What You Pawn I Will Redeem


Sherman Alexie

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Themes and Colors
Native American Culture and Identity Theme Icon
Money, Capitalism, and Morality Theme Icon
Racism and Colonialism Theme Icon
Death and Grief  Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in What You Pawn I Will Redeem, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

Native American Culture and Identity

In Sherman Alexie’s “What You Pawn I Will Redeem,” Jackson finds his late grandmother’s beloved powwow regalia, which was stolen from her 50 years before, hanging in the window of a pawn shop. The white pawnbroker tells Jackson that he’ll sell him the regalia at a slight loss, since it’s the “moral thing” to reunite the regalia with its rightful owner. But nonetheless, Jackson must come up with nearly $1,000, which is essentially…

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Money, Capitalism, and Morality

“What You Pawn I Will Redeem” can be read as an allegory for how capitalism fails American Indians. At the heart of the story is Jackson’s quest to come up with nearly $1,000 to buy his grandmother’s powwow regalia from a pawn shop, regalia that was stolen from her 50 years before. The white pawnbroker may feel that he’s offering a fair bargain (taking a slight loss on an item he bought without…

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Racism and Colonialism

Throughout “What You Pawn I Will Redeem,” Jackson encounters well-intentioned white people who try to help him in controlling or condescending ways. The pawnbroker offers to let him buy his grandmother’s stolen powwow regalia—but only if he can come up with an impossible amount of money. Big Boss, the man who runs an anti-poverty organization, gives Jackson a token number of newspapers to sell, as though that will help him at all…

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Death and Grief

The many deaths referenced in the story reflect the horrific conditions of American Indian life. For instance, Jackson’s grandmother died from cancer that was caused either by the uranium mine on her reservation, an injury from getting run over by a motorcycle, or her grief over her stolen powwow regalia. Each of these explanations points to the disproportionate hardships that American Indians face, which often shorten their lives. Furthermore, the community of homeless…

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