man's feet dangling above a window outside a building

Contents of the Dead Man's Pocket

by Jack Finney

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What is the contrast in Tom's attitude toward life at the beginning of "Content of the Dead Man's Pocket" to his attitude at the end?

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After Tom Benecke finds himself walking on a narrow ledge between life and death, his attitude toward the meaning of his existence is reassessed. For, in the initial stages of the story, Tom is engrossed in the development of his new idea of grocery-store display method which he hopes will lead to his receiving a promotion. However, after he rejects the opportunity of spending an evening with his wife at the movies so that he can complete his designs and proposals for work, his yellow sheet which holds all his ideas and computations, wafts out the open window when the front door opens with her departure.

He knelt at the window and stared at the yellow paper for a full minute or more, waiting for it to move, to slide off the ledge and fall, hoping he could follow its course to the street, and then hurry down...and retrieve it. But, it didn't move....

Tom makes the critical decision to rescue his thoughts that are recorded on that yellow sheet. With reckless daring, he steps out onto the ledge, risking his life for his project. Once on the ledge, the chance that he takes dawns upon Tom, and this near-death experience causes him to realign his priorities. So, when his apartment window slams shut on him, Tom desperately considers his single opportunity to regain entry into his apartment. As he smashes his window,Tom calls out the name of his wife in affirmation of her importance now to him.

Once inside, Tom lays the sheet down and goes to the closet for his coat; he opens the door to depart for the movie theater so he can catch Clare, and the yellow sheet flies out the broken window. This time, Tom just laughs, mocking his prior foolishness in placing so much importance on the yellow paper's contents. “Contents of the Dead Man’s Pocket” rejects the culture of corporate success and materialism that was so prevalent in the United States following World War II. 

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