Who is Jackson and what does his quest symbolize?

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ansleyclark eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Jackson Jackson is the main character and the first-person narrator of Sherman Alexie's short story "What You Pawn I will Redeem." He is a homeless Native American man from the Spokane tribe, living in the streets of Seattle. Jackson describes himself in various ways throughout the story, telling us that after getting married and having a family he goes "crazy," and that he may or may not have been diagnosed with asocial disorder. He also tells us that he has learned to be "an effective homeless man." We see this through the ways he has learned to survive in the city.

Jackson's quest to earn back his grandmother's regalia could symbolize a few different things. Perhaps most importantly, this quest symbolizes Jackson's deeply rooted desire for family, community, and a sense of belonging.

We know this because Jackson touches on these themes several times throughout the story. Everyone in the city seems to know him, including a police officer, a Korean grocery store employee, and a handful of other homeless Native American individuals named Junior and Rose of Sharon. Jackson treats all of these people with kindness and cheerful familiarity. He refers to Junior and Rose of Sharon as his "regular crew, his "teammates," "defenders," and "posse." He writes, "We matter to each other if we don’t matter to anybody else." 

Jackson also continually gives away the money he earns throughout the story. He buys his friends breakfast and buys drinks for everyone at a local bar. This generosity and his enthusiasm for his friends tell us that he values friendship and community above all else.

Jackson's grandmother's regalia reminds him of his past, when he truly belonged to a community and had a family. His grandmother died years ago, and he misses her terribly now. Thus, Jackson seems to think that if he can just earn back the regalia, he might also earn back this sense of belonging and his past. 

Because Jackson is homeless and Native American, he is often marginalized and treated as being invisible and powerless. Thus, Jackson's quest to find the regalia, an important cultural artifact from his family, also symbolizes a way in which he can reclaim some power.

Read the study guide:
What You Pawn I Will Redeem

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