TheArduous Search for Identity in Sherman Alexie “What You Pawn I Will Redeem” Sherman Alexie, a Spokane Indian,was born in 1966 and grew up on the Spokane Indian Reservation in Wellpinit,Washington (Nygren).
He is a songwriter, poet, and a filmmaker. Reservation isthe place, where it is a central in Alexie’s fiction. Alexie’s main concern ispresenting his culture and traditional as a Native American to the whole world.Therefore, most of his writing based on his experience as a Native Americangrowing up on the Spokane Indian reservation where the effects of what Alexiewent through still asserts its painful presence (Nygren).
In spite of the senseof loss, and the bitterness that he had suffer, Alexie tends to use humor in showinghis plot and characters. His writings are meant to remind of sadness but healso uses pop culture and humor that leaves the readers with sense of understanding,respect, and commiseration at the same time. Alexie’s influences for his writingsdo not based solely on traditional Indian forms, but instead he blends Indian spirituality,elements of the humanities, and the drudgery of poverty-stricken reservationlife to create his characters, and the world they inhabit. This paper examinesAlexie’s What You Pawn I Will Redeem” as the arduous search for self-journey whereJackson Jackson, the protagonist does his best to retrieve his traditions,culture, and identity. The story “What You Pawn I Will Redeem” is told through the character ofJackson Jackson, the protagonist of the story.
He is an alcoholic, homeless ofSpokane Indian descendant who finds his grandmother’s regalia at a pawn shop. Hewanted to gain this family heirloom back by setting out a quest to raise onethousand dollars. The story mainly focuses on the obstacles Jackson faces, andthe humor Jackson uses to get through his difficult position as a NativeAmerican. However, Jackson still comes across many people who help him achievehis goal through his journey.
By living in the reservation, Native American, orJackson has to face three major dilemmas as an alcoholism, homelessness, andunemployment (Nygren). Their culture started to vanish due to stereotyped, oppressed,maligned, and abused in acts and deed, in words and action (Matt). Gradually,Native Americans were fused and adapted to the new arrivals’ culture. In the meantime,the reservation also contains so many social issues. The reservations are fullof alcoholic, homeless, and jobless people. Alexie retrieving the NativeAmerican culture, and identity through Jackson character.
This is evident inthe story as Jackson feels that it is his duty to claim back his grandmother’sregalia, even though he knows very clear that it is impossible in every way.Jackson also represents all Native Americans who lost their culture and feelthe pain of being lonely in their homeland. He tries to show the circumstances aNative American face in a place is plagued with cultural disavowal, socialissues, and political matters. The title “What You Pawn I Will Redeem” leads to the believe a kind ofdialogue between Jackson and Jackson’s grandmother. It is Jackson Who blameshis grandmother for losing the regalia, emphasizes their culture, and confirmsat the same time that he will get it back no matter what it costs.
Although, Jacksonis alcoholic, homeless, and miserable, but Jackson shows the will anddetermination to get back the lost heritage. However, Jackson’s situation isnot his own choice, it is nobody choice, but it is what the American societyimposed upon to him as many other Native Americans in the reservation. Alexie startsthe story with “One day you have a home and the next day you don’t” (Alexie 1).This sentences beyond any doubt shows the state of homelessness that Jacksonlives, as well as insinuatingly expose the cultural aspect of homelessness ofthe Native Americans. They live as they are connected to an unfortunately past ofcultural refutation. Jackson Jackson states that he is only good at beinghomeless as the following “I’ve been homeless for six years now. If there’ssuch a thing as an effective homeless man, then I suppose I’m effective.
Beinghomeless is probably the only thing I’ve ever been good at” (Alexie1). He is notonly having no home to live or even a shelter to stay, but also due to the factthat he is lonely while living in his own homeland. In the story, when Jackson introduceshis Indian friends, Jackson says that his friends refuses to identify theirtribe and says, “Do any of us know exactly what we are?” (Alexie 2). In this instance,Alexie questions the identity of those Native Americans and cause to be visiblethe effects of acculturation and consumptions.
They are no longer able toidentify what tribe they belong to, and who they are in this whole world. Thiskind of act shows the horrible effects of assimilation that makes NativeAmerican gradually forgetting their origins. They start to consider themselves as”Plains Indian”, Indians belong to no identity tribe, and end with considerthemselves as American with different color.
