Characters can symbolize entire cultures and their positions in social dynamics through their settings and actions in a short story. In “What You Pawn I Will Redeem”, Jackson Jackson (also referred to as Jackson Squared), is a Spokane Indian man who has been homeless for quite some time. The reader can infer quite a bit from him by following his twenty-four hour quest to regain his grandmother’s regalia. Through seeing not only this incident and several others through the course of the writing, the reader is able to further acquaint them into the situation that many modern Indians face on a daily basis in society.
Jackson Jackson, or Jackson Squared, introduces himself in the beginning of the story to the reader. “One day you have a home and the next you don’t, but I’m not going to tell you my particular reasons for being homeless, because it’s my secret story” (Alexie), already tells the reader that he is not willing to share the intricate details of his life, as he and the writer infer that the audience of this reading is going to predominantly be “hungry white folks” that “Indians have to work hard to keep secrets from” (Alexie). Jackson goes on to share that he is a Spokane Indian, and refers to himself as a “boy” when he does so, although it is clear that he is middle aged as he also mentions he “moved to Seattle twenty-three years ago for college” (putting him at age 41 if he left for college at 18), as well as him also being “married two or three times, fathered two or three kids” (Alexie). It is obvious through his word choice that he still cherishes his youth, and considers himself to be youthful. After he mentions that he has never hurt anybody physically yet has broken a few hearts, he mentions he has been disappearing “piece by piece”, and has become homeless six years ago (Alexie).
This precursor to the individual story of Jackson is not as key of an element as what he mentions afterwards, as he is the representation of the “average” homeless Indian in modern society. This precursor shows more of what his character has to face in modern society and how he interacts with the world, more so than what exactly he is doing as an Indian, roaming through the streets of Seattle. Jackson explains that there are numerous homeless Indians, and that they wander the streets in “crews”, like tribes of mixed tribal identities. This symbolizes the creation of new Indian “tribes” on the streets through the need of companionship within the same ethnicity and social conditions. Jackson shows throughout the story that these Indian people hold strong traditional values and live their days on the street with a close philosophy from those of that are native to their heritage. An example of this is when he first wins the lottery ticket; he immediately gives twenty dollars of his winnings to Mary, the lady who sold him the ticket. He has proclaimed that she was also the love of his life, yet the reasoning behind his generousness is because “it’s tribal. It’s an Indian thing. When you win, you’re supposed to share with your family.” (Alexie). This statement also shows that he is also using this tribal policy to claw his way into her acknowledgement of his as “family”, whether it be platonic or not.
Jackson and His Association
Jackson shows his association to his cultural identity by categorizing those other Indians according to which tribe they came from. He first mentions the “Plains Indian”, which he claims to be a liar, as “we Indians are great storytellers and liars and mythmakers” (Alexie). He shows suspicion to this friend he mentions, but at the same time he associates with him because of their mutual heritage. He also chooses his crew only from other Indians- “Rose of Sharon”, a Yakama Indian, as well as “Junior”, who is from one of the “hundred and nighty-nine tribes that make up Colville” (Alexie). Further into the story, he finds a bar to drink at after winning a lottery ticket, he chooses to go to an all-Indian bar, even though he claims “Nobody knows how or why Indians migrate to one bar and turn it into an official Indian bar.”(Alexie). Here again, when he meets other characters that he associates with, he chooses two other Indians, which he yet again classifies using their tribal associates. In this particular example, the other two Indians associating with him also introduce themselves by sharing their tribal associations, with their initial conversation revolving around it.
Jackson also speaks nonchalantly of those disappearing around him, as if their associations to him are not as tightly bound as we first imagine them to be. As the whole story revolves around Jackson wandering in order to find his Grandmother’s regalia, we can infer that the other characters around him are also wandering as well, and that Jackson acknowledges that fact from the tone he uses. At first, he mentions Rose of Sharon being gone, saying “I heard later that she had hitchhiked back to Toppernish and was living with her sister on the reservation.” (Alexie). His tone lacks surprise or grievance or support for her. Later, he mentions the death of Junior. He again mentions, “I heard later that he had hitchhiked down to Portland, Oregon, and died of exposure in an alley behind the Hilton Hotel.” (Alexie). He mentions nothing more of his death, and there are no passages mentioning sorrow, grievance, or even loneliness of losing his last companion from his homeless crew. Later, when he learns of the suicide of the Aleuts, he again mentions, “I heard later that the Aleuts had waded into the salt water near Dock 47 and disappeared”, along with other rumors he had heard about them walking across the water, and others saying that they drowned (Alexie). Jackson’s connection with death and the people around him constantly shifting and leaving could be a representation of how he views life. Having there be no evidence so far in the story of anything being stable in his livelihood, it could be that Jackson is portrayed as being numb to change. We could even go further into the parallel and assume that the Indian culture all in it self is now numb to change, as change has been happening to them constantly since the colonization of America.
The reader could also infer from the writing that Jackson’s questionable money management skills could be associated with his mindset of freely roaming, or that Indian culture does not value handheld currency as much as the object they could be traded for, such as food and companionship. Not once in the story, he has tried to save anything money that he has come across, even though his intention throughout the story is to save a thousand dollars for the regalia. Although strangely, we see at the end Jackson does get the regalia back from the storeowner. The reasoning behind this could once again be from fear of arrest for selling stolen merchandise, guilt, empathy, or simply because it was a different five dollars that Jackson presumably worked hard for. This could also be a symbolic gesture, as the “old white man” giving back a stolen item to an Indian draws a parallel to white men stealing Indian land, and that part of what they have stolen is given back.
Jackson’s story, if taken as a fable, is a bad example of an extremely lucky man who wins back his grandmother’s procession through luck and circumstance. Yet, if the readers see this story as an explanatory narrative of how homeless Indians live in the modern age, then we can learn how they have combined their vernacular culture along with the modern capitalist American culture.