The effects of Tom Benecke’s decision to go after the sheet of paper were to reaffirm his love for his wife Clare and to help him to prioritize his life.
Jack Finney’s short story “Contents of the Dead Man’s Pockets” is about a young executive attempting to climb his way up a corporate ladder. Tom aspires to be, as he jokingly states in his exchange with Clare, “the Boy Wizard of Wholesale Groceries.” Tom decides that preparing a memo for his superiors—a memo that he hopes will facilitate his upward advancement—is more important than spending the evening with his young spouse. Clare departs to go to the movies without her husband, who she laments works too much and too hard. Tom’s paper, of course, is blown out the window of their high-rise apartment, and Finney’s narrative is about his physical efforts at retrieving the paper and his contemplation of life. As he discovers when he climbs out onto the ledge, however, he is actually risking his life for that sheet of paper, and he also realizes that his life may be worth more than what that sheet of paper represents.
As “Contents of the Dead Man’s Pockets” reaches its conclusion, Tom has rescued himself from a perilous situation, but loses the paper anyway when it once again is blown out the window. He laughs because his life-threatening predicament had resulted from misplaced priorities. When considering the effects of his decision to stay home and work rather than spend the evening with Clare, Tom has discovered that his life and his marriage are more important than the memo that he hoped would catapult him up the corporate ranks. Finney describes the scene as follows:
“He understood fully that he might actually be going to die . . . And it occurred to him then with all the force of a revelation that, if he fell, all he was ever going to have out of life he would then, abruptly, have had. Nothing, then, could ever be changed; and nothing more—no least experience or pleasure—could ever be added to his life. He wished, then, that he had not allowed his wife to go off by herself tonight—and on similar nights. He thought of all the evenings he had spent away from her, working; and he regretted them. He thought wonderingly of his fierce ambition and of the direction his life had taken; he thought of the hours he'd spent by himself, filling the yellow sheet that had brought him out here. Contents of the dead man's pockets, he thought with sudden fierce anger, a wasted life.”
The effect of his decision to work on the memo and to try to retrieve it after it is swept outside his apartment window are to help him to prioritize what is really important in his life, and it is not career advancement.