How can you relate irony to the setting in "Contents of the Dead Man's Pocket" by Jack Finney?

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beateach eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Jack Finney provides irony in the setting of “Contents of the Dead Man’s Pocket” by using two contrasting, but symbolic, settings. The story begins in the warm, cozy apartment that Tom Bernecke shares with his lovely wife. The apartment is symbolic of all that is good and stable in his life. In fact, Tom opened the window to let some of the warmth out, and that is when his coveted piece of paper blows onto the ledge of the apartment building. The ledge becomes the second distinct setting in the story. The irony of the second setting is that it is the location where Tom faces his death, but ultimately, it is where he learns to live.

Tom leaves the warm security of his apartment to climb onto the ledge eleven stories above Lexington Avenue in New York City. He is successful in retrieving his piece of paper, but as he tries to re-enter the apartment, the window slams shut, locking him out of his comfortable life.

Paralyzed with the fear of death, it became impossible for Tom to walk back.  As seconds pass, Tom yells "Help!" but no one hears.  Out of "utter necessity" Tom forces his feet to move. In slow, sidling steps he inches his way, then stumbles, smashing his right foot into his left ankle; he staggers and almost falls. With his fingers pressed onto the edging of his window and the full weight of his staggering body, the window slams shut.

He is on the outside looking in when he realizes his dreams of material wealth are inhibiting his enjoyment of the good life he already has. Once he makes his way back into the apartment, he immediately races out to find his wife, who went to the movies that evening. As irony would have it, as he opens the door to leave the apartment, the paper once again flies out the window.

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Contents of the Dead Man's Pocket

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