“What You Pawn I Will Redeem” (Response Paper) “What You Pawn I Will Redeem” by Sherman Alexie is the story of the mission of the humorous character of Jackson Jackson. Jackson Jackson is a homeless Spokane Indian in search of money to repurchase the regalia that was stolen from his grandmother about 50 years ago. He embarks on a journey to collect 999 dollars, the amount of money the pawnbroker is willing to sell the regalia for. Throughout this journey, the humorous character of Jackson Jackson unravels to reveal a man of culture.
Although Jackson has left Spokane to attend college in Seattle, his Indian culture remains an important part of him. He constantly speaks of his Indian beliefs, ways, and customs. In the opening sentence, Jackson immediately acknowledges that he is Indian and differentiates his race from “hungry white folks” (8). As the story progresses, he uses many other statements to distinguish his race; he explains that Indians “don’t want to be perfect, because only God is perfect” (11). This distinctive Indian belief is used to prove that the regalia indeed belonged to his grandmother.
Jackson’s culture also proves to play a substantial part in his decisions in regards to the money he needs for the regalia. Whenever he happens to gather a bit of money, it is always squandered almost immediately after, due to Jackson’s over-abundant sense of generosity. After winning one hundred dollars from a lottery ticket, he gives a fifth of it to Mary, the cashier in the Korean grocery store. At first, Mary refuses, but Jackson insists that it is, yet again, “an Indian thing” (18). His cultural sharing tendency also leads him to spend the remaining eighty dollars on whiskey shots for everyone at the bar.
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One can say that his decision was driven by alcoholism as well as ignorance, but the sense of family among those of his own race also impacted him when he decided that “[he] and his cousins [were] going to be drinking eighty shots” (18). Clearly, Jackson’s Indian nationality not only distinguishes him from the white people of Seattle, but also makes a large impact on his actions and his decisions. Nevertheless, Jackson is not solely defined by his title of “a Spokane Indian. ” Although his culture drives many of his actions, redemption also plays an important role in making up Jackson’s character.
At first glance, the short story is about a man striving to repurchase his grandmother’s old regalia. However, if one looks deeper, the regalia may symbolize redemption, hence the name, “What You Pawn I Will Redeem. ” Jackson’s hidden objective is to bring his grandmother back to life, or at least redeem some part of her. By redeeming a part of his grandmother, he is able to redeem a part of his home in India. Jackson’s longing to redeem his home in India also contributes to the theme of a lack of a place to belong. Jackson can be considered homeless both physically and symbolically.
Because he does not have the financial means to provide shelter for himself, he is physically homeless. Jackson is also homeless symbolically, for he cannot find a home in society. He flunks out of his college, losing a place in the campus, and he ruins his attempts at marriage, losing his partner in life. In the beginning of the story, Jackson holds a place in the community of the homeless Indians, and he considers them “[his] teammates, [his] defenders, [his] posse” (9). However, he soon finds that one member of the group, Rose of Sharon, has left and hitchhiked back to Toppenship to live with her sister on the reservation.
Later, he realizes that another member of his group, Junior, has also left and hitchhiked down to Portland, Oregon. When Jackson visits the Indian bar and befriends Honey Boy and Irene, he finds that at the end of the night, they too have disappeared. Finally, the Aleut cousins, also homeless Indians, disappear as well, said to have either drowned or disappeared north. Jackson’s status of a loner in society is further solidified as one by one, his “posse” (9) disappears. In conclusion, Alexie’s short story illustrates a cultural character looking for redemption, as well as a home.
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