A Quest for Culture

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A Quest for Culture

By | Feb. 2013
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Throughout their lives, people take many journeys. These journeys, both literal and figurative, physical and spiritual, can be temporary or last a lifetime. In literature as in life, characters also take similar journeys. These literary journeys will usually both provide the basis to a story’s plot as well as lead a character to a clearer sense of self-knowledge. In Sherman Alexie’s short story “What You Pawn I Will Redeem,” the main character, Jackson Jackson, is an example of a literary character on a journey of self-knowledge. On the surface, the story is about a homeless Spokane Indian man living on the streets of Seattle, WA, trying to earn nearly one thousand dollars to buy back his grandmother’s powwow regalia after finding it hanging in a pawnshop window. However, upon closer inspection, the reader can see that through the process of trying to acquire the money, Jackson’s journey is not just about buying back a stolen heirloom, but is instead about rediscovering his ancestral roots and forming a long-broken connection with his Native American family. By buying back the pawned regalia, Jackson will come to redeem not only his grandmother’s death, but his own life as well.

The very first sentence of the story is a statement that holds a double meaning for Jackson. Jackson says, “One day you have a home and the next you don’t” (1). This sentence refers to both Jackson being literally homeless, living day-to-day on the streets of Seattle, as well as culturally homeless as a Spokane Indian. As a Native American, Jackson and his ancestors are tied to a past of discrimination, forced relocation, and stolen land and property. In his current life, Jackson has never been able to stay in one place for a significant amount of time in order to consider it “home;” he moves away from his Spokane tribe, flunks out of college, and divorces numerous times. The opening statement introduces a theme of homelessness, both literally and culturally, to the reader that remains...