In the short story “What You Pawn I Will Redeem” by Sherman Alexie, cultural imperialism is one of the central themes. This term generally refers to the process when one dominant culture spreads and absorbs the values, beliefs, and lifestyles of smaller communities. For instance, when the prevailing American culture consumed the customs of Indigenous peoples, it was an instance of cultural imperialism. The current essay demonstrates how cultural imperialism can lead to the loss of land and culture through the example of Alexie’s story.
Cultural Imperialism in Narrative
The protagonist of the story is a homeless Spokane man, Jackson Jackson, who lives on the streets of Seattle. For the majority of the plot, he tries to retrieve his grandmother’s regalia from a pawnshop. This artifact is the legacy of the Indigenous Indian Spokane people, and Jackson Jackson tries to find inner peace by getting his grandmother’s item back (Alexie). Over the course of the story, the protagonist encounters many challenges, many of which symbolize his lost culture and identity. He drinks with his friends instead of saving the money for regalia, but this image evokes a sense of sadness instead of anger at the protagonist. Jackson Jackson seems like a lost man, desperately trying to retrieve his identity by getting his grandmother’s regalia back but constantly failing. This failure symbolizes the loss of culture due to cultural imperialism and the spread of the dominant American beliefs that devour all smaller Indigenous communities.
In his short story, Sherman Alexie compared Jackson’s life with the Indian culture. Similar to how the dominant American beliefs, values, and religions substituted Indigenous cultures, Jackson Jackson lost his Spokane individuality. The author transparently shows how cultural imperialism can destroy people whose identities are closely linked with Indigenous lifestyles and beliefs. Ultimately, cultural imperialism is the primary theme of the short story, and it is seen as a negative phenomenon in “What You Pawn I Will Redeem.”
Alexie, Sherman. “What You Pawn I Will Redeem.” The New Yorker, Web.