Representation of Ptsd in The Red Convertible by Louise Erdrich

About this sample

About this sample


Words: 1283 |

Pages: 3|

7 min read

Published: Jun 9, 2021

Words: 1283|Pages: 3|7 min read

Published: Jun 9, 2021

Table of contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in "The Red Convertible"
  3. Henry's Transformation
    The red convertible as a symbol of mental cange
  4. Conclusion
  5. References


In the modern era, discussions surrounding mental health have gained significant traction. What was once a highly stigmatized topic is now being brought into the spotlight. Historically, individuals grappling with mental illnesses lived in fear of their struggles being misunderstood by the general public, contributing to the growth of a pervasive stigma around mental health. One such mental health condition is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), which results from exposure to traumatic, life-threatening events, often including combat-related experiences, as outlined by the authors of "PTSD Prevalence, Associated Exposures, and Functional Health Outcomes in a Large, Population-Based Military Cohort." In the early 1900s, the concept of PTSD was not accorded the seriousness it holds today. However, contemporary discourse has underscored the significance of understanding the causes, symptoms, and treatments of this condition, given its profound impact on the daily lives of countless individuals. Common symptoms of PTSD encompass nightmares, social withdrawal, sleep disturbances, and heightened reactivity. In "The Red Convertible," Louise Erdrich employs her literary prowess to illustrate the Native American experience with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder following the Vietnam War. The author deftly juxtaposes Henry's pre- and post-war narratives to underscore the magnitude and repercussions of post-war trauma.

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Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in "The Red Convertible"

Henry's Transformation

Henry's transformation from a carefree young man reveling in summertime adventures to a battle-scarred veteran encapsulates the profound shift in his relationship with the external world. At the outset of the story, Henry is portrayed as an adventurous soul. Prior to his military draft, he embarks on a summer-long road trip with Lyman immediately after purchasing the red convertible. Lyman fondly recollects that the brothers "just lived their everyday lives from here to there," traversing great distances in the car to explore new vistas. Henry's eagerness to spend an entire summer exploring new locales attests to his adventurous spirit before being thrust into the horrors of war.

However, this adventurous persona gradually dissipates after Henry's return from Vietnam, marking his growing detachment from the external world due to PTSD. Lyman observes that it became "easier for him to do the things the rest of us did," such as eating without distraction and refraining from gazing out of windows. This newfound reclusiveness paints a starkly different portrait of Henry: he isolates himself and severs ties with anything beyond his immediate activities, a telltale symptom of PTSD. The transformation becomes even more pronounced when the reader witnesses Henry's anguished reaction to the color television. While watching on the color set, "Henry was not easy," gripping the armrests fervently and, at one point, biting through his lip until "blood was going down his chin." This visceral reaction reveals how profoundly unsettling it has become for Henry to immerse himself in another reality, in this case, the vividly colored images on the television. According to an article by Healthy Place, individuals with PTSD often struggle with change, and Henry's discomfort with embracing new experiences becomes evident. The contrast in his attitudes toward the external world serves to underline the gravity of his mental anguish, vividly illustrating how trauma can fundamentally alter one's perspective. Henry once delighted in discovering new places, but his harrowing experiences in Vietnam forever changed his outlook on the outside world.

Another significant change in Henry is his altered personality upon returning from Vietnam. Initially introduced as a playful and jovial young man, Henry undergoes a stark transformation compared to his time in Alaska. While in Alaska, Henry was known for "always having a joke," yet upon his return from the war, "he couldn't be made to laugh." The shift in Henry's demeanor is striking, leaving no room for doubt about his altered temperament. As Lyman observes, "It was a fact: he was jumpy and mean." Henry transitions from a carefree, fun-loving individual to a solemn veteran incapable of enjoying life as he once did. This transformation in his personality communicates to the reader the profound impact of PTSD, as it drains him of his lighthearted spirit and stifles his ability to find joy in life's simple pleasures.

