In “What You Pawn I Will Redeem” by Sherman Alexie, the main character is a homeless Native American Indian who came to Seattle to go to college and quit after two semesters. Alexie creates a world where the protagonist seems to find help from every turn that he makes.
The setting is the 1990’s in Seattle. Jackson Jackson is a Spokane Indian. According to Jackson Squared, his "people have lived within a one-hundred-mile radius of Spokane, Washington, for ten thousand years." Several places are used as part of the setting: under the bridge, the pawn shop, an all-Indian bar.
The tone of the story spans a range of emotions. The character of Jackson determines the mood of the story. At times, he is humorous and even cheerful. Jackson can also be sarcastic, frustrated, and resigned to his fate.
Alexie approaches this story using an hourly structure. His episodes cover about a twenty-four period which takes Jackson in search of the money he needs to make the purchase from the pawn shop. This approach lets the reader follow Jackson as he walks the streets. Throughout the story, Jackson comments on the Indian cultural.
The theme of the story homelessness permeates the story. Jackson’s plight saddens the reader because it is obvious that he is intelligent and could have made something of himself. Although he seems to be slow-witted, he is a victim of his circumstances and the many drinks that he has consumed. He is obviously an alcoholic and has learned how to subsist on the streets. Every time that the reader feels that he is going to make and gets some money and spends it not only on himself but on his friends as well.
The story begins with the line, “One day you have a home and the next you don’t.” Jackson Jackson has a small entourage of homeless people who slowly disappear throughout the story.
Jackson passes by a pawn shop and sees a dance regalia that belonged to his grandmother. It was stolen from her almost fifty years ago. He proves that it is the real thing to the pawn shop owner who tells Jackson that he paid $1,000 for the beautiful beaded dress. The owner tells Jackson if he can come up with $999.00 then he will sell it to him. Jackson has 24 hours to get the money.
To the reader, this seems like impossibility. Jackson takes the challenge seriously. The story follows Jackson as he goes from place to place where people actually give him money that he either drinks or eats up. It is obvious how Jackson stays in his situation since all of the money that he receives, he uses up. The motivation for Jackson is the tie to his past. Jackson wants the connection to his family of which he is no longer a part.
After Jackson buys everyone a drink at the Big Heart Indian Bar, he winds up passed out on a railroad track. The policeman, who finds him, knows Jackson:
You dumb-ass. You passed out on the railroad tracks. What the hell’s wrong with you? You’ve never been this stupid.
Jackson explains to the cop about his project to get his grandmother’s regalia costume back from the pawn shop. The policeman gives him some money, and Jackson feeds four of his homeless friends.
Finally, he returns to the pawn shop. The pawn shop owner takes the $5.00 that Jackson has kept. Now, Jackson owns a part of his past as he holds it up to himself and dances down the middle of the road.