208 words.)

What Do I Read Next?

(Short Stories for Students)

Sherman Alexie's screenplay Smoke Signals (1998) tells the story of Victor and Thomas, two young Native-American men who take a...

(The entire section is 157 words.)

Bibliography and Further Reading

(Short Stories for Students)

Barry, Nora, and Mary Prescott, "The Triumph of the Brave: Love Medicine's Holistic Vision,’’ in...

(The entire section is 379 words.)


(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Bruchac, Joseph. “Whatever Is Really Yours: An Interview with Louise Erdrich.” In Survival This Way: Interviews with American Indian Poets. Tucson: Sun Tracks and University of Arizona Press, 1987.

Coltelli, Laura. “Louise Erdrich and Michael Dorris.” In Winged Words: American Indian Writers Speak. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1990.

Erdrich, Louise. “Where I Ought to Be: A Writer’s Sense of Place.” The New York Times Book Review 91 (July 28, 1985): 1, 23-24.

Erdrich, Louise. “The Writing Life: How a Writer’s Study Became a Thing with Feathers.” The Washington Post Book World, February 15, 2004, 13.

Hafen, P. Jane. Reading Louise Erdrich’s “Love Medicine.” Boise, Idaho: Boise State University Press, 2003.

Meadows, Susannah. “North Dakota Rhapsody.” Newsweek 141, no. 8 (2003): 54.

Rifkind, Donna. “Natural Woman.” The Washington Post Book World, September 4, 2005, 5.

Sarris, Greg, et al., eds. Approaches to Teaching the Works of Louise Erdrich. New York: Modern Language Association of America, 2004.

Stookey, Loreena Laura. Louise Erdrich: A Critical Companion. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1999.