The Red Convertible

Themes and Colors
Loss of Innocence Theme Icon
The Trauma of War Theme Icon
Masculinity and Silence Theme Icon
American and American Indian Identity Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Red Convertible, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

In “The Red Convertible,” brothers Henry and Lyman both lose their childhood innocence as they face the realities of adulthood. Henry is thrust into a war full of unimaginable horrors that change the way he thinks and acts. Meanwhile, Lyman is forced to deal with losing his brother not once but twice—first when Henry returns from war a changed man, and then later when he drowns in the river. Throughout the story, Erdrich depicts loss…

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In “The Red Convertible,” Erdrich associates war exclusively with trauma. There is no glorification or nationalistic sentiment—Henry goes to fight in Vietnam a carefree, gentle young man, and he comes back a shell-shocked veteran who eventually dies as a direct result of his untreated mental disorder. Furthermore, while Erdrich depicts Henry’s mental problems at length, the characters remain muddy on the actual purpose of war. They never discuss supporting or opposing Vietnam, they never…

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In “The Red Convertible,” the Vietnam War is a traumatic experience that young men are forced into because of the draft. The adverse effects that the war has on Henry and his family are exacerbated by the unwritten, unspoken rules of masculinity that discourage men from speaking about their trauma. For Erdrich, norms of masculinity (particularly silence) are restrictive and can be actively harmful—they force young men into wars, traumatize them, and offer them limited…

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In “The Red Convertible,” Henry and Lyman are both American and American Indian, and their identities and experiences are always shaped by a combination of those two factors. The general circumstances of the boys’ lives are shared by many Americans of all races: getting a car as a teenager, for instance, or being drafted into Vietnam. However, Erdrich also emphasizes that these typically-American experiences are always tempered by the boys’ American Indian identity. While their…

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