Comparison between Pawn Shop and Crow Testament

“I wonder where all the Skins disappeared to”—when you read this line from “Pawn Shop,” it clearly implies that he’s wondering to what place all the Indians went, but if you read it aloud, it could sound like he’s wondering where the Indians went too. Which he also does, as in the next scene he’s “searching the streets” for them until he arrives at a pawn shop. Pawn shops are not generally viewed in a positive light—they are places where people sell things they no longer want, or when people down on their luck sell their valuables out of necessity. Thus it hurts the narrator to see something so precious, a “heart beating under glass,” remain unwanted, wasting away in such an undignified place.

If “Pawn Shop” is a mourning of sorts, then “Crow Testament” is a stand-up comedy. Stanza 3 has a particularly comedic line when Crow, on commenting that Crow God looks like him, says “Damn…this makes it so much easier to worship myself.” The repetition of “damn,” not used in the Christian sense of being condemned to suffer in hell, but rather used as slang for surprise, also adds humor throughout the poem. While the poem is funny, the actions portrayed in the poem (injustice, war, alcoholism) are not. It’s not the first time pain and comedy are juxtaposed, but I don’t think Alexie uses humor as a coping mechanism to hide pain. While “Pawn Shop” openly shows raw emotion, “Crow Testament” uses humor to help heal and portray pain in a different way.

On a side note, it’s also interesting to see Christianity and Native American culture juxtaposed in “Crow Testament” as well. Since crows are trickster figures in some Native American cultures, I thought the pale horse was another Native American symbol, but it seems to be a Christian reference. In the Revelations, there are four horsemen of the apocalypse riding different colored horses: white, red, black, and pale. The last horseman, Death, rides the pale horse. I took stanza 7 to mean when Crow arrives as a harbinger of death, none of the Indians panic because “they already live near the end of the world.” Perhaps Alexie is commenting on the nearing death of Native American culture, and how Native Americans have already accepted that fate.

Both “Pawn Shop” and “Crow Testament” approach different kinds of pain in different ways. The pain in “Pawn Shop” is no less in magnitude, and arguably greater, than the pain in “Crow Testament,” but the incident that the pain stems from in “Pawn Shop” is small. It’s not land theft or the imposition of Christianity or war, but the appearance of a Native American possession in a pawn shop. From experience, big things don’t always hurt us because they’re not necessarily personal. A lot of times it’s intimate events that end up breaking our hearts.

2 thoughts on “Comparison between Pawn Shop and Crow Testament”

  1. While I agree with you that both “Pawn Shop” and “Crow Testament” express a wide variety of pain, I don’t think that the sorrow depicted in “Pawn Shop” is in any way “small”. The intimate moment of the narrator’s discovery of an Native American treasure in a pawn shop is symbolic of all Indian displacement. Instead of categorizing the events in the poems by their physical size, I think Alexie is hinting at the fact that they are all interconnected, and rather effect individuals in different ways. This interdependence of the Native American experience is indicated through the last line of “Pawn Shop”, where the narrator expresses his omniscience in regard to the plight of the Native American.

    1. I also noted the usage of the word damn in a seemingly comedic way, but my perception of it was more of a rueful, regretful remark rather than a quip. In fact, it seemed to me that the Crow was quite defeated by the repeated infringements on its rights and culture, and was exasperated and exhausted by the continuous abuse. So like you said, I think Pawn Shop and Crow Testament are definitely linked, but in a different way than you suggested; i.e. Crow Testament and Pawn Shop both seem to be retrospective displays of defeat.

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