In the story "Contents of a Dead Man's Pocket," how are Tom's conflicts resolved, and what is an alternative resolution the story might have had?

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bohemianteacher4u | College Teacher | (Level 3) Assistant Educator

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In the story “Contents of the Dead Man’s Pockets,” Tom Benecke is the protagonist.  Tom lives his life absorbed in his work, and he desires to progress in his job.  He is employed at a grocery store.  His current project, that he has taken on himself, is to gather data on customer’s activities.  Tom’s wife is getting herself ready for an evening at the movies.  Tom declines attending the movie with his wife in lieu of working at home.  He makes the choice to choose work over spending leisure time with his wife.  Initially, one sees the conflict when he is making the decision not to go the movies with his wife.  The conflict can be identified as family versus work or leisure versus work. This conflict is resolved at the end of the story.

Tom has a yellow paper onto which is compiled statistical data that he had been collecting on his job.  The paper is blown out of the window onto an eleven stories high ledge. Tom panics and climbs out of the window onto the ledge.  Once on the ledge, Tom retrieves the paper but finds himself in grave danger of falling off of the ledge.  He struggles intensely as he tries to make it back to the window and inside his apartment.  At this point in the story, Tom’s conflict is life verses death.  The decisions he makes must be calculated carefully or he will fall to his death.  This conflict is resolved when Tom is fortunate because he is able to break the window and climb back inside his apartment. 

He has managed to salvage his yellow paper, although it is crumbled, and he has to straighten it out.  He places the paper on his desk and a pencil on top of it to weigh it down.  In resolution of his initial conflict, Tom, during his trial with death, has come to realize that he has wasted living his life by making work his priority over everything.  He grabs his coat and hat and prepares to leave for the movies to meet his wife.  Once again, the yellow paper travels out of the window.  Tom does not go after it.  Instead, his experience on the ledge has helped him to resolve his conflict and he chooses family time with his wife over his work.

There are several alternate endings. Tom may have fallen and become the dead man on the street with only a yellow sheet of paper in his pocket. Tom might have gone a second time after the wayward yellow paper to retrieve it a second time. Tom might have grabbed his hat and coat in anger and gone immediately to stores to start recompiling his data. The most suitable and satisfying resolution to the central conflict is the one presented in the story.

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