What You Pawn I Will Redeem
Jackson’s Transition In Alexie’s What You Pawn I Will Redeem
In Sherman Alexie’s short story “What You Pawn I Will Redeem,” the twenty-four hour journey that Jackson embarks on in reclaiming his grandmother’s regalia proves to do him way more good than he could have ever thought possible when beginning. Alexie uses the characterization of the main character, Jackson Jackson, in order to reveal the transformation he experiences throughout his journey. In short, Jackson is a homeless American Indian living in Seattle, Washington who goes through many trials over a twenty-four hour period in order to earn enough money to buy back his grandmother’s regalia which he has found in a local pawn shop.
Jackson’s original character proves to be one with absolutely no regard for family, but the moment he is introduced to the regalia this changes significantly. Alexie begins his story with a character who has a no-strings-attached kind of attitude towards life. He says at the beginning of his story how he has been married a couple of times and even fathered a few children, yet he seems to show absolutely no interest in who they are or where they are. While discussing his history and how he came to be a homeless man, Jackson mentions that “piece by piece, [he] disappeared” (Alexie). Just by this small piece of information, he is automatically alienated from what is perceived as normal by the reader. Not many people would nonchalantly say that they have just slowly let go of all their relatives. Obviously, at one point, family meant something to him, but over time it meant less and less and he started to drift away. This aspect of Jackson’s character plays a key role in recognizing the change that he eventually makes. When Jackson realizes that he has found his grandmother’s missing regalia in a pawn shop, he seems very concerned and goes straight in to discuss the matter with the pawn shop owner. It is here that the transformation being made in Jackson’s character becomes obvious. In order to prove himself, he tells the owner with a sense of pride in his voice that “my family always sewed one yellow bead somewhere on our regalia” (Alexie). Clearly family history means something to Jackson after all, because why else would he know this very specific piece of information about his grandmother’s regalia? It’s almost as if now that Jackson has something to work for, his sense of family and culture have flooded back to him. Because he has been homeless for so long, it is possible that he also lost touch with what it felt like to have a family and to have a past. The moment he sets eyes on this family heirloom it is evident that family actually does mean something to him, and thus his journey and transformation begin.
Throughout his twenty-four hour adventure, Jackson’s character also goes through personality change. At the very beginning, before the regalia has even come into the picture, Jackson gives us a little bit of background information on himself. At first he is characterized as serious by revealing to the reader that “being homeless is probably the only thing I’ve ever been good at.” This gives the reader a sense that Jackson isn’t the most confident person in the world and hasn’t necessarily ever had something to work for. The serious tone in his voice shows that this is not something that Jackson finds laughable. There is no way he has not ever been good at anything, but it is apparent that he has been dealt quite the rough hand over and over again which would cause him to feel this way. At first, his character seems rather pitiful and somber, but that also undergoes a transformation for the better. Over the course of his day, his friendly, humorous side becomes visible. Eventually, something that would probably be a big stressor for someone else, such as trying to come up with $999 within a twenty-four hour period, Jackson just seems to laugh off and make light of the situation. Even Officer Williams, the cop that woke him up, comments and asks him “How the hell do you laugh so much? I just picked your ass off the railroad tracks, and you’re making jokes. Why the hell do you do that?” (Alexie). For the cop, and for the readers, it seems strange that Jackson is able to laugh about such serious stuff. First of all, he is homeless and has basically nothing to his name and at the same time is very concerned about buying back his grandmother’s regalia, yet he still finds time to laugh and have a good time. There are obvious reasons for his change of heart and change of attitude: he now has something to actually work towards.
