In the opening of "What You Pawn, I Will Redeem," explain what the protagonist means when he says "it’s my secret story, and Indians have to work hard to keep secrets from hungry white folks."

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The opening of Jackson Jackson's narrative reveals much about the world and the protagonist's place in it.  Jackson is open about the fact that as a Native American, he has experienced a good deal of silencing from the hands of White America.  Part of this is inevitably understood in his own predicament at being homeless.  He does not blame White Americans for this reality, but it is clear that his own sense of happiness has been "stolen" from him to a great extent by being homeless.  He conveys this through his suggestions that homeless Native Americans are "invisible" to the rest of the world:

Probably none of this interests you. Homeless Indians are everywhere in Seattle. We’re common and boring, and you walk right on by us, with maybe a look of anger or disgust or even sadness at the terrible fate of the noble savage. But we have dreams and families.

To a great extent, Jackson's own invisibility is an example of how "hungry white folks" have silenced his voice.

The social dynamic that Jackson illuminates in the opening about theft and marginalization is also seen in the regalia that Jackson recognizes in the pawn store window.  Jackson is open about how this was stolen from him:

I didn’t know for sure, because I hadn’t seen that regalia in person ever. I’d only seen photographs of my grandmother dancing in it. And those were taken before somebody stole it from her, fifty years ago. But it sure looked like my memory of it, and it had all the same color feathers and beads that my family sewed into our powwow regalia.

The notion of familial and social identity, the regalia, was stolen from Jackson. As it becomes clear in the story, a part of him was taken when his grandmother lost it and died.  Jackson believes that "hungry white folks" were the cause of his stolen regalia.  He believes that "somebody stole it from her, fifty years ago."  It is clear to Jackson that "hungry white folks" will take anything from Native Americans.  His past and current identities are the result of what happens when "hungry white folks" take that which is not theirs.

The significance of the opening line about "hungry white folks" is significant because it is a clear statement about how Jackson views the world and his place in it.  The line sets the tone for the story, one that underscores the challenges of being Native American in the modern setting.  When Jackson gets the regalia and dances with it, he does so because he has reclaimed that which was stolen from "hungry white folks."  When he feels that he has "become" his grandmother, he "breathed her in," he is able to take back that which was taken from him.  To protect that which is taken is of vital importance in terms of what it means to be a Native American.  The idea of theft and reclamation is one that operates throughout the story and is introduced in the narrative's opening.

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What You Pawn I Will Redeem

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