How can I predict what might happen next in the story, and how can I explain a prediction regarding the excerpt below from "Contents of the Dead Man's Pocket" by Jack Finney?Contents of the Dead...

How can I predict what might happen next in the story, and how can I explain a prediction regarding the excerpt below from "Contents of the Dead Man's Pocket" by Jack Finney?

Contents of the Dead Man's Pocket

by Jack Finney


He watched her walk down the hall, flicked a hand in response as she waved, and then he started to close the door, but it resisted for a moment. As the door opening narrowed, the current of warm air from the hallway, channeled through this smaller opening now, suddenly rushed past him with accelerated force. Behind him he heard the slap of the window curtains against the wall and the sound of paper fluttering from his desk, and he had to push to close the door.

Turning, he saw a sheet of white paper drifting to the floor in a series of arcs, and another sheet, yellow, moving toward the window, caught in the dying current flowing through the narrow opening. As he watched, the paper struck the bottom edge of the window and hung there for an instant, plastered against the glass and wood. Then as the moving air stilled completely, the curtains swinging back from the wall to hang free again, he saw the yellow sheet drop to the window ledge and slide over out of sight.

Expert Answers
Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In one sense, authors don't want readers to be able to predict what will happen: if you can predict it all, why write it? Yet in another sense, author's provide foreshadowing and thematic elements or indicators in the text, especially in the exposition, in order to orient readers to the progression of the story. Therefore, in order to predict what happens next after the quotation from the final part of the story exposition (introducing the problem), look for foreshadowing and thematic elements or indicators. Your explanation of the predictions you form from these clues will be in terms of foreshadowing and clues to or indicators of the theme. Let's look and see if we can find one or two of each; others, you will be able to then find yourself.

Foreshadowing: (1) Tom had so markedly paid attention to his "creased yellow sheet" and the narrator (who seems to speak with Tom's voice through indirect dialogue) spends such effort describing the significance of the task Tom wants to work on (typing an Interoffice Memo for his boss the next day), that the importance of this page is foreshadowed. (2) Tom is described in such detail when standing by the window, and the stubborn window is so dramatically emphasized that the significance of the autumn night, the eleven stories, Lexington Avenue below and the force needed to move the window are foreshadowed.

He ... 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. ... Now he placed the heels of his hands against the top edge of the lower window frame and shoved upward. But as usual the window didn't budge, and he had to lower his hands and then shoot them hard upward to jolt the window open a few inches.

Thematic elements and indicators: When the yellow paper goes over the "ledge of the window," Tom is over by the door and the yellow paper is over across the room. In order to know what happens to it eleven stories up above Lexington, Tom must cross the room to it. This produces a thematic indicator: Tom's life is bound up in some way with the fate of the yellow paper. Clare's comment about overworking, "You work too much, though, Tom--and too hard." confirms a thematic relationship between the paper (related directly to work) and Tom.

From the foreshadowing, you can predict that what happens next will involve a pursuit of the yellow paper: Tom will have a quest to go on in order to retrieve his yellow paper and to attain the lesson connected to the theme. From the thematic elements and indicators, you can predict that (1) the fate of the paper Tom's life is bound up with will be shared by Tom: the yellow paper went out the window thus so will Tom and that (2) Tom's experience will relate to an internal conflict between personal happiness and ambition.

See what you can find by way of other foreshadowing and thematic elements or indicators that might let you make further predictions: think about the window glass, the warm air in the hall, being above Lexington Avenue, and the clear significance of Clare's name being spelled "Clare" instead of "Claire."

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Contents of the Dead Man's Pocket

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