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The Red Convertible - Louise Erdrich

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Research Paper

        The author of The Red Convertible, Louise Erdrich, was born in 1954 in Little Falls, Minnesota, but spent most of her time growing up in Wahpeton, North Dakota her parents taught at Bureau of Indian Affairs schools. She comes from German descent on her father’s side, and French and Ojibwa through her mother. Her stories are often told from a multicultural perspective due to her own ethnic makeup. However, she worked at many different jobs before finding her true calling in becoming a writer.

 She attended the Johns Hopkins creative writing program and received fellowships at the McDowell colony and the Yaddo Colony. After she was named the writer-in-residence at Dartmouth, she married the professor Michael Dorris and raised several children, even adopting a few. She and Michael became the picture-book husband and wife writing team, although they only wrote one collaborative novel, The Crown of Columbus (1991). Some other pieces of Erdrich’s work are: Love Medicine, The Beet Queen, Tracks, and The Bingo Palace. 

Her short story The Red Convertible, was published in 1984 during Ronald Reagan’s presidency and the crack-cocaine epidemic that swept through America; along with the struggles of wartime efforts in Iraq. This story begins in an era of great distress for America, along with the problems of inside of the US borders we were also in the middle of one of the biggest wars of recent history.

Henry Jr. is the oldest, and has a younger brother named Lyman, who is left with the Red Oldsmobile while Henry was drafted to the war effort. Lyman kept the car in tip top shape while his big brother was gone, keeping it sort of like a gift, a surprise for his brother to come home to. His brother was a different man when he returned from the field of battle, he was always jumpy and could never sit still. Always paranoid and looking out of windows, he could never sit completely through a family dinner, that’s just what the war did to him. The only time he sat still was when he was sitting in his arm chair directly in front of the TV set, and even still he looked uneasy. They used to always spend time together in the Oldsmobile, working on it or taking joyrides that is how they spent time together, that’s when he was the happiest. So instead of Lyman fixing the car up when he left, he began to treat it like dirt. He took a hammer to the side of the body, bent the tailpipe, ripped the muffler off, etc. The car was rundown at this point and looked like any other Indian car that had been driven all its life with little to no care for its well-being. This caught Henry’s eye, causing him to point it out to Lyman that the car “Looks like shit.’ Henry then took it upon himself to fix the car up to prove to Lyman it was a classic, for some time that was his only goal. When the car was fixed, he invited Lyman to take the car for a spin like the old times, of course this is what he wanted all along. While on the trip Lyman feels very optimistic about his plan, thinking this will change Henry’s perspective about life as of late. They park the car in the woods by the river, it is high and full of icy trash from the winter and begin to drink beers and watch the river. They hash things out about how things have changed with him; Henry admits that he can’t help it and tries to give the car to Lyman but he refuses. They then start to go back and forth until Henry puts his hands on his little brother, they begin to wrestle which results in punches being thrown from both parties. Instead of turning into a bigger fight, it kind of clears things up. The two sort of came to an agreement, Lyman would hold the car while his brother was gone, and when he got back things would be like old times. After they talked they began to dance and laugh with each other, Henry’s body got heated from his excitement and exclaimed “Got to cool me off!” and ran and dove into the river. Always in his combat boots, his boots filled up with water and by the time he realized it was too late for Henry. “My boots are filling.” Was the last statement he made before the tide took hold of him, Lyman knew what happened but couldn’t contain himself from at least trying to go save his older brother but it was too late for him, Henry was gone. Lyman then took his foot off the clutch and pushed the Red Olds into the river, forever belonging to Henry now.



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