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“What You Will Pawn, I Will Redeem” by Sherman Alexie

Nowadays, it is not a shame to interact with homeless people, provide them with help, and offer free food and support to improve their lives. Unfortunately, even the most mettle supporters cannot prevent the development of such bad habits like alcoholism, drugs, or low finance. Sherman Alexie is a successful modern short stories’ writer, who focuses on Indian identities and urban multiculturalism (Ladino, 2009). His What You Will Pawn, I Will Redeem is the story of a nice Indian man, Mr. Jackson, who knows and respects his roots. There are three main aspects of the Alexie’s story that could help to understand Jackson’s character: the recognition of cultural conflicts, goals, and personal mistakes, the attention to personal beliefs and desires, and the role of outsider identities and their impacts on each other with the help of similes and flashbacks. The goal of this analysis is to investigate the life Mr. Jackson and his inability to deal with his alcoholic habits that turn him from a successful and beloved person into a homeless poor man, who could change the priorities of a clean bath and a warm place to sleep for a new drink and support of his Indian “cousins”.

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A cultural conflict and the importance of Indian identity are the key issues in the story. Jackson recognizes regalia of his grandmother at the pawnshop and believes that it is his obligation to have it as the only memory of his relatives. The intention to “win it back” by himself makes Jackson takes a number of steps and earns the required portion of money (Alexie, 2003). It is evident that a homeless Indian could hardly earn one thousand dollars in Seattle in one day. Still, the main character does not lose his hope and continues searching for a job and earning some money “like a knight”, who cares about all that “romantic crap” just to care about something in this life (Alexie, 2003). Regardless Jackson’s numerous attempts to disrupt his life, his grandmother’s regalia turns out to be the only thing that directs him and makes him create a goal and follow it. The presence of regalia is what differentiates Native Americans from other nations and make them loyal to their relatives and roots. It is not enough for Jackson to have a thing, it is important to take the steps that make him dignified of this regalia.

The accomplishment of personal goals and understanding of human needs is another aspect of Jackson’s life. On the one hand, he is ready to work and earn money to get the thing that reminds him of who he is and what he has to do (Evans, 2001). On the other hand, he cannot help but pretend that all Indians are cousins, who deserve the right to be supported and be fed (Alexie, 2003). Such passion for his native heritage and the desire to be as close to his ancestors and possible relatives as possible makes him choose bad decisions and consider the demands of his alcoholic friends instead of recognition of his internal demons. Flashbacks and Jackson’s constant thoughts about his grandmother are used to create a possible basis or some kind of explanation of why he chooses alcohol instead of certain actions. He feels so much pain because of the inability to return his life and his relatives. Therefore, it is easy for him to find a temporary relative and create a fake family for several hours.

Finally, Alexie successfully uses outsider identities and introduces a number of other characters, who perform their roles in Jackson’s life. For example, Rose of Sharon and Junior are introduced as “warrior drunks”, who spend much time together just because of the inability to do something else (Alexie, 2003). The pawnbroker introduces the idea of changes and reward in a human life. A white policeman, the Big Boss, and Mary are the supporters of Jackson, who do not ask for permission to help him but never set the goal to help him as well. Their presence is the required symbol of hope and the possibility to prove that cultural differences exist. Though white people could never comprehend the intentions of Native Americans to save their heritage and to save their dignity, they could support regardless their cultural or other differences. Bisexual characters are used by Alexie to demonstrate that the existing hollow could confuse even the most goal-oriented person in several minutes. Instead of support and recognition of the right way, such characters as Irene and Honey Boy help Jackson forget about his principles and make his weaknesses guide him.

In general, Alexie introduces a number of powerful characters in his short story. Jackson’s disappointments lead to alcohol, homeless, and the necessity to survive. Still, his proud of his native heritage, his attention to ancestors, and some portion of dignity save the character and prove that sometimes it is enough to love people and demonstrate his true intentions to do something good to be supported and understood.


Alexie, S. (2003, April 21). What you will pawn, I will redeem. The New Yorker. Web.

Evans, S.F. (2001). Open containers’: Sherman Alexi’s drunken Indians. American Indian Quarterly, 25(1), 46-72.

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Ladino, J.K. (2009). A limited range of motion?: Multiculturalism, human questions, and urban Indian identity in Sherman Alexie’s ten little Indians. Studies in American Indian Literature, 21(3), 36-57.

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