In the story "Contents of the Dead Man's Pockets," how is Tom's journey back different from the corner of the ledge to the window again?Jack Finney's "Contents of the Dead Man's Pockets"

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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TERROR enters into the equation.  In Finney's "Contents of the Dead Man's Pocket," Tom Benecke is an aspiring ad man, working on a project for a new grocery-store display method.  His project has absorbed all his time; he neglects his wife and sends her to the movies alone, promising to meet her later.

When his yellow sheet with all his time-consuming data is blown out the open window by the draft of the closing front door as his wife leaves, Tom is incredulous:

It was hard for him to understand that he actually had to abandon it--it was ridiculous--and he began to curse.  Of all the papers on his desk, why did it have to be this one in particular!

Because this sheet contains "four long Saturday afternoons" of work, Tom cannot just let the paper go.  His single thought is to retrieve it.  "By a kind of instinct," he plans this retrieval, thinking that it will take less than two minutes.  So, "on a sudden impulse," he acts. And, although the fear begins to stir in his stomach, he does not allow himself time to think. As he must contort himself to grasp the paper, he looks between his legs and "a violent instantaneous explosion of absolute terror roared through him."  Tom is paralyzed by his horror of what can happen to him; he trembles and has a "violent shuddering beyond his control," making his return impossible.  "Out of utter necessity," Tom is finally able to shut out the thoughts of his plummeting to his death.  But, he must keep this pent-up horror on the

other side of the flimsy barrier he had erected in his mind; and he knew that if it broke through he would lose this thin artificial control of his body.

At one point, this barrier breaks.  Still, his will to live and not waste his life  --if he falls, people will view symbolically the empty contents of his pockets --act as the impetus for him to overcome his terror and knock his arm through the window, and reach into the room safely.


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