In "What You Pawn I Will Redeem," how does Sherman Alexie show belonging ?

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Jackson is shown in several different ways throughout "What You Pawn I will Redeem."  The opening sentence reflects this reality: One day you have a home and the next you don’t, but I’m not going to tell you my particular reasons for being homeless, because it’s my secret story, and Indians have to work hard to keep secrets from hungry white folks."  For Jackson, while he is marginalized and is silenced, he identifies himself as a Native American who must keep free from "hungry white folks." It is clear that Alexie shows how Jackson embodies belonging in his own mindset:

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. I’m friends with a homeless Plains Indian man whose son is the editor of a big-time newspaper back East.

The use of the inclusive and collective pronoun helps to enhance the feeling of belonging intrinsic to Jackson's condition in the world.  In articulating a condition that is "disappearing," but one that reflects "dreams and families," Jackson makes clear that he does belong, although he fights for that element of inclusion in a world of marginalization.

On a more immediate level, Jackson belongs to a small community of other voices that experience silencing.  Jackson identifies himself as belonging to a community, even if the social order does not validate it:  "I wander the streets with a regular crew—my teammates, my defenders, my posse. It’s Rose of Sharon, Junior, and me. We matter to each other if we don’t matter to anybody else."  The "regular crew" shows belonging in how there is importance assigned to one another, even if the normative social order does not acknowledge.  

Finally, belonging is shown in Jackson's recognition of the regalia in the pawn shop window.  Jackson's wording to the pawn shop owner reflects belonging: "That’s my grandmother’s powwow regalia in your window...Somebody stole it from her fifty years ago, and my family has been searching for it ever since.” Jackson's words speak to how belonging exists even if it is interrupted by temporal or material reality.  While it might have been taken, Jackson's words reflect how Alexie suggests that belonging does not change or leave, even if specific conditions reflect it.  This is seen in the ending, when Alexie shows how Jackson is a restored being who has found his own condition of belonging in the world:

I took my grandmother’s regalia and walked outside. 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 and breathed her in. I stepped off the sidewalk and into the intersection. Pedestrians stopped. Cars stopped. The city stopped. They all watched me dance with my grandmother. I was my grandmother, dancing.

Jackson has found his belonging with his ethnic and familial identity when he dances at the end of the narrative.  He recognizes that "the solitary yellow bead was a part of me," which showcases how Alexie believes that Jackson has found his sense of belonging by the narrative's end.  

Read the study guide:
What You Pawn I Will Redeem

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