The Alexie’s influences for his writings do not

Arduous 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 is
the place, where it is a central in Alexie’s fiction. Alexie’s main concern is
presenting his culture and traditional as a Native American to the whole world.

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Therefore, most of his writing based on his experience as a Native American
growing up on the Spokane Indian reservation where the effects of what Alexie
went through still asserts its painful presence (Nygren). In spite of the sense
of loss, and the bitterness that he had suffer, Alexie tends to use humor in showing
his plot and characters. His writings are meant to remind of sadness but he
also 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 writings
do not based solely on traditional Indian forms, but instead he blends Indian spirituality,
elements of the humanities, and the drudgery of poverty-stricken reservation
life to create his characters, and the world they inhabit. This paper examines
Alexie’s What You Pawn I Will Redeem” as the arduous search for self-journey where
Jackson 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 of
Jackson Jackson, the protagonist of the story. He is an alcoholic, homeless of
Spokane Indian descendant who finds his grandmother’s regalia at a pawn shop. He
wanted to gain this family heirloom back by setting out a quest to raise one
thousand dollars. The story mainly focuses on the obstacles Jackson faces, and
the humor Jackson uses to get through his difficult position as a Native
American. However, Jackson still comes across many people who help him achieve
his goal through his journey. By living in the reservation, Native American, or
Jackson has to face three major dilemmas as an alcoholism, homelessness, and
unemployment (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 full
of alcoholic, homeless, and jobless people. Alexie retrieving the Native
American culture, and identity through Jackson character. This is evident in
the story as Jackson feels that it is his duty to claim back his grandmother’s
regalia, even though he knows very clear that it is impossible in every way.

Jackson also represents all Native Americans who lost their culture and feel
the pain of being lonely in their homeland. He tries to show the circumstances a
Native American face in a place is plagued with cultural disavowal, social
issues, and political matters.

The title “What You Pawn I Will Redeem” leads to the believe a kind of
dialogue between Jackson and Jackson’s grandmother. It is Jackson Who blames
his grandmother for losing the regalia, emphasizes their culture, and confirms
at the same time that he will get it back no matter what it costs. Although, Jackson
is alcoholic, homeless, and miserable, but Jackson shows the will and
determination to get back the lost heritage. However, Jackson’s situation is
not his own choice, it is nobody choice, but it is what the American society
imposed upon to him as many other Native Americans in the reservation. Alexie starts
the 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 Jackson
lives, as well as insinuatingly expose the cultural aspect of homelessness of
the Native Americans. They live as they are connected to an unfortunately past of
cultural refutation. Jackson Jackson states that he is only good at being
homeless as the following “I’ve been homeless for six years now. If there’s
such a thing as an effective homeless man, then I suppose I’m effective. Being
homeless is probably the only thing I’ve ever been good at” (Alexie1). He is not
only having no home to live or even a shelter to stay, but also due to the fact
that he is lonely while living in his own homeland. In the story, when Jackson introduces
his Indian friends, Jackson says that his friends refuses to identify their
tribe 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 visible
the effects of acculturation and consumptions. They are no longer able to
identify what tribe they belong to, and who they are in this whole world. This
kind of act shows the horrible effects of assimilation that makes Native
American gradually forgetting their origins. They start to consider themselves as
“Plains Indian”, Indians belong to no identity tribe, and end with consider
themselves as American with different color. Jackson’s journey to find his
identity starts when he walks past a pawnshop, and notices “an old powwow-dance
regalia hanging in the window” (Alexie 2). Somehow Jackson feels that it is his
grandmother’s regalia, and it is his duty to get it back no matter what it
costs. 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 it
belongs 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 in
person ever. I’d only seen photographs of my grandmother dancing with it. As
those were taken before somebody stole it from her, fifty years ago. But it
sure looked like my memory of it and it had all the same color feathers and
beads that my family sewed into our powwow regalia” (Alexie 2). This quotation
strongly suggests the truth, as the regalia symbolizes the lost Indian
identity, and that Native American’s identity was stolen by the colonizer. As
Jackson is not assured that the regalia belongs to his grandmother, it also
depicts of Native Americans suffer from the blur picture of their identity, and
their true culture. Jackson enters the pawn shop and asks the pawnbroker to
give him the regalia, but Jackson only has five dollars so the pawnbroker
refuses to give it to him. The pawnbroker then gives Jackson a chance to
reclaim it if Jackson pays him nine hundred ninety dollars within twenty-four
hours. Jackson accepts the deal, and starts collecting money. Throughout the
journey, Jackson gets help from many white people in collecting the money. This
shows that Native Americans need a hand to revive their heritage and cultural
identity, and it could be the Whites. Jackson is determined to reclaim the
regalia 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 his
grandmother regalia. This shows Alexie’s intention of informing the readers
that Native American can rely on themselves.

also bring up the issue of alcoholism among Native American as it makes them mislead
between the dark gloomy history, and an uncertain future within the white’s
hands. Jackson just like many other Native American, who keeps drinking throughout
the story. Jackson acknowledges the impact of alcohol on him “An alcoholic
Indian with a busted stomach, I always hope I can keep enough food in me to
stay 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 think
of it the way they wanted me to think of it. I get confused” (Alexie 9). This
shows that Native American were silenced, and only good at following the
instructions of white people. The commitment to the Native American identity is
clear 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 he
wins 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 everyone
as 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 pawnbroker
will not give him his grandmother’s regalia without nine hundred ninety-five
dollars, but he still goes there and ask for it. Surprisingly, the pawnbroker
gives him the regalia with his five dollars, and tells him that his
determination to get it back is more important than the money. After a harsh
journey, Jackson takes his grandmother’s regalia and says, “I took my grandmother’s regalia and walked outside. I
knew that solitary yellow bead was part of me. I knew I was that yellow bead in
part. Outside, I wrapped myself in my grandmother’s regalia and breathed her
in. 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 as
Native American who lost cultural identity has been found, and the whole world
stopped to see the original identity of Jackson who lives the moment of relief.

conclusion, Alexie shows no effort in reviving his own cultural, and true identity
in this story “What You Pawn I Will Redeem” according to the evidence mentioned
above. However, Alexie created a protagonist who represents the condition, and
difficult situations of all Native American during that time in history. They
all 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 Native
American do really exist.