The story ‘What You Pawn I Will Redeem’ by Sherman Alexie, is a simple narrative of a homeless alcoholic Indian, named Jackson Jackson who wants to repurchase the 50 years old Pow Wow regalia of his grandmother. This regalia was stolen at that time from his grandmother which is now priced as 999 dollars in a local pawn shop in Seattle. The character of Jackson is humorous and reveals the utilization of a stolen artifact to highlight the compassion of an individual. Moreover, the author attempted to entail the Native American Indian race by adopting a stylized conversational tone.
He narrated the story in the writer’s voice with simple constructive sentences and presented many symbolics to signify the distinctive characteristics of the race including engaging, honest, brutal, and humorous. The tone can be exemplified by the lines, “My grandfather just strolled into the house. He’d been there a thousand times. And his brother and his girlfriend were drunk and beating on each other.
And my grandfather stepped between them… And for some reason, my great -uncle reached down, pulled my grandfather’s pistol out of the holster, and shot him in the head.”
Upon thorough insights, one would realize that there present many symbolic representations that could take him to much deeper conclusions. These are the techniques employed by the author to dramatize the storytelling in addition to veiling the comprehension in the form of secrets. Many clues have been given to the reader during the story, to doubt the reality of this quest and indicate Jackson’s experience as a more spiritual one rather.
The plot starts with the line, “One day you have a home and the next you don’t.” that is deceptively simple and simultaneously refers to his literal and cultural homelessness both. Being homeless, he lives on the streets of Seattle and is recognized as a Spokane Indian. The cultural connection of Jackson is reflected in his character as of all Native Americans; faced dispossession forced removal, and lost lands. Throughout the storyline, resonating with his homelessness, Jackson explicitly explains his financial, psychological, and cultural states.
The setting up of the character of Jackson begins with highlights of his background information indicating his family, cultural and educational statuses. He describes, I grew up in Spokane, moved to Seattle twenty-three years ago for college”. Here the author wants to bring in notice the cultural reservations of American Indians, who struggle to attend their college despite being intelligent and talented students due to their bad financial conditions. This reflects that Jackson is also a potential student, but his college life was short that is the only studied two semesters before his graduation. However, a common trait adopted by college students in the course of their studies is alcohol addiction. The story also demonstrates the struggle of Jackson with his habit of alcoholism. Nonetheless, this problem does not dilapidate him instantly. He acquires “blue and blue-collar” jobs in order to work and manage his living. But later he narrates, “I’ve been homeless for six years now” revealing that his blue-collar jobs lead him with a living, but it is not enough to be an extraordinary source of income. Further in the story, it has been indicated that Jackson has faced something massively disruptive that he has lost his living more recently as being in the right mind he prefers earning through blue-collar job and a settled home. This could be owed to the alcohol addiction which might have made him leave the job and brought him to the streets of Seattle. He says, “…married two or three times, fathered two or three kids, then went crazy” and “…an alcoholic Indian with a busted stomach…”
The quest of reclaiming the regalia of his grandmother is plausible as this is only a delusion that he managed to manifest within his mind in order to gain connections with himself, his family, and his heritage. His wish to get connected with his people is quite visible since the start of the story and it may also be sustained by his situation. “My people have lived within the hundred-mile radius of Spokane, Washington for at least 10,000 years.” And still, he does not have any home. He feels inapparent like other homeless Indians who are living in Seattle. “Piece by piece I disappeared, and I’ve been disappearing ever since.” These words signify not only the feelings of Jackson that he is away from his family and Indian culture but also display the plight of Indian people in general. They make efforts to remain connected to their culture while they are forced to leave behind their homeland and sacred places. It also shows how deeply he is bound to his family and heritage. He calls himself with pride that he is a “Spokane Indian boy, an Interior Salish”.
In addition to Jackson’s experience with the pawnshop which could be a delusion as that Grandmother’s regalia was hanging on the window which was later missed. This Pow Wow regalia is probably the most important thing to Jackson, acting as a catalyst for his healing. He has associated the misfortunes of his family and the death of his grandmother with the missed regalia. “I wondered if my grandmother’s cancer started when somebody stole her Pow Wow regalia… I wondered whether I could bring my grandmother back to life if I bought back her regalia.” Through his demonstration of the missed regalia, he empowers himself to relink with the past and attempts to solve the perceived family catastrophes associated with its theft. He establishes asserting it a personal quest where he wants to pay honor to his grandmother and cultural heritage by winning it back.
Later in the story, three Aleut fishermen have been introduced when Jackson is sitting by the water and these men appear. Alexie narrates “…salt always smells like memory.” These again indicate the delusional encounter faced by him upon meeting with these Aleuts who also contributed to his story. These three Aleuts, throughout the story, are also searching for a home and it is indicated that they miss their families quite a lot. However, they opt to sit and wait for the boat to return rather than looking for another way that could take them to their homes. This could be taken parallel to Jackson’s homelessness and addiction to alcohol. Further in the scenario, all these men together are sharing their spiritual songs and chants about their ancestors and families with each other. This supports him in cherishing his heritage and his own memories related to his family.
Finally, the pawnbroker is the last character in the tale that contributed to Jackson’s delusion. Although he does not have any money to regain the regalia still the pawnbroker gives him his family heirloom back. This entails the plot that the quest is not based on earning money to pay for regalia, instead, it is built to help Jackson to reconnect with his family and culture. He nonchalantly mentions throughout the story that how he lost his family and friends. “I heard later that he had hitchhiked down to Portland, Oregon, and died of exposure in an alley behind the Hilton Hotel.” He is portraying his experience of resignation and hopelessness that he faced in the process of losing friends and acquaintances.
Though he seems broken because of his loss but upon contemplation, the pawnbroker claims that he has earned the money, so he has returned Jackson the regalia. Now he feels connected to his grandmother and culture once again as he is dancing on the streets. In regalia with sewn yellow beads, he is feeling great and finds himself visible to others now.