“What You Pawn I Will Redeem” by Sherman Alexie is a short story about Jackson Jackson’s quest to retrieve his grandmother’s powwow regalia from the pawn shop. This piece is told by following Jackson’s life from an ordinary day as he catches sight of his family’s old memorabilia in a pawn shop and his “quest” to get it back, making it an un-ordinary day.
Alexie uses indirect characterization sprinkled throughout the story to reveal Jackson’s complex personality. Starting off in the first sentence, “because it’s my secret story, and Indians have to work hard to keep secrets from hungry white folks,” we are immediately offered an exclusive glimpse into the character’s deepest secret. This sets us up for the rest of his closed personality and gives us a forewarning of the upcoming conflict.
We are able to gather the rest of the character’s personality from his added commentary. For example, when he simply states, “Maybe you don’t understand the value of a clean bathroom, but I do,” we are given a window into his past experiences. You only truly appreciate something when you have experienced a lack of it, so with just this sentence we can add further evidence supporting the idea that Jackson’s life so far has had a fair share of obstacles.
We can also detect another major personality trait: Jackson’s focus on seemingly-little details. The fact that he can differentiate public bathrooms from private bathrooms with so many details allows us to recognize his skill in focusing on small specifics that most people would not be able or care to notice. Since so much emphasis is put on exposing the reader to this skill fairy early-on, we can already infer that it will prove crucial to the story’s plot.
As we continue with the story, our inference is proven correct. The author’s ability to casually introduce the main conflict of the story in the line “But the strangest thing was the old powwow-dance regalia I saw hanging in the window,” is partially accomplished due to the stunning imagery that was previously used. Descriptions of what Jackson saw like Sharon and the Seven-Eleven used such a great amount of vivid imagery that I felt like I was trailing behind him the whole time or watching a 4D movie, which had me actively engaged throughout the entire piece. Even at the first page-and-a-half or so before the conflict is introduced, my attention never once strayed from the pages.
The great imagery was kept up even after the main conflict was introduced, as seen in the quote, “Thinking hard, we huddled in an alley beneath the Alaska Way Viaduct and finished off those bottles one, two, and three” and ties in perfectly with Jackson’s tendency to focus on small, insignificant details as it added even more to the feeling of all this being genuine.
Overall, I hope to use this unique yet effective combination of imagery at this quality and deep indirect characterization to make my pieces scream “this is actually happening” and hold readers hostage until they have read every word.