Sample Paper on Symbolism in What you pawn I will Redeem


Symbolism in What you pawn I will Redeem

Cover Letter

What you pawn I will Redeem is a story by Alexie Sherman that focuses on American Indian culture. This essay will look at symbolism within the story as it has been used frequently within it to develop the main theme of cultural disintegration. The hardest part of this essay was finding sources that have adequately analyzed the author’s use of this stylistic device. The project’s main strength is that the story has well developed characters and a clear plot with no double-meaning of words and events to make an analysis difficult. The weakness of the project is the lack of sufficient texts that have described this story. I would like feedback from the instructor that tells me if I did cover the symbolism accurately or misinterpreted casual occurrences as having a hidden meaning.


What you pawn I will redeem is a story by Sherman Alexie that was published in two thousand and three and was published in The New Yorker. The story traces the journey of an alcoholic American Indian, Jackson Jackson who is trying to raise a thousand dollars to buy back powwow regalia that belonged to his grandmother. Jackson engages himself in all kinds of labour to raise money however he is not successful in raising the amount and eventually he returns to the pawnshop unsuccessful. For his effort however, the shop owner gives him the item for five dollars. As shown below the story has a lot of symbolism and history in relation to American Indians.

The story follows Jackson who discovers his grandmother’s regalia in a pawnshop and he attempts to buy it back. The regalia is used as a symbol of the culture of the native Americans and the author uses it to show how the Indians have lost their culture and are now attempting to retrace their roots but with difficulty as is shown with the struggle that Jackson takes to raise money for it. The narrative is symbolic of how the Indians were pushed onto reserves when the white men arrived and during this time they lost a lot of their culture which was labeled as primitive. There were attempts made to assimilate the Indians to white culture by making their children attend boarding schools which were only partially successful leaving some Indians without a sense of identity.

The loss of culture is visible in individuals such as the Plains Indian man he met. Indians who describe themselves as Plains Indians are people without any tribe. The loss of culture was not a direct process but began with the Indians loss of tribal identity with them saying that they are all just Indians and the Plains’ man is a symbol of it. The writer does not approve of this new way of life and this is demonstrated when he says “you got to have a home to be that homely” (Sherman 88). This insult shows his disapproval of his friend’s way of life. The loss of Identity is also demonstrated in the narrator’s, Jackson’s, homelessness. Jackson had a home and family according to him but he has lost all of that suffering a psychotic breakdown and is now wandering the streets with his group. This is used to show how the Indian’s have lost their sense of identity and how they are now separated from their social units wandering with whichever Indians they meet (PALA, 313).

The loss of culture and determination to get it back is reflected in the title What you Pawn I will Redeem which shows that what the older Indians might have either disregarded out of disdain or sold out of desperateness  the other Indians still hold valuable and will redeem. Jackson also attributes his grandmother’s death to the loss of her regalia saying that it caused her to have a broken heart which eventually led to breast cancer. The loss of culture is viewed as the cause of the Indian’s loss of livelihood and the reason for their poor living conditions. Jackson views the regalia and therefore his culture as so important that it might be able to bring his grandmother to life. His grandmother is therefore used to symbolize the return of the old way of life which the writer views as important for the Indians progress.

The value of the culture to Jackson is also reflected in his view of it as a quest for him and the determination with which he has to get the powwow regalia back. A police officer offers to help Jackson with his case but Jackson refuses saying that it is his own personal journey showing the cultural significance of the task. The writer demonstrates how the return of Indian culture is something that only the Indians can do for themselves, even though there are others willing to help the American Indians must be ready to do it themselves.

Jackson’s actions are used as a reminder of the importance of maintaining tradition especially the ones that had a good impact. Jackson constantly performs acts that are required of him by his culture even when they are detrimental to his long term goals. When Jackson wins some money in the lottery he at once shares it with Kay his long time friend who works at her parents’ grocery store. Jackson gives Kay twenty dollars of his hundred dollar winnings because in his culture when someone wins something they are supposed to share it with their family and he views Kay as his family (Sherman, 93). Jackson is also accepting of the creative stories people tell of their past because Indians were known to be good at telling stories and he does not view the people who give false stories as liars. When Jackson goes to drink his winnings at a bar he buys for all the other Indians and even conforms to the social practice of calling people who aren’t related to him his cousin. The author has attempted to show Indian practices in a humorous but positive manner in order to encourage others to practice them even when they feel that they cost something to them.

The Native Americans when taken out of their communities faced many problems including the destruction of social units and the loss family ties. The bar is used as a symbol of the reserves where the Indians used to stay and within it the problem of alcoholism within the community is shown (Fletcher, 12). Jackson is a depiction of the Native American Indians and his alcoholism is used to show the problems that the community has faced with it.  The alcoholism is has prevented the community from developing for a long time as men such as Jackson waste their earnings on liquor and cannot even hold gainful employment. This also develops the theme of poverty and how the Indians are living in poor conditions even though they are no longer forced to live in reserves as all the Indians that are introduced in the story are poor and do not own any property. The story does however end with an indication of hope for the Indians with Jackson getting his grandmother’s regalia back and performing a dance on the streets (Sherman, 101).

What you Pawn I will redeem is a story about the American Indians and the social issues that affect them. The story shows how the Indians lost a significant portion of their culture and their land to white settlers and now have to abide by their rules. The story also shows how the native Indians are facing many social problems such as loss of culture, disintegration of social units and alcoholism which are hindering their growth. There is however still hope for the Indians if they rediscover their past and as more is studied, solutions can be got for the Indians problems


Alexie, Sherman. “What You Pawn I Will Redeem”. ENGL 200: Composition and Literature. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2011: 87-101. Web. 20 July 2014.

Fletcher, M. Looking to the East: The stories of modern Indian People and the development of Tribal People. Michigan: Michigan State University, 2006.

Poetics and Linguistic Association. What you pawn I Will Redeem. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2008.