In Jack Finney's story "Contents of the Dead Man's Pocket," how does Tom change by the end of the story and how is he likely to change still further?

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vangoghfan | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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Tom Benecke, the protagonist of Jack Finney’s story “Contents of the Dead Man’s Pockets,” is a hard-working young married man at the beginning of the tale. Having put a great amount of time into a project that he hopes will help improve his position at work, he is eager to finish the project and submit it as soon as possible.  He therefore decides not to accompany his young wife, Clare, to an outing at the movies one night, even though he is under no external pressure to submit the project immediately. Instead of accompanying Clare to the theater, however, he decides to stay home and write up the memo that means so much to him. Unfortunately, the piece of note paper containing all the needed information accidentally floats out the window of Tom’s tall apartment building. In his complex and dangerous efforts to retrieve the paper, Tom risks plunging to his death. When he does finally retrieve the paper, he vows to go looking for his wife, and he seems unconcerned when the paper, which he had secured merely by placing a pencil on top of it, blows out the very same window once more.

By the end of the story, Tom seems a different man than he had seemed at the beginning. His brush with death has helped him put his life into perspective and has helped him realize what is truly important and what is not. In particular, he seems to realize that he should in the future value his wife – and time spent with his wife – much more than he has in the past. As the narrator says concerning Tom, in the story’s last paragraph,

. . . he got out his topcoat and hat and, without waiting to put them on, opened the front door and stepped out, to go find his wife.

As the story concludes, then, Tom seems to value deeply the kinds of things, and the kinds of people, we all tend to take for granted when we become overly concerned with the pursuit of money, security, and status. It seems safe to assume that Tom is likely, from this point forward, to change in some of the following ways:

  • He is likely to spend more “quality” time with his wife.
  • He is likely to let his wife know more often and more explicitly how much she means to him.
  • He is less likely to be concerned with his job than he has been heretofore.
  • He is more likely to take time to enjoy the many simple pleasures life has to offer, such as going to a movie or taking a walk with a loved one.
  • He is less likely to be as serious and as self-denying as he has been and more likely to relax and have fun while he is still able to do so.
  • He is, if he is wise, more likely to take better care of his property. The first time the paper blows out the window, the event is an unforeseeable accident. The second time the same occurrence happens, however, the event seems the result of Tom’s lack of foresight – a lack he could easily have avoided.
  • Perhaps Tom and Clare will even decide to have children, since children are often a source of pleasure for couples and since children are one way of cheating death in an even more lasting way than Tom has just done.

 

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