As the title shows, “The Red Convertible” is the main fulcrum of the story and the entire plot is built around it. It is used as a symbol of happiness with its color ‘red’ denoting passion and life. At the beginning of the story, the car belongs to both Lyman and Henry – symbolizing the happiness they shared. The money that Lyman invested in the car came at great cost. He had worked for years at Joliet Café before becoming its owner and soon after becoming a owner he had lost it to a tornado; it was the insurance money that was going into the purchase of the car. For Henry, the money that he invested in the car came relatively easy because it was just one pay check and a week’s extra pay for being laid off. This shows that Lyman became happy after a lot of hard work, whereas Henry was easily endowed with happiness. It was the sharing of the happiness or the red convertible that allowed them to have a lot of fun in the summer.
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When Henry left to join the army, he leaves the car – and the happiness it symbolizes – to Lyman. When Henry returns, a man deeply traumatized by his war experiences, he hardly notices the red convertible. To get his attention, Lyman shatters down the red convertible and succeeds. Henry repairs the car. The shattered car seems to stand for the shattered happiness of Henry who now desires to build it back. One fine spring day, the two brothers decide to take a drive in the car. The shared happiness is being rediscovered in the sharing of the car. Lyman notes that Henry’s face is now more peaceful. On the riverside, Henry confesses that he knew that Lyman had willfully shattered the car and he repaired it only to return it back to him for good. The symbolism works here beautifully, unfolding the love between the two brothers. Lyman will destroy his happiness for the sake of his brother and his brother would work hard to ensure his brother’s happiness for good. When finally Henry decides to go into the river and die, Lyman, knowing he is never going to be happy without his brother, drowns the car as well. Thus from beginning to end, the symbolism of the red convertible for happiness is one that makes the short story “The Red Convertible” by Louise Erdrich, poetic in nature.