In the Red Convertible by Louise Erdrich, the main character Henry loses his hold on reality. The story takes place in North Dakota on an Indian Reservation where Henry lives with his brother Lyman. Henry and Lyman buy a Red Convertible that later in the story illustrates Henry?s lack of ability to stay sane. The brothers take a summer trip across the United States in the car. When they return, Henry is called to join the army, which turns out to be the transitional point in Henry and Lyman?s personal life. The Vietnam War changed Henry?s appearance, psyche, and his feelings about the Red Convertible.
Before the Vietnam War, Henry?s appearance was cheerful and energetic. Henry enjoyed the time he had with Lyman, working on the Red Convertible, and traveling across the U.S. during the summer. They went from Little Knife River to Alaska without a worry in the world. Henry was talkative and friendly to even strangers. For example, when they pass a woman on the side of the road Henry says, ?Hop on in?, indicating his friendliness and confidence (975). Henry?s appearance before war suggests that his life was complete.
However, after war, Henry?s appearance was one of depression and dishevelment. When Henry returned Lyman said ?[he] was very different, and I?ll say this: the change was no good (977).? Henry was 180 different than he was before the war. ?He was quiet, so quiet?,? said Lyman, not talkative and cheerful like he was before (977). Henry and Lyman had went on a long trip in the Red Convertible before the war, but now Henry is ?never comfortable sitting still anywhere (977).? They used to sit around the whole afternoon before, but now Henry is always moving or sitting by himself, watching television. He was described by Lyman as being like ?a rabbit when it freezes and before it will bolt? when he would sit in front of the television by himself (977). Every aspect of Henry?s appearance was totally different after the war.
Henry?s mental state also differed before and after the Vietnam War. Henry thought clearly and acted sane before war. When he put his mind to something he accomplished it. Henry interacted well because of his knowledge of cars. Lyman says, ?He was always out with that car? describing the knowledge that Henry had about the car to fix it from the bad condition it was in (978). His mental state was that of any normal person.
After the Vietnam War, Henry was crazy and unstable. For instance, when Henry was watching television and he bit through his lip with blood pouring everywhere (977). The blood was getting on his bread every time he took a bite, but because of his lost ability to think straight Henry doesn?t even flinch as blood pours everywhere. Also, at the end of the story Henry snaps on his brother Lyman. He punches Lyman, which leads to a fight ended by the laughing of Henry (980). During the fight with Lyman, the extent of Henry?s mental changed, to turn on a family member and physically strike him. Henry illustrates how crazy he is when he jumps in to the river all of the sudden to ?cool off?(981). This action by Henry ends his craziness and his life.
Henry?s feeling about the Red Convertible was another change that he underwent before and after war. When he and Lyman first laid eyes on the car for the first time, Henry knew he had to own it. When Henry left, he left the car to Lyman eventhough it was hard for him to leave such a dream of a car behind.
To the surprise of Lyman, right after the Vietnam War Henry never even asked about the car. When Henry returned the same feelings that drove him to get the car were lost at war. ?Henry had not even looked at the car since he?d gotten home,? says Lyman, which was totally opposite of how he used to be. Yet, once Lyman bashed the underside of the car Henry?s feelings soon changed. Henry one day comes home and says, ?the red car looks like *censored*?(978). This one point in the story where Henry?s past actions before war were still there after war, completely surprise Lyman.
As the Red Convertible progresses Henry?s appearance, mental state, and feelings about his once cherished car change because of the Vietnam War. The war had extreme effects on Henry and his brother throughout the story. 57,000 men and women died in Vietnam, and the soldiers that survived suffered the same post-war feelings that Henry did. Seeing death causes every person to change in some way, but when it is as gruesome and seen as repeatedly as some soldiers did, it changed their lives forever.