Poverty and homelessness are often, intertwined with the idea of gross mental
illness and innate evil. In urban areas all across the United States, just like that of Seattle
in Sherman Alexie’s New Yorker piece, What You Pawn I Will Redeem, the downtrodden
are stereotyped as vicious addicts who would rob a child of its last penny if it meant a
bottle of whiskey. Ironically the storyteller does not try to cover the fact that yes, he is
an alcoholic who self-destructs and lives a meager existence. Yet Jackson Jackson is
more than a homeless drunk. He is a Native American first and foremost, an Interior
Salish to be exact, born of a people abused and stricken with misfortune in the land of
the free. Jackson is proud of his heritage and throughout the story references the way of
the Indians, whilst befriending and conversing with a number of other tribal relatives.
Jackson, even admits, “Being homeless is probably the only thing I’ve ever been good
at.” Despite his failure, he is still an Indian man, searching for a proclamation of his
heritage in his grandmother’s regalia. Sherman Alexie’s, What You Pawn I Will Redeem,
is a brutally honest exploration of an honest and homeless Native American’s connection
with his ancestry, using metaphors and symbolism to convey the message of unity with
one’s heritage and an escape from the tortures of the past.
One of the first things Jackson, who attributes his matching first and last
names to the humor of his family, tells us is that he will not be telling us his downfall, for
that is his Indian secret. Saying how he must, “work hard to keep secrets from hungry
white folks,” immediately giving the impression that his nationality is going to shape the
person he is and how he regales his audience in his hero’s journey. Jackson goes on to
humbly explain how he is, in no particular way or another, a special human being. He
believes he is an Indian man similar to the rest, just a piece of a whole. Introducing us to
his team of wanderers, Rose of Sharon who is a “Yakima Indian of the Wishram variety,”
her name being that of a flower which can be seen as a metaphor, a dainty and fragile one
which contrasts greatly with Jacksons depiction of her stature being that of seven feet,
and Junior who is a random Colville. Jackson interestingly, more throughout the story
always introduces those he comes across first with their name but always next with their
specific tribe, a sort of verbal symbol alluding to just how important where you come
from. It’s after his introductions he tells of how battered by his history he really is. He
states, “I am living proof of the horrible damage that colonialism has done to us Skins.
But I’m not going to let you know how scared I sometimes get of history and its ways.
I’m a strong man, and I know that silence is the best method of dealing with white folks.”
It becomes obvious that the toll of genocide has its hands around his...