How does Sherman Alexie in his story, "What You Pawn I Will Redeem," complicate stereotypical notions about American Indians?

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Alexie clearly presents American Indians as operating under a different system of norms and values to the majority culture in which they are sidelined and discriminated against. In this story, American Indians enter and disappear from view without anybody knowing what precisely happened to them, and it is also clear that Alexie does not shy away from presenting the drunkenness and inability to handle money that forms such an unfortunate part of the stereotype surrounding American Indians. However, at the same time, it is important to recognise how this tale challenges such notions as well. In a sense, the reason why the narrator is so unable to operate economically within the mainstream American culture is that he values other things as being far more important than money itself, as is shown when he takes his $30, which was given to him by the policeman, and treats the Aleuts he meets to breakfast, leaving himself with only $5, which is precisely the amount he started with:

The Aleuts and I waited in silence. Soon enough, the waitress returned and poured us four coffees, and we sipped at them until she returned again, with four plates of food. Eggs, bacon, toast, hash-brown potatoes. It’s amazing how much food you can buy for so little money.

The narrator does not stop at all to think that he should save that money: his friendship with the Aleuts and his need to eat and share what he has is more important. Alexie thus challenges stereotypical notions of American Indians through identifying ways in which their culture makes them superior to Americans, such as the way in which money is not as important as relationships. This is something that is recognised by the pawnbroker when he "thought about the possibilities" and gave the narrator his grandmother's regalia anyway.

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