Jackson’s perspective on the world and people who are different than him also changes from beginning to end. At first, he is characterized as a person that would not look twice at someone who isn’t an Indian. Before starting his story, he mentions that “Indians have to work hard to keep secrets from hungry white folks” (Alexie). From this comment it is obvious that Jackson has some issues with whites. His homelessness most likely plays a huge role in this attitude. While living on the streets, the treatment he got from those more fortunate than him, in this case it would be white people, caused a bitterness that is hard to get rid of. The moment he finds the regalia though, this aspect of his character seems to improve rather quickly. He now has to rely on others to find different sources and outlets to earn money, and beggars can’t be choosers. Although he does tend to still hang out with primarily Indians, he must seek help from others. After his many ups and downs throughout the day, Jackson comes to the conclusion that there are some good people out there (Alexie), and race doesn’t determine that. It isn’t until a serious time of need comes up that one realizes there is more to people than what is on the outside. His change in character is proved through his willingness to show compassion and understanding towards a different group of people, which all came about through the journey in reclaiming his grandmother’s regalia.
In conclusion, it is indisputable that Jackson transforms throughout the story in a multitude of ways. He goes from someone who shows absolutely no regard towards family to wanting to protect and redeem a precious family heirloom; he goes from someone who is down in the dumps about his life in general to a very lively, funny human being; he goes from someone who would not look twice at a person different than him to relying on others and noticing the good in everyone. All in all, it is safe to say that the character of Jackson Jackson faced an incredible improvement over the course of his twenty-four hour journey.
The Theme of Perseverance in What You Pawn I Will Redeem, a Short Story by Sherman Alexie
Life is full of situations that challenge people to overcome the odds and achieve what they thought was impossible. Such is the case in Sherman Alexie’s short story, “What You Pawn I Will Redeem.” The narrator is faced with what seems to be an impossible situation – to come up with $999 in just 24 hours to obtain his deceased grandmother’s stolen regalia from the owner of a pawnshop to whom it had been pawned. These insurmountable odds bring out the best in the otherwise flawed narrator, Jackson. Jackson is a homeless alcoholic whose disease has almost cost him his life. Nonetheless, Jackson rises above his circumstances and show three tremendous qualities while overcoming his extremely difficult task. He shows endurance through hard times, generosity in spite of dire financial need, and patience with other people along the way.
The first of Jackson’s astonishing characteristics in the face of adversity worth considering is his tremendous ability to endure through impossibilities. Almost anyone in Jackson’s position – being able to buy back his deceased grandmother’s stolen regalia – would have desired to accomplish the goal. However, not many people would have endured through the impossibility of coming up with $1,000 cash in less than 24 hours, especially consider the odds against him in the sense of him being a homeless alcoholic. Most people would have given up without even trying. Jackson, however, not only tries to accomplish the goal, but he does so with extreme optimism. Consider, for example, when Alexie tells us that Jackson buys two lottery tickets, each with a possible winner of up to $500, and scratches them off hoping to win the necessary $1,000 to accomplish his goal. It is arguable that he is delusional; however, one could likewise suggest that Jackson simply has so much endurance in the face of adversity that he genuinely feels he can win against such insurmountable odds. Despite all practical notions to the contrary, Jackson seemingly glides from one deadbeat endeavor to the next with a nonchalant, carefree approach that borders on self-deception but nonetheless leads him on with endurance despite the odds that are stacked against him.
The second of Jackson’s outstanding characteristics that come to the surface during his struggles is his financial generosity. It would be easy for someone in his situation to hoard every penny possible in order to try to get as much of the necessary $999 as possible. Jackson, on the other hand, does exactly the opposite. Rather than hoard his money, he gives it away. When he gets $100, for example, he gives $20 back to the woman and keeps the $80 for himself. However, he doesn’t even spend the $80 on himself but rather buys drinks for the other people in the bar. According to De Leon, good short stories are those that portray “characters with real desires” (2016). Alexie does just that in a superb fashion by juxtaposing Jackson’s real desire to get money quickly for his grandmother’s regalia with his extreme generosity. It has been said that money doesn’t turn one into someone else; it simply reveals who the person already is. The same has been said about adversity. With those two thoughts in mind, it seems that Jackson is inherently a very generous person. When both adversity and money fall into his lap at the same time, he shows himself to be a generous giver rather than a stingy hoarder.
