Professor Jan Donley
March 25, 2014
To change is to become different, to progress, and to grow. In Louise Erdrich’s stories “Red Convertible” and “The Shawl” the idea of change is used as a catalyst to advance the stories in a new and interesting direction.
Both stories explain or imply some sort of change within their first sentences. The first sentence of “Red Convertible” reads, “I was the first one to drive a convertible on my reservation.” This is a change for the reservation, as it is the first time someone has driven a convertible on the reservation. Additionally, a convertible is a type of car that can transform to either have a roof or not. The first sentence of “The Shawl” reads, “Among the Anishinaabeg on the road where I live, it is told how a woman loved a man other than her husband and went off into the bush and bore his child.” This, too, has multiple examples of change. First, the narrator states that there is a story in which a woman loves a new man, which is a change for her. She also has a child with this new lover; having another child will change anybody’s life. The narrator also uses the words “it is told” showing that he did not experience the story first hand, which implies that the story could have been altered in some way after being told several times. So, from the first sentence of each short story, the audience knows that change is going to be a common topic throughout the remainder of the stories.
In the story of “Red Convertible” Henry owns a red convertible, which is his pride and joy. But after his departure and return from the Vietnam War, both he and the convertible have changed. Henry, as noticed by the narrator, Lyman, “was very different, and… the change was no good.” So Lyman, thinking “the car might bring the old Henry back somehow,” decides to destroy the underside of the car so that it needs fixing– another change. Henry does not even notice the car until it is no longer working, which is also a change in Henry. Henry becomes very fixated on repairing his car, which he does, and it makes him a happier person, as Lyman had hoped. Henry and his car experience another change, but also follow the same timeline of change. Moreover, Lyman hangs a picture of Henry on his wall during a time that he feels “close to him.” However, one day Lyman has a sudden change of heart about the picture. He says, “I looked up at the wall and Henry was staring at me. I don't know what it was, but his smile had changed, or maybe it was gone.” Even the face in the picture changes moods. Therefore, change is a present topic that is the driving force of this story.
In Erdrich’s story “The Shawl” a legend is told within the short story. As mentioned previously, the legend is about a woman, Aanakwad, who falls in love with a man other than her husband with whom she has a baby boy. So Aanakwad’s husband, “even though he loved Aanakwad… had to admit that their life together was no good...