What You Pawn I Will Redeem


Sherman Alexie

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What You Pawn I Will Redeem: 4:00 P.M. Summary & Analysis

Real Change is an organization whose mission is to resolve homelessness and poverty. They publish a newspaper and pay homeless people to distribute it. Each copy costs 30 cents and gets sold for a dollar, and the homeless get to keep the 70-cent profit. The catch is that the homeless must stay sober to sell papers.
Real Change has a mission to end homelessness and poverty, and while the organization may do some good in people’s lives, the notion that a homeless person earning 70 cents per newspaper sold might end poverty or homelessness writ large is absurd—it’s not even enough money to end one person’s poverty. This represents how non-profits often have idealistic and compassionate mission statements that they fail to back up with significant action.
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Jackson asks Big Boss at Real Change for 1,430 papers on loan. Confused, the Big Boss asks him why he needs to make so much money so quickly. Jackson explains the story of his grandmother’s powwow regalia, and Big Boss suggests that they call the police instead. But Jackson is opposed this, because he’s come to view the task of getting the regalia back as a quest that he needs to complete.
At this point in his journey, Jackson believes that earning the $1000 is a personal quest that he must complete to prove that he is worthy of the regalia. His dedication to this impossible task demonstrates how he has internalized the capitalist belief that people must earn everything, even that which is owed to them.
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Big Boss doubts that Jackson will be able to sell so many papers, as most vendors only earn $30 in a day. Jackson realizes that this plan won’t work and asks if Big Boss can lend him some money instead. Big Boss won’t give Jackson money but offers him 50 free newspapers and then hugs him. Jackson sets off back toward the water to sell the papers.
Big Boss acknowledges that his organization can’t live up to its own mission statement. He offers Jackson sympathy, but he is unwilling to genuinely help him. Big Boss knows that Jackson is unlikely to sell the 50 papers, and he simply offers them as a way of convincing himself that he is helpful and moral.
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