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
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.