What is happening to the paper Tom watches in Contents of the Dead Man's Pockets?

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bohemianteacher4u | College Teacher | (Level 3) Assistant Educator

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In Jack Finney's short story "Contents of the Dead Man's Pockets," the yellow paper is a significant object. The paper begins by sitting on the desk next to the typewriter of the person who created it.  Tom Benecke has written some numbers on the creased sheet of paper.

"a creased yellow sheet, covered with his own handwriting"

The paper remains on the table until a current of air travels through the hall as Tom tries to close the door behind his wife, who has just left for the movies. The paper is lifted up and goes to the window's ledge.

"the paper struck the bottom edge of the window and hung there for an instant"

Tom watches as the paper is moved again by the wind and goes off the ledge and out of his sight. He looks down and sees the paper has landed on a lower ledge.

"the yellow sheet, dimly now in the darkness outside, lying on the ornamental ledge a yard below the window."

The wind causes the paper to move again;

"along the ledge to the south, half-plastered against the building wall."

The paper moves gently making a scraping sound while remaining on the ledge. The paper is almost taunting Tom, who becomes desperate to get it and responds without thinking about the consequences of climbing out on the ledge after the paper. The paper is held firmly on the corner of the ledge, and Tom tries to make his way to the paper. Tom finally reaches and feels the paper. Tom eventually obtains the paper, and he ends up crumbling it and putting it in his pockets. He is aware that if he falls and dies the paper will be the content in his pockets, the pockets of a dead man.

Tom finally makes it back to the window and in the apartment. He straightens out the paper. He places a pencil on the paper to weigh it down and keep it in place. However, the wind blows the paper outside again.

"As he saw the yellow paper, the pencil flying, scooped off the desk and, unimpeded by the glassless window, sail out into the night and out of his life."

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