The red convertible as a symbol of mental cange

Furthermore, the red convertible serves as a symbol that mirrors the evolution of Henry's mental turmoil. This convertible becomes a narrative tool that effectively portrays Henry's shifting mental state in the aftermath of the war. When the car is first introduced in the story, it is described as "reposed, calm, and gleaming." In much the same way, Henry's life before the war is characterized by calmness and serenity, as illustrated when the brothers take a moment to rest under a willow tree. During this break from their road trip, Lyman fondly recalls Henry as "asleep with his arms thrown wide," signifying an open and carefree disposition, eager to embrace life's myriad experiences. The car's robustness throughout the summer of road trips can be likened to Henry's mental resilience during this period. Their summer travels accentuate Henry's carefree nature and the stability of his mental state, which endures throughout the season.

However, the red convertible's journey after Henry's return unveils his struggle with PTSD and eventual downfall. Initially, upon his return, Henry pays no attention to the car. It's only when Lyman deliberately damages the car, recounting how he "whacked it up" until it looked "worse than any... car that has been driven," that Henry takes notice of it. It seems as if Henry perceives the battered convertible as a reflection of himself. He endeavors to repair the car, dedicating himself to the task day and night, even going to great lengths to obtain replacement parts. This mirrors Henry's efforts to mend his mental state, and for a while, it appears as though he has made a recovery, as evidenced by his joyous drive with Lyman. This fleeting moment harkens back to the old Henry, the one who delighted in carefree drives with his brother. However, this respite is short-lived. Ultimately, his PTSD resurfaces with a vengeance. Lyman informs the reader of how Henry's countenance turns "totally white and hard," breaking "like stones break all of a sudden when water boils up inside them."

The interaction between the brothers by the river serves as a window into Henry's ongoing mental struggle. Mental illness is often relentless, with individuals grappling with such conditions needing to learn how to cope with the ebb and flow of symptoms and episodes. Lacking any form of treatment, Henry feels powerless in the face of his struggle, uttering, "I can't help it," when the weight of his pain resurfaces. He goes on to express, "it's no use," indicating that he sees no end in sight. Ultimately, Henry takes his own life by jumping into the river. The Henry who once embodied the spirit of the car ceases to exist, and fittingly, Lyman pushes the convertible into the river alongside his brother. The symbolism embedded in the convertible provides the reader with an additional layer of insight into Henry's mental state. Through the narrative of the car, we witness Henry's mental resilience gradually erode, a poignant reflection of how PTSD can chip away at a person's mental well-being.

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The shifts in Henry's connection with the world, his personality, and his mental resilience underscore the immense burden that PTSD can impose on an individual's mental health, especially in the absence of adequate resources. These contrasts, vividly depicted in "The Red Convertible," shed light on the harrowing effects of trauma on Henry, mirroring the struggles faced by real-life individuals grappling with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Regrettably, during the time this story was written, the lack of available resources and support ultimately cost Henry his life. Fortunately, in today's world, there exists a greater array of resources and assistance to aid those confronted with such traumatic experiences.


  1. Erdrich, L. (1984). The Red Convertible. In "The Best American Short Stories" (pp. 135-149). Mariner Books.
  2. Koenen, K. C., Ratanatharathorn, A., Ng, L., McLaughlin, K. A., Bromet, E. J., Stein, D. J., ... & Kessler, R. C. (2017). Posttraumatic stress disorder in the World Mental Health Surveys. "Psychological Medicine," 47(13), 2260-2274.
  3. American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5th ed.). American Psychiatric Publishing.
  4. Friedman, M. J. (2014). Finalizing PTSD in DSM-5: Getting here from there and where to go next. "Journal of Traumatic Stress," 27(5), 481-485.
  5. Yehuda, R., Hoge, C. W., McFarlane, A. C., Vermetten, E., Lanius, R. A., Nievergelt, C. M., ... & Hyman, S. E. (2015). Post-traumatic stress disorder. "Nature Reviews Disease Primers," 1(1), 1-22.
  6. Veterans Affairs Canada. (2020). Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
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Representation Of Ptsd In The Red Convertible By Louise Erdrich. (2021, Jun 09). GradesFixer. Retrieved June 19, 2024, from
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