In “The Contents of the Dead Man’s Pocket,” Jack Finney is teaching an important life lesson about choosing priorities.
In the exposition, Tom Benecke chose working to get a promotion at work over an enjoyable evening with his wife. Although he is attracted to his beautiful young wife, he is driven to make a name for himself in the grocery industry with the hope of reaping the benefits of the work in future. He even jokes with his wife about how she will enjoy the increase in salary he expects to get for his work.
She nodded, accepting this. Then, glancing at the desk across the living room, she said, "You work too much, though, Tom—and too hard."
He smiled. "You won't mind though, will you, when the money comes rolling in and I'm known as the Boy Wizard of Wholesale Groceries?"
"I guess not." She smiled and turned back toward the bedroom.
It is only after Tom faces a life or death situation on the ledge that he sees the flaw in his reasoning. By putting himself in a desperate situation, he realizes his life is out of balance. Jack Finney teaches the reader about balancing work with pleasure and about seizing the moment and enjoying what one has. This does not mean you should not have goals, but they should not be so consuming that life passes you by.
He thought of all the evenings he had spent away from her, working; and he regretted them. He thought wonderingly of his fierce ambition and of the direction his life had taken; he thought of the hours he'd spent by himself, filling the yellow sheet that had brought him out here. Contents of the dead man's pockets, he thought with sudden fierce anger, a wasted life.