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What is a summary for the story "Contents of the Dead Man's Pocket" by Jack Finney?

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nobra1717 | Student, College Freshman | eNotes Newbie

Posted October 3, 2011 at 7:51 AM via web

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What is a summary for the story "Contents of the Dead Man's Pocket" by Jack Finney?

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Karen P.L. Hardison | College Teacher | eNotes Employee

Posted December 29, 2012 at 6:02 PM (Answer #1)

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Tom changes his plans to go to the movies with his wife Clare to something he "wanted to see it too" in order to stay and work on "his own project, unannounced as yet in his office," something that "could be postponed." The idea here is that Tom is putting ambition above personal happiness and fulfillment. This is his inner conflict and the theme.

He forces a window open to relieve the heat. He sees Clare off guiltily, waving as he watches her walk down the warm interior hall of their apartment building. He closes the door and turns to his desk to work again. He sees the important yellow paper, closely written on in penciled notations of ideas, fly out the open window on the stirring warm gust of wind coming into the cool room from the warmed hallway.

Tom's ideas and his ambitions have both flown out the window on the yellow paper riding on the wind. He sees it on a ledge being pushed further and further away by the cold outdoor wind. He begins his mental journey of how to retrieve the paper, stuck now at the corner of the ledge and a projection of a blank wall, caught between a building corner-ornament and the ledge.

After waiting for it to fall to the street and after rejecting all ideas for reaching for it from the window and after rejecting the idea of letting it go--it with all its shorthand notations supporting his new display idea--comes Tom's decision to value ambition over life, both literal and spiritual.

And he knew he was going out there in the darkness, after the yellow sheet fifteen feet beyond his reach.

Tom climbs out through the window, his stomach, chest and face pressed against the brick of the building. Tom inches, sliding step by sliding step, to the paper. After laborious bending over, he grabs it. Then terror grabs him as he sees down to Lexington Avenue below and Loew's theater beyond. Paralyzed by terror, in danger of fainting, isolated beyond help, cold to the core and with a violently scraped head, Tom takes a long while to rebuild his courage to move again.

Going back to the window is fraught with fear, danger, cold and nightmarish visions. After loosing control of his courage and rushing mindlessly along the ledge to "an impossible gap in the face of the wall," he succeeds and reaches the window. He nearly falls, drops to his knees and drags the widow shut with his sagging weight.

He thought wonderingly of his fierce ambition ... and of the yellow sheet that had brought him out ... Contents of the dead man's pockets, he thought with sudden fierce anger, a wasted life.

While "suspended between balance and falling" and with the yellow paper crammed in his pocket, Tom breaks through the glass with his fist and crawls in through the window; "he was grinning in triumph."

In shock in his living room, he laid the yellow paper on his desk where it had been, weighted it down with a pencil (only a pencil!?) and went to get his topcoat and hat to go out to Loewe's theater and find Clare. As he shut the door, the warm hall air rushed into the cold apartment air and fluttered the yellow paper out the window.

Tom Benecke burst into laughter and then closed the door behind him.

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amnesia | eNoter

Posted January 24, 2013 at 11:41 AM (Answer #2)

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The story might be trying to tell us that ambition is the main cause of ruin and well as misery. When people are ambitious they do not allow themselves to think properly. They are blind. They do what their ambition demands. Later they feel sorry for their mistake. It also says that we know the value of life only when we are closer to death. The wise use such a chance to correct their mistakes but the fools are ruined.

Tom Beneke did not go to the cinema as planned and stayed home in order to prepare a report which would neither cause his pay rise nor his promotion. It would be the first step to reach the very top. The wind took out the yellow paper which was the main basis of the report and which he had prepared spending two months. So he went out on the ledge of the eleventh storey to get it. He went to the corner when the yellow paper was trapped with great difficulty. As he bent to pick it up he saw a large part of the city and was afraid of falling. Gathering courage he came back to the window of his own room. The window was shut and it was very hard for him to open it. He realized that it was the end of his life. He felt sorry for not going with his wife. He cried for help, lit all the useless papers in his pocket, and dropped the coins, but nobody paid attention to him. He imagined that he had fallen and died in the street. His dead body with the yellow piece of paper would be a mystery. Then he was angry because his life had been wasted for nothing. Finally, he broke the window open risking his life. He entered his room, took his coat and hat and went hurriedly to find his wife. As he opened the door, the wind took out the yellow paper and he laughed.

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