man's feet dangling above a window outside a building

Contents of the Dead Man's Pocket

by Jack Finney
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What mental strategy does Tom use to get himself to move along the ledge?

In order to move himself along the ledge, Tom uses the strategy of focusing on moving just one part of his body at a time. First he focuses on moving just one foot, then the corresponding hand, then the next foot, then that hand. Only by doing this is Tom able to marshal some control of his terror and command his body to move.

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Once Tom Benecke accidentally catches sight of the ground, some eleven stories beneath him, he becomes absolutely paralyzed with fear. He is frozen on the ledge, unable to move, and he sees scenes in his head, "like scraps of motion-picture film," of himself falling "with a terrible speed as his body revolve[s] in the air" on the way down. In order to get himself to move again, he has to "shut his mind against every thought" save for the one body part that he needs to move next. First, he slides his left foot forward an inch or two, and then he moves his left hand just a small bit. Then he lifts his right foot just a little, followed by his right hand.

By concentrating his entire mind on first his left foot, then his left hand, then the other foot, then the other hand—he was able to move, almost imperceptibly, trembling steadily, very nearly without thought.

Tom knows that the "pent-up horror" in his brain is so barely controlled, so barely held back by this strategy, that if he allows it to break through the barrier he has erected in his mind, he will lose all control of his body, and he will be lost. This, then, is the mental strategy Tom must employ in order to overcome the paralysis he experiences when he sees just how high up he is and how far he could fall.

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