Give an analysis of "Contents of the Dead Man's Pocket" by Jack Finney.

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carol-davis | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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"Contents of the Dead Man's Pocket" by Jack Finney portrays a man in crisis.  The protagonist Tom Benecke faces two conflicts: man versus himself and man versus nature.  By the end of the story, Tom will hae the chance to face his fear, change his priorities, and begin to live a different kind of life.

The point of view is third person employing an omniscient third person narrator. Suspenseful, serious, and somewhat frightening--these words describe the mood and tone of the story. 

An eleventh floor high rise apartment in the 1950s finds the main character and his wife enjoying the day to day living of any married couple.  Tom has chosen not to go to the movies with his wife Clare.  Using the excuse that he has to work, he will stay home and contemplate the success of his work project which he hopes will make him the "Wizard of Wholesale Groceries."


Here is the dilemma facing Tom.  He knows that he should go with his wife, but he has lost sight of his priorities.  Now, he will face a conflict that will put him back on the right path. Right now, he is placing his work before his family.

The paper containing his project blows out the window.  Here is that man versus nature conflict.  It lands on the corner ledge of his apartment.  Making a quick decision, Tom steps out on the ledge and edges his way toward the paper.  When he gets to the paper, he looks down and freezes.  Realizing how stupid this is, he finally is able to snail crawl  back to the apartment window.  The window is shut, he has to break it open, and lands back inside the apartment.

While on the ledge, Tom thinks about his life.  Where are his priorities?  Is the paper worth more than his llife with Clare? These questions he answers:

Nothing, then, could ever be changed; and nothing more could ever be added to his life. He wished, then, that he had not allowed his wife to go off by herself tonight--and on similar nights. He thought of all the evenings he had spent away from her, working; and he regretted them.

Tom realizes that he had lost his way and that his first priority should be to Clare and their life together. 

In a humorous twist, Tom lays the important paper on his desk again with a pencil to hold it down.  Just as he opens the door to go find Clare, the wind sucks the paper out the window again. This time Tom just laughs.

Tom in his internal conflict discovers that he places too much importance on his work. The theme can be  stated with an allusion to the New Testament: "What does it profit a man to gain the world but to lose his soul." Tom was  so possessed with "getting ahead" that he almost loses his life. In addition, there is a secondary theme of nature interfering with the affairs of man.  When Tom finally loses the paper to the wind, nature still did not conquer Tom.  He has grown and changed.   

The important thing is that Tom has seen the error of his ways; and in the end, he is headed out the door toward his life with Clare.  What a suspenseful, fun story!


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