The Red Convertible


Louise Erdrich

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The Color TV Symbol Icon

The color TV that Lyman buys for his family symbolizes Henry’s inability to move on from his wartime trauma. Lyman returns home from war changed—he is “jumpy and mean” and he spends most of his time alone with the television. Because of this, Lyman regrets buying the television, or at least wishes that he had bought a black-and-white set, because the images would then seem farther away, older, and more distant. This indicates that Henry is watching something current, disturbing, and all too familiar: probably the ongoing war coverage. Henry seems simultaneously addicted to and disturbed by the television. On the one hand, the TV is the only thing that makes him physically calm—that is, he is finally able to sit still, perhaps because there is an aspect of familiarity to the images—and on the other hand, he still grips onto the chair as if for dear life. It is also while he is watching TV that he bites through his lip, seemingly without realizing, and shoves Lyman out of the way when he tries to turn the set off. This suggests that something about the TV’s images themselves are re-traumatizing. By contrast, when he seems to be getting better, working on the car, he hardly ever watches television. The fact that Henry’s illness is characterized by his inability to look away from the television, but also the fact that TV is clearly traumatic for him, shows that—at least mentally speaking—he is still unable to escape the war, even as it torments him. Though the television is meant to be a source of entertainment and even companionship, it ends up exacerbating his trauma and inactivity because it forces him to relive wartime in graphic detail.

The Color TV Quotes in The Red Convertible

The The Red Convertible quotes below all refer to the symbol of The Color TV. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Loss of Innocence Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Harper Perennial edition of The Red Convertible published in 1984.
The Red Convertible Quotes

I'd bought a color TV set for my mom and the rest of us while Henry was away. Money still came very easy. I was sorry I'd ever bought it though, because of Henry. I was also sorry I'd bought color, because with black-and-white the pictures seem older and farther away…

Once I was in the room watching TV with Henry and I heard his teeth click at something. I looked over, and he'd bitten through his lip. Blood was going down his chin. I tell you right then I wanted to smash that tube to pieces. I went over to it but Henry must have known what I was up to. He rushed from his chair and shoved me out of the way, against the wall. I told myself he didn't know what he was doing.

Related Characters: Lyman Lamartine , Henry Lamartine
Related Symbols: The Color TV
Page Number: 183
Explanation and Analysis:
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The Red Convertible PDF

The Color TV Symbol Timeline in The Red Convertible

The timeline below shows where the symbol The Color TV appears in The Red Convertible. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
The Red Convertible
Loss of Innocence Theme Icon
The Trauma of War Theme Icon
Masculinity and Silence Theme Icon
...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,... (full context)
Loss of Innocence Theme Icon
The Trauma of War Theme Icon
Masculinity and Silence Theme Icon
...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. By the time... (full context)