What literary devices are used in "What You Pawn I Will Redeem"?

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Jackson Jackson, the protagonist in Sherman Alexie ’s story, states that “we Indians are great storytellers and liars and mythmakers.” To support this claim, he uses literary devices to paint a vivid story about his quest to attain his grandmother’s regalia, which he finds in a pawn shop. One of...

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Jackson Jackson, the protagonist in Sherman Alexie’s story, states that “we Indians are great storytellers and liars and mythmakers.” To support this claim, he uses literary devices to paint a vivid story about his quest to attain his grandmother’s regalia, which he finds in a pawn shop. One of these devices includes anecdotal flashbacks, wherein Jackson recalls the stories his grandmother used to tell about her life. However, there are also many sentence-level devices that serve to illustrate Jackson's personality and outlook on life.

Jackson, an alcoholic Indian in Seattle, briefly describes his life leading up to the actual events of the story: “I didn’t break hearts into pieces overnight. I broke them slowly and carefully.” Alexie uses hyperbole, likening the failure of a romance to a literal broken heart, to establish Jackson as an honest narrator with a rough background. The narrator’s sense of humor shows through in the line “bought three bottles of imagination,” in which he substitutes the euphemism “imagination” for “whiskey.” This line shows the attachment Jackson has to alcohol and signals to readers that this story deals heavily with the alcoholism plaguing Indian communities. Jackson later confirms that “Indian alcoholics are either sprinters or marathoners.” This metaphor comparing alcoholics to highly trained athletes suggests that the people in the story view alcohol not just as a pastime but rather as something dominating their thoughts and actions.

Jackson uses another hyperbole when he states that his friend Rose of Sharon “is a big woman, about seven feet tall if you’re measuring over-all effect and about five feet tall if you’re only talking about the physical.” Although five feet and seven feet are two very different heights, Jackson views his friend as a strong-willed woman, and/or perhaps someone with a large personality, which in his mind warrants the label of “seven feet tall.” We can guess that Jackson judges people more on personalities than on appearances. However, the next few lines contradict this assumption, for Jackson explains that his other friend Junior “gets me jealous, jealous, and jealous” because “He’s got those great big cheekbones that are like planets, you know, with little moons orbiting them.” Jackson admires Junior’s appearance so much that he uses a simile to compare his cheekbones to planets, which are mysterious, beautiful, and unattainable. His repetition of the word “jealous” mimics jealousy itself, an emotion that causes us to think about something or someone over and over again.

In keeping with this theme of admiration and longing, Jackson says, “I love the smell of ocean water. Salt always smells like memory.” The setting of Alexie’s story is centered not on the pawn shop, but rather near the ocean on the wharfs of Seattle. Jackson uses a simile to compare the smell of the ocean to a memory, so he must have a fond relationship with the ocean. Perhaps Alexie keeps this association vague, avoiding what type of “memory” the narrator is referring to, in order to emphasize the symptom of memory loss in alcoholics. Near the end of the story, when getting his grandmother’s regalia back seems impossible, Jackson uses another ocean-related simile when he states that “that pawnshop seemed to have sailed away like a ghost ship.” Since some of the Indians in this story view ships as an escape from their misery, this comparison (along with the modifier "ghost") emphasizes Jackson's feeling of loss.

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