single car driving across the desert

This Is What It Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona

by Sherman Alexie
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What is a comparison between Alexie's "This is How to Say Phoenix, Arizona" and "What You Pawn I Will Redeem."

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"This Is What It Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona" is about Victor's quest to reclaim his father, himself and his best friend Victor. He goes to Phoenix and, as he travels forward, he journeys into his past as he and Victor recount the stories of their life together. Money for the journey is a problem, and it is Thomas who pays the majority of expenses.

[Thomas]: "I can lend you the money you need," Thomas said suddenly. "But you have to take me with you."

"What You Pawn I Will Redeem" is about Jackson's quest to reclaim his grandmother's powwow regalia--her dress for ritual dances--from the pawn shop that holds it before the ticket expires. Impoverished, Jackson goes to friends and strangers to "win" the money needed for the redemption. In the course of the 24 hours, Jackson accumulates and gives money to things he deems more important than the awaiting regalia--a priceless family heirloom of great importance--at the moment.

The way these two stories compare is that in both, the three lead characters are without money and on a quest that incorporates money as each seeks to find that which is more valuable than money. Their lack of money symbolizes their lack of reconciliation with their families and identities. In the end, they find the objects of their quests. Victor reclaims Thomas. Thomas reclaims his living stories ("Nobody talked to Thomas because he told the same [old] stories over and over again"). Jackson redeems his identity.

[Jackson]: 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 ... They all watched me dance with my grandmother. I was my grandmother, dancing.

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