The Native American Culture In The Red Convertible The Native American Culture in The Red Convertible In the short story The Red Convertible, by Louise Erdrich, the author, contrasts the old way of life versus the new. Erdrich does this through metaphorical symbols: the color red, convertible, summer trip, and the fancy dance Henry performs before his death (Erdrich p. 468). In the story, the color red symbolizes many things. The convertible is red.
Lyman also said his brother, had a nose big and sharp as a hatchet, like the nose on Red Tomahawk (Erdrich p. 467). Also when the brothers took their final journey Lyman says, We started off east, toward Pembina and the Red River (Erdrich p. 467). The color red, in this story, represents Henry’s will to be free.
The convertible appears in a bright red because, while driving the car, Henry feels trapped by the white man’s war (Erdrich p. 467). By returning to the Red River Henry regains his spiritual freedom. According to The American Heritage book of Indians, the Red Sticks were and anti-American faction that fought to keep the white man out, and their heritage strong (p. 221). With this information, the Red Sticks, and the color red, represented in the story can be linked in their feelings with anti-Americanism (The American Heritage book of Indians p.
221). Lyman says, He said he wanted to give the car to me for good now, it was no use (Erdrich p. 468). By Henry giving Lyman the red convertible, he is foreshadowing his death. In the Chippawa culture gifts are given to the family of the deceased (The Chippawas of Lake Superior p.
16). A remnant of the deceased was kept, wrapped in birch bark, this spirit bundle was then kept for a year and later given to the family (The Chippawas of Lake Superior p. 16). Lyman knows that Henry is preparing him for Henry’s death by giving him the car. Lyman states, No way. I don’t want it, referring to the car (Erdrich p.
468). Lyman refuses this gift because he does not want Henry to die. The red convertible also represents a curative charm (The Chippawas of Lake Superior p. 19). In the Chippawa culture, a charm was given to the injured or diseased.
This charm was used in many ways to: stimulate love, attract wealth, insure a successful journey, and to counteract evil (The Chippawas of Lake Superior p. 19). The charm consisted of an artifact that represented the individual or a figurine (The Chippawas of Lake Superior p. 19). The car was Henry’s charm form Lyman.
Lyman states, I thought the car might bring the old Henry back somehow (Erdrich p. 466). Lyman could see Henry was sick, so by reconnection Henry with the car, he thought the Henry would get better. To understand why the brothers took tow trips, one to Alaska, and the other at the end of the story, the Nomadic lifestyle of the Chippawas must be examined. The Chippawas led a seminomadic life, dependent upon the seasons (The Chippawas of Lake Superior p. 10).
At the beginning of the story, Henry and Lyman venture off for the summer. The brothers end up in Alaska, which symbolizes their search for new hunting ground (The Chippawas of Lake Superior p. 11). The final journey, that the boys embark on, represents Henry’s return to nature. Lyman identifies Henry’s feeling by stating, When everything starts changing, drying up, clearing off, you feel like your whole life is starting. Henry felt it too (Erdrich p.
467). When Henry and Lyman reach their final destination, something comes over Henry. Lyman identifies this change when he states, I think it’s the old Henry (Erdrich p. 468). However, Lyman doesn’t understand Henry’s next move when he says, He throws off his jacket and starts springing his legs up form the knees like a fancy dancer..He’s wild (Erdrich p.
468). To understand Henry’s fancy dancing, the reader must be aware of the cultural ties the Chippawa have to dancing. The origin of the Chippawa dancing drum is told through an old legend (The Ojibwa Dance Drum p. 44). The legend begins with an old Indian woman, who lost her four sons fighting the white man.
This woman took refuge in a lake. Hiding from the white man, under lillypads, the Great Spirit told her how to ward off the white man (The Ojibwa Dance Drum p. 44). To do this, the Great Spirit told her to make a drum, and taught her songs to sing when the white man returned (The Ojibwa Dance Drum p. 44). When the woman returned to her people, she told the men how to sing the songs.
The Great Spirit said, It will be the only way you are going to stop the soldiers from killing your people (The Ojibwa Dance Drum p. 44). When the white men returned to the village, they heard the drum and saw the dancing, they then put down their arms, and stopped the killing (The Ojibwa Dance Drum p. 44). By looking at this story’s background, and understanding the difficulties Henry went through, the reader can understand the meaning of Henry’s fancy, wild dance (Erdrich p. 468).
Henry was sent to fight in a white man’s war, and upon his return, he had changed. henry’s dance symbolically represents his rejection of war. Henry, tortured by the memories of war, performs this dance in hopes of warding of the nightmares. The lake country red man’s lifestyle developed from an acceptance of his environment, not from its transformation (The Chippawas of Lake Superior p. 6). This statement in effect describes Henry. Henry couldn’t accept the changes that were occurring around him, therefore he took his own life.
Symbolically, the author, Louise Erdrich uses the culture of the old Native Americans to explain the actions demonstrated by the characters in the story. The convertible can be looked at as a charm to help the sick. The nomadic lifestyle is demonstrated by the trips taken by the brothers. Also Henry’s dance symbolizes the fighting of the American soldiers.