What You Pawn I Will Redeem

by

Sherman Alexie

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The Five-Dollar Bills Symbol Analysis

The Five-Dollar Bills Symbol Icon

The five-dollar bills that Jackson begins and ends his day with represent impoverished people’s hopeless position under capitalism. Jackson begins his quest at the pawnshop with five dollars, and when he returns a day later after attempting to raise $999 to buy his grandmother’s powwow regalia, he still only has five dollars. Although, importantly, it’s not the same five dollar bill that he originally started with. That he begins and ends with five dollars is a cruel irony that represents how capitalism traps poor people in an endless cycle of spending and earning with no real gains.

Jackson’s inability to save the money he earns for the regalia is a symptom of living in a capitalist society that tempts people with endless consumption. As quickly as a person earns money, capitalist society encourages them to spend it just as quickly—most often on necessities such as food or caring for others, which is where most of Jackson’s earnings go. Jackson starts and ends the story with almost nothing, and this reveals how capitalism prevents poor people from making progress financially.

The Five-Dollar Bills Quotes in What You Pawn I Will Redeem

The What You Pawn I Will Redeem quotes below all refer to the symbol of The Five-Dollar Bills. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Native American Culture and Identity Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Grove Press edition of What You Pawn I Will Redeem published in 2004.
Noon Quotes

I set the crumpled Lincoln on the countertop. The pawnbroker studied it.

“Is that the same five dollars from yesterday?”

“No, it’s different.”

He thought about the possibilities.

“Did you work hard for this money?” he asked.

“Yes,” I said.

Related Characters: Jackson Jackson (speaker), The Pawnbroker (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Five-Dollar Bills
Page Number: 193-194
Explanation and Analysis:
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The Five-Dollar Bills Symbol Timeline in What You Pawn I Will Redeem

The timeline below shows where the symbol The Five-Dollar Bills appears in What You Pawn I Will Redeem. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Noon
Native American Culture and Identity Theme Icon
Money, Capitalism, and Morality Theme Icon
...Junior are panhandling at Pike Place Market. After a couple hours, they take their earnings— five dollars —to buy a bottle of “fortified courage.” On the way, they pass a pawnshop that... (full context)
Money, Capitalism, and Morality Theme Icon
Racism and Colonialism Theme Icon
...$999—taking a one-dollar loss would be, he says, “the moral thing to do”—Jackson only has five dollars to his name. So the pawnbroker offers a deal: he’ll give Jackson 24 hours to... (full context)
Money, Capitalism, and Morality Theme Icon
Racism and Colonialism Theme Icon
...and Jackson wonders why he hoped it would have. He says that he only has five dollars and sets it on the counter. The pawnbroker asks if it’s the same five-dollar bill... (full context)