Ahmad Abdullhadi Shalabi
December 10th, 2013
The Quest for Identity in Sherman Alexie’s “What You Pawn I Will Redeem” Sherman Alexie, a Spokane/Coeur d'Alene Indian, was born in 1966 on the Spokane Indian Reservation in Wellpinit, Washington.” [He] is a poet, writer, and filmmaker. Much of his writing draws on his experiences as a Native American growing up on the Spokane Indian Reservation” ( Konigsberg). As a Native American, Alexie’s main concern is presenting his own culture and traditions not only to the American society but also to the whole world. Therefore, most of his works focus on the life of Native Americans in the Indian Reservations where those people suffer from cultural denial and lost heritage and land. In spite of the bitterness and the sense of loss that his characters suffer, Alexie tends to use humor in presenting his plot and characters. His writings are meant to evoke sadness, but at the same time he uses humor and pop culture that leaves the readers with a sense of respect, understanding and compassion. Alexie’s influences for his literary works do not rely solely on traditional Indian forms, but instead he blends elements of culture, Indian spirituality, and the drudgery of poverty-ridden reservation life to create his characters and the world they inhabit. This paper sheds light on Alexie’s tendency of presenting Native Americans as denied and marginalized people in their own homeland. It also examines Alexie’s “What You Pawn I Will Redeem” as a quest for self journey where the protagonist does his best to reclaim his culture, traditions and identity. The story is told through the character of Jackson Jackson. He is a homeless alcoholic of Spokane Indian descent who finds his grandmother’s regalia at a pawn shop. He sets out on a quest to raise $1000 and gain back this family heirloom. The story focuses on the obstacles Jackson faces and the humor he uses to get through his difficult position. Through his journey Jackson comes across many people who help him achieve his goal. When the whites arrived in America, they isolated those native people by putting them in reservations, believing that they were just primitive horse-riding Indians. Unemployment, alcoholism and homelessness are the Native Americans’ three major dilemmas they face in the reservations. Their land was occupied by the whites and their culture started to vanish due to the whites’ agenda to assimilate those Indians into their society and culture. The assimilation of Native Americans was the first step towards acculturation. The whites believed that if those Indians assimilate with them they will leave their culture behind and adopt the new one. Rachel Buff , an associate professor of history at University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee, differentiates between the two terms saying "It is important here to distinguish between assimilation, which denotes the gradual melting of different cultural groups into Americans, and acculturation, which signals the ongoing process of cultural adaptation and change"( Buff 26). Gradually, Native Americans were fused to the new arrivals’ culture. For the sake of demolishing Native American culture and language, the whites founded boarding schools for the Indians as Buff points out “Colonel Richard H. Pratt had founded a boarding school at Carlisle, Pennsylvania, in 1879 with the motto ‘Kill the Indian and civilize the man’”( Buff 26). The motto shows how Native Americans were seen via the whites’ eye. Richard makes a clear connection between savageness and Native Americans; he might have referred to not killing them literally but killing their culture and beliefs which might affect the whites’ ideologies. From the very beginning of the conflict on land, the whites knew how to marginalize the Native Americans; first, by isolating them in reservations and second , by injecting their minds with the new culture and identity. The reservations, in the mean time, also contain so many...
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