The setting briefly extends as far as Alaska , when Lyman and Henry embark on a road trip. Three years after enlisting, Henry returns home and Lyman sees how he has changed during his time away. Henry wears only broken-in clothes and military boots from his time in Vietnam; he is either withdrawn or "jumpy and mean. Lyman mentions the car, hoping that those memories will help Henry. Lyman takes a hammer to the car in the hope that his brother will notice it and want to repair it.
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American and American Indian Identity Summary Analysis Lyman recalls that he was the first person to drive a convertible on his reservation, a red Oldsmobile. Early on, Lyman establishes that he lives on a reservation, which implies that he is probably Native American. Like most reservations, it is not wealthy — note that Lyman is not just the first person to own a convertible, but the first person to ever drive one. He also leaves ambiguous what exactly happens to Henry.
Here, Lyman makes it clear that he is Native American, and admits that his relative wealth is unusual. His ability to make money with ease allows him to buy the convertible and gives him and his brother their freedom for a long time. Active Themes Henry and Lyman are in Winnipeg when they stumble upon the convertible, which seems almost larger than life, and they decide to buy it. One summer, they travel all over the Great Plains, into Canada, even up to Alaska in the car without a care in the world.
In this part, Henry and Lyman are at their freest and most innocent. They are able to travel freely, and the red convertible is both a literal source of their freedom and a symbol of it, with its youth and energy.
Their decision to take Susy all the way home, even though she lives all the way up in Alaska, and then stay there impulsively, epitomizes their freedom in terms of time and money. Henry picks her up on his shoulders and twirls her around so her hair sways from side to side. This scene takes on greater meaning later, after Henry is traumatized from war.
This scene reveals that his true nature is calm, jocular, and not overly concerned with norms of masculinity, but instead comfortable in himself. There is a stark difference between the carefree Henry in this scene and the traumatized Henry that appears later.
Download it! Meanwhile, Lyman writes him lots of letters and keeps the convertible in top shape for him. He considers himself lucky that he did not get drafted, and acknowledges that Henry was never lucky like he was. He never speaks about his capture, which would undoubtedly be a traumatic experience and would have contributed to his loss of innocence. By comparison, Lyman seems childishly innocent—writing countless letters without expecting a reply and keeping the car in perfect shape as if Henry will be back at any moment.
He can no longer sit still, he hardly ever laughs, and he never makes jokes like he did before. He even has no interest in the convertible. Because of this, others mostly leave Henry alone, and he spends long stretches of time watching the color TV that Lyman bought for the family, gripping the armrests of his chair tightly.
One day, he bites through his lip while watching, and blood drips down his chin. Lyman tries to turn off the TV, but Henry stops him by shoving him out of the way. Eventually their mother comes in and turns off the TV. His silence, emphasized by his time spent in front of the television, contrasts sharply with the way he used to laugh and joke. His trauma also manifests physically when he bites through his lip and seems not to notice—blood running down his chin like something out of a horror film while he eats in front of his entire family.
They also acknowledge it is unlikely that Henry would agree to go to a hospital. Their only options are to take Henry to non-Indians for treatment, and they fear reasonably so that they may discriminate against him.
Lyman also suggests that Henry would object to going to a hospital, which may be because of the silencing and stigma around illness, mental illness in particular. Over a month later, Henry confronts Lyman about the state of the car, and Lyman goads him into fixing the car himself. Henry spends weeks at it, day and night. He hardly ever watches their TV, and is somewhat better than he was before, not as jumpy. One day, Henry suggests that they take the car for a ride.
However, instead of talking to Henry about what happened to him or what he needs, Lyman takes action in silence by destroying the car. Active Themes Their sister Bonita makes them pose for a photograph with the car before they go. Lyman recalls the picture, which he kept on the wall for a long time until one night he realized how much it tormented him. Slightly drunk and high, he suddenly saw clearly in the photo how haunted Henry was, with his shadowed eyes and forced, painful smile.
His friend Ray helped him bag the picture and hide it in a closet, but he still remembers the stark difference in their faces every time he passes the closet. It is only upon seeing the photograph in a particular light that Lyman realizes how much Henry was suffering, and how obvious that was in the physical features of his face. Perhaps it occurs to Lyman for the first time that Henry could easily have been miserable enough to kill himself.
It also reveals the gap of knowledge between Henry and Lyman, exacerbated by their silence. Active Themes Related Quotes with Explanations After they take the picture, they take a full cooler and make the trip to the Red River, because Henry wants to see the high water. The trip is beautiful and relaxing, and Lyman thinks Henry seems unusually calm and happy.
They build a fire and Henry falls asleep, but Lyman becomes anxious and wakes him up. They start talking and Henry reveals that he knew what Lyman was doing by intentionally damaging the convertible. He wants Lyman to have the car all to himself, but Lyman refuses, and they argue back and forth until they start roughhousing.
They hit each other too hard, drawing blood, and finally they stop, agreeing that Lyman will have the car. Both still in pain, they open beers and drink them all, making each other laugh. Back in the car traveling together, it seems to Lyman that maybe things can go back to the way they used to be, before Henry went to war.
Henry even seems calmer, and Lyman starts to think that maybe his unusual homemade plan for treating Henry has worked. Their roughhousing and joking with each other also hearkens back to their more innocent days, but something is off.
Their typically masculine behaviors and silence on the topic of what is actually happening with Henry are connected. Active Themes Related Quotes with Explanations Something has changed in the air, and Lyman suggests they go back, maybe try to pick up some girls.
Lyman jokes back that he, too, is crazy—that they all are crazy—trying to rile him up, hoping to keep having fun. But still, something is different, and even these jokes feel slightly dangerous. Lyman goes in the river after him, but it is too late. Devastated, Lyman pushes the red convertible into the river to join him. There is no sound after he jumps in, and he does not even scream.
Lyman throws the car into the river because he cannot bear to hang on to this symbol of youth, freedom, and innocence when his brother lost all of those things as well as his life.
Feinman-Riordan, Grace. Retrieved March 10, Copy to Clipboard.
The Red Convertible (1984)