List the most important things in Tom’s life throughout the story, "Contents of the Dead Man's Pocket."

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Jack Finney's "Contents of the Dead Man's Pocket" presents a character driven by the eagerness to succeed in business who arranges his priorities into a faulty order because of his desire for material success.

While he initially arranges his priorities into an artificial order because he is influenced by the materialism of his age, after his reckless actions to preserve his materialistic goals, Tom finally realizes in what order his values should really be. So, throughout the story, there is a shift in his priorities.
Here is Tom's initial order of priorities:

1. success in business and money - As Tom's wife prepares to leave alone for the movies, he rationalizes his refusal to accompany her,

"You won't mind though, will you, when the money comes rolling in and I'm known as the Boy Wizard of Wholesale Groceries?"

2. his marriage - Tom loves his wife; as she gets ready to depart, he runs his fingers lovingly through her hair. As he kisses her good-bye, he is "tempted to go with her."

3. his own life - When the yellow sheet wafts out his open window, Tom cannot escape the thought that the time to present his idea is now. Further, he ponders that other projects like the one on his yellow sheet

...would gradually mark him out from the score of other young men in his company.

Thus, his drive for material success dangerously supplants all other drives. However, after his near-death experience out on the ledge, Tom's revised thinking shifts his priorities as he realizes that life and love are far more important than material success. During the climax of the story as he ponders what people would think when they discover the "contents of the dead man's pocket" if he falls from the eleventh floor ledge, Tom fears for his life without which nothing else matters. When the window closes and Tom has but one chance to break it open and gain entry, he cries out, "Clare," his wife's name. Thus, with this desire to be with her, he gains entry into the apartment. Clearly, his priorities have altered.
Here is the revised order:

1. Tom's life
2. His love for Clare, his wife
3. His desire to succeed in business

Sources:

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