The final amazing characteristic of Jackson that comes to life during his adversity is his patience with other people along the way. He had two friends to help him on his journey, Rose of Sharon and Junior. Very soon into their quest to obtain the money, however, Rose of Sharon leaves and Junior passes out drunk. Most people would become very upset in such a situation. They would get angry at Sharon for “abandoning” them and would accuse Junior of “leaving them at their work moment” as if he purposely chose to hurt them by getting drunk and passing out during their time of need. Jackson, however doesn’t respond in such a manner. He speaks well of both characters. In fact, he justifies and makes up reasons as to why Rose of Sharon left. Additionally, he continuously checks to make sure Junior is still breathing thereby taking responsibility to help and protect his drunk friend in spite of the weight upon him to get so much money so quickly. Jackson, therefore, shows tremendous patience with both of his friends.
Overall, it is important to note that this story is told as a story. It is a first-person account that is related as if the narrator where sitting across a coffee table telling the reader what happened to him at a certain time in the past. This is evident in the text when he says “This whole story really started at lunchtime…” The reason this is important to point out it that the story shows a lot about the thoughts of the narrator. For example, Ebenbach points out that “stories reveal what we believe” (2010). Therefore, it can be assumed that the story the narrator tells reveals what he believes about himself. By reading the story, it can be inferred that he endured through tough times, he was generous, and he was patient. Therefore, not only do readers see these characteristics in the narrator, but the narrator actually sees them within himself. Jackson believes that despite all the odds against him, he is in fact a man of endurance, one who is generous, and certainly someone who is patient with those he loves.
Juxtaposing Sherman Alexie’s Short Story “What You Pawn I Will Redeem Against Marilynne Robinson’s Housekeeping
Lucille’s Quest to End Loneliness
In Sherman Alexie’s short story “What You Pawn I Will Redeem”, the main character Jackson Jackson goes on a “quest” to gather one hundred dollars in order to buy his grandmother’s pow wow regalia–which was stolen many years prior– from a pawn shop owner. Though he does not make the one hundred, the owner decides to give him the regalia anyway so he both fails and succeeds in his quest. He was not able to make the money, but his actual goal was to get the regalia back so he is in the end successful. In a similar fashion, Lucille, in Marilynne Robinson’s novel Housekeeping embarks on her own “quest” to have a stable home that will allow her to be accepted by the majority of her society so that she is no longer lonely.
It is apparent early in the novel that Lucille longs for the acceptance and company of people other than her aunt and sister. When the three are trapped in their home due to a flood Lucille is eager to leave and try to find other people. She refuses to play cards and tells her aunt, “I want to find other people” and even suggests how they might be found (Robinson 51). Sylvie responds that “it’s the loneliness. Loneliness bothers lots of people” and tells Lucille and Ruth a story about a woman she believed lost her children or never had them and made them up and was possibly the loneliest person she knew even though she was surrounded by others at train stations (Robinson 51). This ends up being true for Lucille by the end of the novel as she has lost her aunt and sister and both Sylvie and Ruth believe she is in Boston believing that she will no longer be lonely among all of the people, though she may in reality be lonelier now without the love of her family because all she has now is the company of strangers. In the final lines of the novel Ruth as the narrator writes, “No one watching this woman…[could] know how her thoughts are thronged by our absence, or know how she does not watch, does not hope, and always for me and Sylvie” (Robinson 157). Though Ruth suggests that Lucille does not watch or hope to see them, it is possible that Lucille is afraid to do these things because she believes that the two are dead and hoping that they may return is potentially more painful than simply accepting their deaths.
By the end of “What You Pawn I Will Redeem”, Jackson Jackson is overall successful in his quest because he leaves the pawn shop with his grandmother’s pow wow regalia even though he did not meet the terms that were initially set by the pawn shop owner. Lucille on the other hand was overall unsuccessful in her quest because her main objective was to no longer be lonely which is why she strived so hard to fit into society’s mold and expectations. Though she finds a stable home and is able to fit into the expectations of society, Lucille ends up arguably lonelier that she was before as she is surrounded by strangers who do not really know her and has alienated the few family members she had left by refusing to accept them as they were before they are assumed to have committed suicide.