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What are the two choices that Tom weighs regarding the problem of "Contents of the Dead...

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shonta24 | eNotes Newbie

Posted October 17, 2013 at 4:33 PM via web

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What are the two choices that Tom weighs regarding the problem of "Contents of the Dead Man's Pockets"?

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 2) Distinguished Educator

Posted October 17, 2013 at 7:23 PM (Answer #1)

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Having written "Contents of the Dead Man's Pocket" as a rejection of the culture of corporate success and materialism that became so prevalent in the United States following World War II, Jack Finney places his character Tom Benecke in a conflict between the choice of career or family. This conflict begins in the exposition of the story as Tom has become so consumed with his innovative idea for a new grocery store method of display that he hopes will advance his career; this obsession causes him to ignore the true values of life, and he declines to join his wife when she goes out to the movies on Saturday night, excusing himself by saying,

"You won't mind though, will you, when the money comes rolling in and I'm known as the Boy Wizard of Wholesale Groceries?"

But, when the yellow sheet on which he written ideas and calculations gleaned from long hours of counting people who passed displays during months of observation flies out an opened window of their eleventh floor apartment, Tom cannot bear to think of losing the paper that contains all his efforts. So, he recklessly goes out on the high ledge in order to retrieve it. Once out there, the realization of how he has endangered his life over this yellow sheet of paper suddenly strikes Tom. He imagines his death:

All they'd find in his pockets would be the yellow sheet. Contents of the dead man's pockets, hethought, one sheet of paper bearing penciled notations--incomprehensible.

It is this near-death experience that teaches Tom that "the best things in life are not things." As he smashes the closed window in his last desperate attempt to regain entry into the apartment Tom screams out his wife's name-- an affirmation of his love for her as the most important thing to him. Once safe in his home, Tom hurries to catch Clare at the movie theater, and, ironically, as he sweeps open the door, the yellow paper agains wafts outside; however, this time Tom bursts into laughter. 



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