Loneliness is inherent in the lives of Charlotte, from “Pomegranate Seed,” and Lyman, from “The Red Convertible.” The writers of the stories have their personal experiences built into their work. In addition, the characters from both stories suffered through similar ordeals; they helplessly watched a loved one dissolve like a fading dream.
Kassanoff explains, Wharton recognized her younger self in Sara, a woman in “All Souls’” who, is paralyzed by loneliness (383). This loneliness in the younger life of Wharton was inevitably ingrained in her stories. The story “Pomegranate Seed” is a perfect example of how Wharton’s loneliness seeped into her writing.
Erdrich’s “The Red Convertible” is contained in the book Love Medicine. Marie, a character in another story, is losing Nector, her husband. Her grandson Lipsha attempts to cure her loneliness by preparing a love potion. He botches the recipe and kills Nector. This shows that loneliness is not a foreign idea to Erdrich’s writing either.
Both “Pomegranate Seed” and “The Red Convertible” begin with lonely characters. Charlotte begins the story remembering her friends sometimes stopped by, but “Sometimes–oftener–she was alone”(Wharton 317). Charlotte rarely had anybody around other then her husband, and he was becoming more distant. Erdrich begins the story at the end, and Lyman is looking back on the past. Erdrich writes, “Now Henry owns the whole car, and his younger brother Lyman (that’s myself), Lyman walks everywhere he goes” (143). When Henry died, Lyman’s spirit and happiness went with him. Lyman walking every place symbolizes that there is nothing for him. Lyman only has memories of companionship.
Although both characters were lonely at the beginning of the stories, the source of the loneliness lies deeper in the story. Charlotte felt the pain of being alone after her husband Kenneth started receiving mysterious letters from his dead wife. After reading the letters ” . . . he looked years older, looked emptied of life and courage, and hardly conscious of her existence” (Wharton 318). These letters began to arrive when they returned from their honeymoon, and persisted until Kenneth disappeared. Because of the letters, he paid little attention to her throughout most of their marriage. The letters were, ultimately, the cause of Charlotte’s loneliness.
Lyman, on the other hand, became lonely when his brother Henry returned from Vietnam. Henry had changed. Lyman explains, “I had been feeling down in the dumps about Henry around this time. We had always been together before” (Erdrich 150). He also explains, ” . . . he was such a loner and I didn’t know how to take it” (Erdrich 150). The Vietnam War’s effect on Henry was the cause of Lyman’s loneliness. Henry was not the same person that he was before he left. Lyman began to miss the times when they would sit and talk with anybody all afternoon (Erdrich 147). At one point in each story the characters believed they had “won back” their companion. Charlotte argued and pleaded with her husband to go on a vacation with her. She wanted him to get away from the gray letters he was receiving. When Kenneth finally agreed to go Wharton writes, “There was something frightened, convulsive in his hold; it was the clutch of a man who felt himself slipping over a precipice” (331). Although Charlotte thought she had won the struggle, she had actually lost her husband. Although she did not know it, she would be more lonely than she had been.
Like Charlotte, Lyman had a confrontation with his brother. Lyman did not use words with his conflict, however, he used his fists. When Henry tried to convince him to take the car, and Lyman did not take it, a fight ensued. When the fight ended, Lyman was told to “Take good care of it” (Erdrich 153). The car was Henry’s parting gift; because Henry knew he was never going to use it again. They laughed and drank together for a long time, but Lyman did not know it was the last time. Lyman thought he had his brother back, and everything was going to return to normal.
Finally both Charlotte and Lyman realize that they are alone, and their loved one is gone. When Charlotte discerned where the gray letters were coming from, she understood that her husband was not going to return. Mrs. Ashby promised an explanation, and Charlotte replied, “An explanation? Who’s going to give it, I wonder” (Wharton 340-41)? At this point Charlotte knew she had lost her husband. She also knew she was alone.
“Got to cool me off!” was the last thing Lyman heard from his brother (Erdrich 154). Henry had jumped in the river and drowned. Lyman made the red convertible follow him in. “I wait. . . . It is finally dark. And then there is only water, the sound of it running and going and running and running” (Erdrich 154). Lyman waited, hoping his brother would not really be gone. Then he realized it was all over. There was nobody left, except himself and his life. His life had to keep going on.
Although everyone has a bit of loneliness in their lives, it is very prominent in the lives of Charlotte and Lyman. They lost someone precious to them, and they did not recognize what they had until it disappeared.
Wharton, Edith. The Selected Short Stories of Edith Wharton. New York: Scribner’s, 1991.