In Contents of the Dead Man's Pocket, once outside the apartment window what did Tom not permit himself to do?

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William Delaney eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The title of Jack Finney's story is aptly chosen because it makes the reader believe that Tom Benecke is going to end up falling eleven floors to his death regardless of how hard he tries to save himself. He

He simply did not permit himself to look down, though the compulsion to do so never left him; nor did he allow himself actually to think.

Most of us know the feeling of being in a tall building and looking down. Everything down below looks totally weird. The automobiles look like little colored specks, and the pedestrians are practically invisible. The natural thought that comes to mind is: What would it be like to fall? What would it feel like to hit the pavement? Or would we feel anything at all? What if we fell on top of somebody?

Manhattan is famous for its tall buildings, and it seems natural for a writer living in Manhattan to concoct a story about a man who finds himself out on a ledge high above the street. Jack Finney succeeds in making the reader identify with Tom Benecke. It is the reader who is out there clinging to the side of the building and feeling the temptation to look down--but knowing that looking down is sure to bring on an attack of vertigo and make death inevitable.

Tom manages to keep from thinking and to keep from looking down. But finally he gets to his precious slip of yellow paper, and the only way he can get his fingers on it is to look down at it for an instant. Finney has waited until this crucial moment to write a word about what the street looks like from the perspective of a man standing on a ledge eleven floors above it.

He saw, in that instant, the Loew's theater sign, blocks ahead past Fiftieth Street; the miles of traffic signals, all green now; the lights of cars and street lamps; countless neon signs; and the moving black dots of people. And a violent instantaneous explosion of absolute terror roared through him.

There are many excellent descriptive touches in this story. One of the best is noting that the miles of traffic signals are "all green now." What will Tom feel like if he sees them all simultaneously turn red? Will it make him disoriented and dizzy?

After he has actually seen, and not just imagined, what is down there far below him, he is paralyzed with fear. He can't make himself move. He is in a much worse plight than he was in before.

It was impossible to walk back. He simply could not do it. He couldn't bring himself to make the slightest movement. . . .Within a step or two, if he tried to move, he knew that he would stumble and fall.

It had seemed not only possible but reasonable and necessary to climb out on that ledge and retrieve the yellow paper to which he had devoted so much time and effort. But after looking down at Lexington Avenue he feels as if he is doomed to fall for those few last seconds which will feel like an eternity. Probably most importantly, he realizes that it was his wife and not his job that was the most important thing in his life. His ambition has been making him ignore and neglect her.

He manages to get back to a spot where he can see into his own apartment through the window which he had accidentally closed and couldn't open again from the outside. The apartment looks incredibly beautiful. He had everything he needed when he was safe inside there with his devoted wife. If only he could get back inside, he would be content to live the life he had been leading before, a simple life which now seems like a lost paradise.

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Contents of the Dead Man's Pocket

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