How does Jack Finny create suspense in Contents of the Dead Man's Pocket? Provide one detail that adds to the suspense.

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kipling2448 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Any story that features a person climbing out of a window onto the ledge of a high-rise building pretty much qualifies as suspenseful. Jack Finney, in his short story Contents of the Dead Man's Pocket, however, knows that creating suspense is one thing, while sustaining it is another. Finney is subtle in his narrative, injecting an element, albeit minor, of deception into his premise, with the story's protagonist, Tom, misleading his loving wife into believing that he seriously needs to spend the evening working on a project for work rather than accompany her to the movies (". . .it was not actually true that he had to work tonight, though he very much wanted to"). This deception, while minor in terms of considerations of marital fidelity, does help set the stage for the suspense that will follow when Tom, already described as hot despite the cool evening weather outside his window ("'Hot in here,' he muttered to himself"), opens said window to allow the cooler air into his apartment. It is, of course, this open window that provides the opportunity for the main element of suspense into which Tom blunders.

Once Tom's draft memo blows out the window and settles onto the ledge outside, and Tom decides to risk his life to retrieve it, Finney builds the suspense slowly but inexorably. First, however, Finney has Tom contemplate the nature of the task, with the character quickly assessing the level of danger involved in retrieving his paper:

"To simply go out and get his paper was an easy task--he could be back here with it in less than two minutes--and he knew he wasn't deceiving himself. The ledge, he saw, measuring it with his eye, was about as wide as the length of his shoe, and perfectly flat. And every fifth row of brick in the face of the building, he remembered--leaning out, he verified this--was indented half an inch, enough for the tips of his fingers, enough to maintain balance easily."

This, then, is how Finney establishes the real tension in his narrative. He has provided us with a sense of the paper's importance -- "For many seconds he believed he was going to abandon the yellow sheet, that there was nothing else to do. The work could be duplicated. But it would take two months, and the time to present this idea was now, for use in the spring displays" -- and now a description of the precipice upon which Tom would now descend. It is only once Tom has actually climbed out the apartment window and positioned himself precariously on the ledge below that the true sense of danger unfolds. Now, the risk has shifted from theoretical to practical. Tom has climbed out the window and now stands on the ledge:

"Now, balanced easily and firmly, he stood on the ledge outside in the slight, chill breeze, eleven stories above the street, staring into his own lighted apartment, odd and different-seeming now."

This passage occurs relatively early in Tom's foray outside his apartment on a cool, breezy big-city night. The element of suspense is now firmly established, and we are left with an agonizingly protracted description of Tom's continued actions and thoughts as he perilously inches closer to his objective.

Read the study guide:
Contents of the Dead Man's Pocket

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