Jackson’s journey to find hisidentity starts when he walks past a pawnshop, and notices “an old powwow-danceregalia hanging in the window” (Alexie 2). Somehow Jackson feels that it is hisgrandmother’s regalia, and it is his duty to get it back no matter what itcosts. The regalia symbolizes Native American’s identity, and lost heritage. Immediately,Jackson feels that he must reclaim it, although he is not really sure that itbelongs to his grandmother, but his intuition insures him that it is the one.When his friend asks him if Jackson is sure that regalia is his grandmother’s one,he replies: “I don’t know for sure, because I hadn’t seen that regalia inperson ever. I’d only seen photographs of my grandmother dancing with it. Asthose were taken before somebody stole it from her, fifty years ago.
But itsure looked like my memory of it and it had all the same color feathers andbeads that my family sewed into our powwow regalia” (Alexie 2). This quotationstrongly suggests the truth, as the regalia symbolizes the lost Indianidentity, and that Native American’s identity was stolen by the colonizer. AsJackson is not assured that the regalia belongs to his grandmother, it alsodepicts of Native Americans suffer from the blur picture of their identity, andtheir true culture.
Jackson enters the pawn shop and asks the pawnbroker togive him the regalia, but Jackson only has five dollars so the pawnbrokerrefuses to give it to him. The pawnbroker then gives Jackson a chance toreclaim it if Jackson pays him nine hundred ninety dollars within twenty-fourhours. Jackson accepts the deal, and starts collecting money. Throughout thejourney, Jackson gets help from many white people in collecting the money. Thisshows that Native Americans need a hand to revive their heritage and culturalidentity, and it could be the Whites. Jackson is determined to reclaim theregalia by himself “It’s a quest now. I need to win it back myself” (Alexie 7).
Jackson also refuses to call the police, or asks anybody to help him reclaim hisgrandmother regalia. This shows Alexie’s intention of informing the readersthat Native American can rely on themselves. Alexiealso bring up the issue of alcoholism among Native American as it makes them misleadbetween the dark gloomy history, and an uncertain future within the white’shands. Jackson just like many other Native American, who keeps drinking throughoutthe story. Jackson acknowledges the impact of alcohol on him “An alcoholicIndian with a busted stomach, I always hope I can keep enough food in me tostay alive” (Alexie 8).
Jackson also questions his ability of making choices,and decisions “Well, sometimes I think of it that way. And other time I thinkof it the way they wanted me to think of it. I get confused” (Alexie 9). Thisshows that Native American were silenced, and only good at following theinstructions of white people. The commitment to the Native American identity isclear in the story as Jackson keeps reminding the readers of the Indian traditions.This is evidence when Jackson offers Mary to get an amount of money after hewins a lottery ticket “No, it’s tribal.
It is an Indian thing. When you win,you’re supposed to share with your family” (Alexie 11). He considers everyoneas a part of his family, and also implied the sense of loss that Jackson has.
Jackson begins his journey with only five dollars and ends it with no difference,it is still five dollars. Although Jackson is fully aware that the pawnbrokerwill not give him his grandmother’s regalia without nine hundred ninety-fivedollars, but he still goes there and ask for it. Surprisingly, the pawnbrokergives him the regalia with his five dollars, and tells him that hisdetermination to get it back is more important than the money.
After a harshjourney, Jackson takes his grandmother’s regalia and says, “I took my grandmother’s regalia and walked outside. Iknew that solitary yellow bead was part of me. I knew I was that yellow bead inpart. Outside, I wrapped myself in my grandmother’s regalia and breathed herin. I stepped off the sidewalk and into the intersection.
Pedestrians stopped.Cars stopped. The city stopped. They all watched me dance with my grandmother.I was my grandmother, dancing.” (Alexie 26).
This statement represents Jackson asNative American who lost cultural identity has been found, and the whole worldstopped to see the original identity of Jackson who lives the moment of relief. Inconclusion, Alexie shows no effort in reviving his own cultural, and true identityin this story “What You Pawn I Will Redeem” according to the evidence mentionedabove. However, Alexie created a protagonist who represents the condition, anddifficult situations of all Native American during that time in history. Theyall share the same values, and qualities of those who lives in the reservation,and those who determines to fight till the end to prove to the world that NativeAmerican do really exist.