What You Pawn I Will Redeem, is a beautiful short story about a homeless Native American, Jackson Jackson, who discovers his grandmother’s regalia in a mysterious pawn shop. He is given twenty four hours to come up with the money to buy it back. During the following twenty four hours, the reader follows Jackson Jackson on his quest to regain his grandmother’s regalia and in the process reclaim his lost heritage. Two of the biggest elements of postmodern literature found in the short story are the elements of black humor and magical realism.
In the opening paragraph Jackson introduces himself, “I grew up in Spokane, moved to Seattle twenty-three years ago for college, flunked out after two semesters, worked various blue- and bluer-collar jobs, married two or three times, fathered two or three kids, and then went crazy.” His flippant introduction is humorous but also suggests something depressing. That Jackson jokes about how many times he was married and how many children he may have is an indicator of the apathy Jackson has. The reader can hardly blame him because Jackson constantly hints at the displacement, alcoholism, and violence that saturates his people and alludes to this having to do with white people.
Black humor is woven throughout the story. The scene in which Jackson is sitting beside his friend, Junior, is a great example. “I put my ear to his chest and listened for his heartbeat. He was alive, so I took off his shoes and socks and found one dollar in his left sock and fifty cents in his right sock.” On the one hand, Jackson cares enough to make sure Junior is alive while on the other hand, Jackson steals what little money is stashed in his socks of all places. Words like “sacred bar” referring to the alcoholism common in the Native American culture and the “pawnshop radar” referring to the idea that Native Americans are well acquainted with pawn shops because they need money for alcohol are humorous. The humor is not used to merely incite a giggle but to unsettle the reader. Why is this funny?
Aside from the use of black humor, the magical realism made this story very affecting. The pawnshop seemed to have mysteriously appear and it was quite an amazing coincident that Jackson’s grandmother’s regalia would have showed up after fifty years. It’s possible but highly unlikely and the serendipitous way in which Jackson receives help in his quest urges the reader on. After Jackson spends the twenty dollars the pawnshop owner gave him on “three bottles of imagination” the reader might expect the situation to go downhill. But Jackson continues to fall into more money though he loses it just as quickly. In the end he finds his way back to the pawn shop with five dollars, the same amount he began his quest with.
Along with the mysterious pawnshop, the coincidental emergence of the regalia, and the pawnshop owner seeming to grow younger, the other magical aspect of the story was the characters that disappeared abruptly. Though it is realistic for people to come and go, there was something strange about it. The Aleut cousins’ disappearance was particularly poignant. They sat on the same bench waiting for their ship to take them home but the ship never came. Towards the end of the story Jackson describes what happens, “I heard later that the Aleuts had waded into the salt water near Dock 47 and disappeared. Some Indians swore they had walked on the water and headed north. Other Indians saw the Aleuts drown. I don’t know what happened to them.”
There was a mystic beauty in the ending and an affirmation of goodness, if not in humanity, then at least in Jackson Jackson. As Jackson puts on his Grandmother’s regalia and dances amid a frozen city, he has reclaimed his heritage, even if for just one moment in time.
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