Story Reflection: “What You Pawn I Will Redeem”, by Sherman Alexie
The protagonist in this story is Jackson Jackson, a flawed but good man. He is a Spokane Indian, a member of the Interior Salish who grew up in Spokane, Washington. He is a homeless Indian who has wound up on the streets of Seattle. Although he doesn’t choose to be specific with the reason for his current plight he is forthcoming with his flaws. He lists how he hurts those in his life over time, “I didn’t break any hearts into pieces overnight. I broke them slowly and carefully.” (Alexie) While he may not be physically punishing to those he loves, he tends to disappear leaving those in his wake heartbroken just the same. He narrates the story in first person protagonist style. Right after he lists a bevy of characteristics that would make any reader suspicious of him having any redeemable traits he goes into detail how he is “an effective homeless man” (Alexie). And while the ability to use a clean bathroom isn’t what a reader would normally consider a good trait. There is something about a homeless man being entrusted with the use of many store owners private lavatory facilities that gives some insight that there may be more to learn about Jackson.
I’ve made friends with restaurant and convenience-store managers who let me use their bathrooms. And I don’t mean the public bathrooms, either. I mean the employees’ bathrooms, the clean ones hidden behind the kitchen or the pantry or the cooler. I know it sounds strange to be proud of this, but it means a lot to me, being trustworthy enough to piss in somebody else’s clean bathroom. Maybe you don’t understand the value of a clean bathroom, but I do. (Alexie)
There are several instances in the story that point to the inherent good that resides in this street vagrant that may be seen as just another one of Seattle’s homeless Indian population. Throughout the story he does good deeds unto others without the reader getting the sense that he expected reimbursement in return. He simply believed it was what he ought to do, based either on his native tribal beliefs or a built in moral compass that guided his actions. There are a couple of specific moments to point out that showcase these traits of his inherent goodness guided by his tribal beliefs and his innate ability to do good for others.
One part of the story mentions that during his quest to reach his monetary goal he wins one hundred dollars with a scratch off lottery game. Instead of keeping the entire winnings for himself he shares part of his reward with the shop clerk who sold him the ticket. When the shop clerk initially refuses he remarks “No, it’s a tribal thing. When you win, you’re supposed to share with your family.” (Alexie)
Another part of the story is when Jackson Jackson’s is nearing the deadline for his vision quest of sorts yet he does not have the entire amount of money required to satisfy the goal. He returns to characters that aren’t particularly blessed themselves, three Aleut Indians waiting on a bench for their proverbial boat home north to Alaska. With twenty five dollars in hand of a needed nine hundred and ninety nine he takes these kindred lost souls to breakfast. He spends eighty percent of his remaining gains on treating everyone to a meal. The author is deliberate in pointing out while in the course of ordering the food Jackson Jackson includes the waitress’s tip into his calculation of how much to spend, “I’ve got twenty-five dollars I can spend. Bring us all the breakfast you can, plus your tip.” (Alexie) Again, instead of keeping gains for himself he is guided by his character to share with others not expecting returns, even putting himself at a disadvantage to reaching his end goal.
In closing, the protagonist character in his way is a good representation of a theme that was pervasive throughout the story. The author as much and plainly states it near the end, “Do you know how many good men live in this world? Too many to count!” (Alexie) Jackson Jackson, although flawed is ultimately shown to be a good man.