Contents of the Dead Man's Pocket Questions and Answers
by Jack Finney

Contents of the Dead Man's Pocket book cover
Start Your Free Trial

In his short story Contents of the Dead Man's Pockets, how does Jack Finney make time move slowly?

Expert Answers info

Walter Fischer eNotes educator | Certified Educator

calendarEducator since 2013

write4,089 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, History, and Business

Jack Finney, in his short story "Contents of the Dead Man's Pockets," allows time to pass interminably slowly through the use of intricate details of his characters' movements. One need read no further into Finney's story than the second paragraph to observe an example of the methods the author uses to slow down the passage of time:

"He got up, shoving his hands into the back pockets of his gray wash slacks, stepped to the living-room window beside the desk, and stood breathing on the glass, watching the expanding circlet of mist, staring down through the autumn night at Lexington Avenue, eleven stories below."

Finney's narrative style establishes the setting for the suspense that will follow, in effect, his protagonist's agonizing efforts at retrieving the paper that has blown out of his apartment window. This methodical approach to his narrative reaches its apotheosis in the protracted scene in which Tom has climbed out of his high-rise apartment window to retrieve his document. His main character perched precariously on the ledge, Finney again employs excruciating detail to manipulate time:

"He was more than trembling now; his whole body was racked with a violent shuddering beyond control, his eyes squeezed so tightly shut it was painful, though he was past awareness of that. His teeth were exposed in a frozen grimace, the strength draining like water from his knees and calves."

Finney's success in manipulating time through the use of detail is a testament to his skill as a writer. In less-skilled hands, the story could have ground to a halt, the reader bored by the excess of detail. Finney, however, adroitly advances his narrative, using every facet of Tom's existence and of the surrounding environment to his advantage, as when Tom notices the flow of traffic far below as the street lights turn from red to green and back again. In short, Finney has slowed down time while building tension through the use of such detail.

Further Reading:

check Approved by eNotes Editorial