Grade: Advanced
Subject: Literature

#3196. The Red Convertible

Literature, level: Advanced
Posted Tue Aug 10 19:21:47 PDT 2004 by Pat Seawright (
Tri-County Technical College, Pendleton, SC
Materials Required: Short Story, Access to Web
Activity Time: 2-3 Classes
Concepts Taught: Historical, psychological and cultural background

The Red Convertible
Louise Erdrich

Standard: E4-R2.1 Demonstrate the ability to show how the cultural, philosophical, political, religious, or ethical perspectives of a particular period influence the plots, characters, settings, and themes of literary works written during that period.

In this short story, Louise Erdrich shows the influence that an event--in this case, the Vietnam War--has on Henry and Lyman Lamartine and their family. The objectives of this part of our study of this short story are the following:

* To read about a lifestyle different from our own and to be able to describe the setting of the story using that information.
* To explore background information about the Vietnam War and to use that information to explain the changes it causes in the Lamartine family.
* To use information on the effects of war on Native Americans, especially PTSD, and suicide among Native Americans to explain the actions of one of the major characters in the story.
* To write critically about this story from a psychological, historical, or cultural

Activity: Complete a first reading of the short story. Go to the following Web site View the sampler and answer the questions to get background information that will help you to gain a deeper understanding of the story.

1962 Olds Starfire Convertible
Oldsmobile Starfire Convertible-- 394V8, auto, pwr. steering, pwr seat, pwr. windows, pwr. trunk, Pwr. antenna, working Tach, Pwr. top , R/S outside mirror, radio, modern radials, nice two tone interior, real chrome, Candy Brandywine with silver down the middle.
Could this have been the kind of convertible that Henry and Lyman purchased?

The story can be divided into three parts:
Part 1: The Quest--Happy Times
Activity: After reading about Henry and Lyman's road trip, write a one page description of a similar trip you have taken or of a trip that you would like to take. In what sense was the brothers' road trip a quest? Why are such quests important for young people?

Activity: Using one of the trip planners on the Internet, plot Henry and Lyman's trip to and from Alaska.

Part 2: The War Years--1970-73

Henry went on a different kind of quest by himself. What he found this time was different and horrific.

Activity: The Web Sampler has already given you some important information about the Vietnam War; however, Henry's time as a POW must have had a tremendous effect on him. Locate information that describes the conditions of POW's during the Vietnam War using links to the resources in the college library and respond in writing (1/2 to one page) to the following question: What effects would the treatment and conditions of a POW have had on a free-spirited young Chippewa man?

Part 3: The Post War Period

This war has already stretched the generation gap so wide that it threatens to pull the country apart. --Sen. Frank Church, May 1970

Television brought the brutality of war into the comfort of the living room. Vietnam was lost in the living rooms of America--not on the battlefields of Vietnam. Marshall McLuhan, 1975

Activity: Create a timeline listing the events of this section of the story. Use EXCEL to put the events in chart form.

Activity: In your group of four, consider these questions:
* What really happened at the river?
* Was this a case of suicide or accidental drowning?
* What did Henry mean when he said, "My boots are filling"? Give both the literal and figurative meaning.
* Why, oh, why did Lyman send the red convertible into the river with its lights on?
* What does the red convertible represent?
Be able to support your answers as each group responds to the questions.

Final Activity: Write a 3-4 page essay on "The Red Convertible" from either a psychological, historical, or cultural perspective. Review the grading rubric below. We will peer edit the paper in class. The final paper will be due one week after the peer editing session.