Stereotypes and Individual Identities: What You Pawn I Will Redeem

Theme of Stereotyping and Individual Identity in "What You Pawn I Can Redeem"

"What You Pawn I Can Redeem" is a short story that depicts the journey of a financially needy man – Jackson Jackson – who is faced with an uphill challenge of generating a sum of money totaling approximately a thousand dollars within a single day in order to retrieve his grandmother's stolen attire from a nearby pawnshop. Throughout his trip, Jackson meets a variety of people who form his character and his outlook on life. In general, the character brings up many concepts that are important to the plot's progress. However, I believe that the strongest among them is that of stereotyping and individual identity. This paper serves to critically discuss and analyze the aforementioned theme within the story and its relevance in fiction development.

Identity Formation

To begin with, Jackson begins by identifying himself as an "alcoholic Indian with a busted stomach." As he continues to create describe his identity, Jackson does not exaggerate his past. Instead, he gives the hard facts about his mental illness and his homelessness before building on how he saw his late grandmother’s attire on sale. The character does not stop there, in fact, he elucidates the elements of his life clearly. For instance, he states "crazy is not the official definition of my mental problem, but I don’t think asocial disorder fits it". He further clarifies that contrary to the perceptions of the mental illness, he would never hurt another human being.

Homelessness as Identity

The main character does not seem bothered by the fact that he is homeless. This emerges when he asserts "if there’s such a thing as an effective homeless man, then I suppose I’m effective." In a nutshell, he narrates to the audience that he knows the 'basics' of being homeless and that it means a lot to him. This strange admission further advances Jackson’s identity as a "happy" homeless man, a fact which many would not readily agree with.

Stereotypes and Cultural Identities

Jackson confesses his thoughts about Indians in Seattle. He states that Homeless Indians are common and lackluster; therefore, individuals have often stereotyped their cultural group as hopeless and destitute. However, the character clarifies that they are normal people with "dreams and families." In addition to the confession, the narrator continues to give an account of his interactions with a fellow Indian homeless man who he meticulously brands as unique in his own way. In this regard, he brings out the element of the identities of homeless individuals and cultural identities of Indians. On the other hand, Jackson also harbors assumptions about white individuals. He terms them as "hungry white folks"; this allows him to define others independently while aligning himself with older historical stereotypes.

Reinforcing Individual Identity

Overall, the theme of stereotyping and identities is prevalent within the story. Alexie managed to use Jackson’s character to describe specific traits and behaviors associated with specific cultures, races, and groups of individuals. However, the most interesting fact is that Jackson is able to view himself from dual angles as an individual and as part of the mainstream population. He develops his identity through the sum of his experiences and also manages to streamline his views to fit within the confines of majority thinking. The development of the theme is far more evident in the way that Jackson tried to reinforce his individual identity without being stereotyped. In this sense, the story is a masterpiece that succeeds in bringing out the issue of identities.


Alexie, Sherman. What You Pawn I Will Redeem. 21 April 2003. Online. 29 September 2017.

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