In Sherman Alexie's, “What You Pawn I Will Redeem,” an alcoholic, homeless Indian sets out on a quest to win back his grandmother's stolen regalia. The main character and narrator, Jackson Jackson, stumbles upon his stolen family heirloom in a pawnshop window and proceeds to spend the next day trying to earn enough money to buy it back. The pawnshop owner tells him he will sell it back to him for $999 and that he has 24 hours to come up with the money. Jackson gains small amounts of money here and there, but always ends up spending it on alcohol or food.
When the 24 hours is up, Jackson returns to the pawnshop with only $5 to spend. The shop owner asks him if he worked hard for the small amount of money he had, Jackson tells him, “Yes,” and the owner gives him the regalia. Alexie illustrates to the reader how even though someone has nothing, as far as material possessions go; they still have their values and family. Jackson has nowhere to live, except the streets of Seattle, but he always keeps a fairly positive attitude and never seems to feel sorry for himself.
He has nothing, but he makes friends wherever he goes. He feels a sense of camaraderie with other Native Americans, he has his group that he roams the streets with, he has Mary at the convenient store, and he has his friendly “good cop” Officer Williams. He talks about how “Indians like to belong,” so they all act like cousins, and explains to Mary that she is family to him and describes a tribal tradition to share your wealth with your family.
Even though in the end he still doesn't have any money, he earns the regalia back because of “hard work” that basically consisted of Jackson sharing with everyone around him regardless of who they were. One sub-theme of the story is the strife of the modern Native American and how many are still overcoming their difficult past. Jackson runs into several Indians from different tribes, but they all have a sense of belonging together. They have all had difficulties in their lives and seem to bond on a shared feeling of sadness and despair.
Jackson states that he is “living proof of the horrible damage that colonialism has done to [us] Skins. ” He runs into the Aleuts several times, and cries with them, sharing their pain and sense of loneliness. “What you pawn I will redeem,” is narrated by Jackson, and is told from the limited omniscient first person point of view. Jackson gives the reader a break-down of his life in a very impersonal list and talks about being crazy and a “boring heart breaker. ” When talking about the ending of his past relationships he says “and I didn't break any land-speed records running out the door.
Piece by piece, I disappeared. I've been disappearing ever since. ” This tells the reader his sad story and shows how he views himself. He is a sad, lost Indian who feels he is slowly losing himself. It gives the reader insight into how many homeless people (Indian or not) probably feel about themselves and their lives. Jackson frequently thinks about his grandmother, when thinking about her death he wonders “if my grandmother's cancer started when somebody stole her powwow regalia. Maybe the cancer started in her broken heart and then leaked out into her breasts.
I know it's crazy, but I wondered whether I could bring my grandmother back to life if I bought back her regalia. ” Jackson cares deeply about his grandmother and this shows that his quest for her regalia is an important and spiritual quest for him. The first person point of view is crucial to the story so that the reader can fully understand both the sadness and the sentimental value of the quest. The reader knows why “winning” the regalia is so important to Jackson, and can appreciate the shop owner when he sells it to him for only $5.
If the story were told in the third person, or if the shop owner had been the narrator, the story simply wouldn't make an emotional connection with the reader. If the reader knew the thoughts of Junior and/or Rose of Sharon, it would be a disconnected point of view that would not have the same sentimental effect. If the shop owner was telling the story, it would be more about a kind white man and less about the difficulties Jackson and other Indians must overcome.