I don’t know if maybe Professor Freeman planned this, but I think it is very ironic that we are discussing “The Red Convertible” on Veteran’s Day of all days. I think it is a very appropriate story for us to discuss because it really brings to light the sacrifice, whether it is mental, physical or emotional, that our soldiers make for us. As a Veteran’s Day “shout out” I have to say that I am so very grateful to all of the men and women who are currently serving or who have served in our armed forces.
Now, back to “The Red Convertible” by Louise Erdrich. This story is about two brothers Lyman and Henry Lamartine. Lyman is the narrator, and his story revolves around a red convertible Oldsmobile. Lyman discusses the summer he and his brother bought the convertible, how he took care of the car when his brother went off to war, how he tried to use the car to help his brother recover from his extreme Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and finally how he drove the red Olds into a river after his brother commits suicide by drowning himself. Henry commits suicide because he is suffering from what we would now classify as PTSD after being held prisoner during the Vietnam War.
One major aspect of this story that stuck out to me was the importance the color television played when Henry came back from the war. I have discussed in previous history classes how the Vietnam War was the first war that was ever widely televised. This really changed the dynamics of how the every day American was impacted by the war. For the first time ever people were truly exposed to the horrors of war. I would imagine that the veterans returning home from the war only to find clear pictures of it in their own living rooms were also adversely effected by this change. The new color television seems to have a very negative impact on Henry once he is back from the war. Though the Erdrich never lets the audience know what on the T.V. makes Lyman so irritated, for some reason I imagined it was news coverage of the war efforts during the end of Vietnam. This would certainly not be good for someone who is suffering badly from PTSD. (Here is an article I found that discusses more about the televising of Vietnam)
I have grown up around military men and women, and I have seen firsthand the horrible things PTSD can do to a person. When you compound that with other psychological issues like survivors guilt it is amazing that anyone who comes back from war can function in their normal lives again. I suppose that is why as I read this story I really focused on Henry. He suffers so much, and in the end he takes the rout that, tragically, many other servicemen have taken. His family is so thrown by his odd behavior that they cannot even think of a way to get him help. The fact that this is a poor Native American family living on a reservation does not help the matter.