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”What You Pawn I Will Redeem” by Sherman Alexie

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  • Pages: 4
  • Word count: 864
  • Category: Fiction

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In Sherman Alexie’s “What You Pawn I Will Redeem,” the protagonist exemplifies how to be a professional homeless con artist, and reveals how to use an actual stolen family artifact to prey on the human capacity for compassion.

It’s a story in which our protagonist with the same first and last name, Jackson Jackson, stumbles across a garb made by his grandmother in a local pawnshop, said to be stolen some fifty years before, and his journey to raise the money to buy it back. Jackson Jackson is an alcoholic, Washington State Native American Indian, who has spent the last six years of his life honing his skills of manipulation in Seattle. He refers to himself as being an “effective homeless man,” (486:3) if there is such a thing. It is his greatest accomplishment and the only thing he happens to be good at, between flunking out of college, failing at numerous marriages and being a non-existent father to several children. Jackson moved to Seattle twenty-three years before Alexie’s story takes place to attend college. Assuming he is an average eighteen year old freshman, that would put his current age at roughly forty, old enough to make sense out of and rationalize real life events, contrasting with the amount of immaturity displayed on a consistent basis throughout the piece. He strays away from adult behavior on an hourly basis, most likely a reflection of the carefree life he’s been living on the streets. He first accepts an impossible challenge to acquire nine hundred and ninety-nine dollars in twenty-four hours to buy the stolen garb back.

The action seemingly inspires hope in the reader that he has belief in himself to make the unrealistic possibility of obtaining so much money probable. He then refers to the three bottles of alcohol he purchases after leaving the pawnshop as “imagination” (488:48), says that he doesn’t want to call the police because “It’s a quest now” (489:73) and that he “want[s] to be a hero…like a knight” (495:278). These are the whimsical fantasies of a child, not of a matured adult. “We Indians are great storytellers and liars and mythmakers,” (486:4) says Jackson at the start of the story. He goes on to prove this statement by taking us on a journey over the next twenty-four hours in which he uses the story of his family’s misfortune to invoke pity from those around him. Upon hearing the story every character does something nice for Jackson in an effort to ease his plight. After he initially tells his story to the pawnbroker, he receives a somewhat unrealistic, yet solid deal. Raise nine hundred ninety-nine dollars in twenty-four hours and the regalia is his. The shop owner even gives him twenty dollars of his own money to get him started.

The “Big Boss” from the Real Change organization hears the story and does him a favor; he gives Jackson fifty papers free of charge, in hopes he can raise a little extra money at none of the startup cost of buying the papers from him first. Officer Williams, a kind-hearted cop, listens intently to Jackson’s story then hands him all of the money in his wallet: thirty dollars. Getting the regalia back has more to do with comfort than heritage. It is apparent early on that Jackson doesn’t like being alone. Having failed in most every major endeavor, he looks for things to fill the hole that has been made by a series of misfortunate events that have become his life. Twice in a three and a half hour time period Jackson goes completely broke, but each time he makes money he always spends it on comfort. He starts the story with a set of friends: Rose of Sharon and Junior. “We matter to each other if we don’t matter to anybody else,”(486:5) he says.

He uses the first twenty-five dollars he acquires to buy alcohol to drink with his two friends. He wins one hundred dollars on a lottery ticket and gives away twenty to a young store clerk that he enjoys flirting with. Sharon of Rose and Junior disappear, so “lonesome for Indians” (491:145) he spends the remaining eighty bucks on buying shots for strangers in a downtown all-Indian bar. He spends most of the thirty dollars Officer Williams gives him on a lavish restaurant breakfast for himself and three Aleut Indians that he met at the wharf the day before, something he cannot afford, but does anyway. Out of the one hundred-sixty dollars Jackson Jackson raises, one hundred and three dollars and fifty cents is spent on alcohol, the ultimate friend to a lonely alcoholic. The more things change, the more things remain the same. The money flow in Alexie’s story serves as a reflection of Jackson himself. He goes through changes, but just as the amount of money he has at the beginning of the tale, four hours in, and at the end remains the same…so does he.

Works Cited:

Alexie, Sherman. “What You Pawn I Will Redeem.”Literature: Fiction: An Anthology of Stories for Further Reading. Eds Nicholas Delbanco and Allan Cheuse. New York: McGraw Hill, 2010, Print.

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