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 does the reader learn about Tom's wife in "Contents of the Dead Man's Pocket"?

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In Jack Finney's story "Contents of the Dead Man's Pocket," the reader learns that the wife of protagonist, Tom Benecke, is affectionate, pleasant, considerate and concerned, well-loved and important to her husband, but neglected by him. 

As the narrative begins, Tom sits at his small desk in the living room in order to begin the completion of his sales project; he types on a sheet of paper designated as "Interoffice Memo." After spending three week-ends on this project, Tom wants to give it to his boss, who, hopefully, will read it over the coming weekend before the others submit their projects on Monday. Feeling rather warm and uncomfortable, Tom goes to the window and yanks it open. Afterwards, he calls to his wife, "Clare?" and when she answers, he asks, "Sure you don't mind going alone?" She answers "No." Then, she hurries from the bedroom in her slip, and while fastening an earring,

...her prettiness emphasized by the pleasant nature that she showed in her face. "It's just that I hate you to miss this movie; you wanted to see it, too."

When Tom says that he must "get this done though," she nods in acceptance; however, she does add, "You work too much, though...and too hard." Tom counters by telling her that she will not mind that he has worked so much when "the money comes rolling in" as he earns a promotion. Clare smiles and answers, "I guess not," but she turns back toward the bedroom to finish dressing and soon departs.

Later, her absence becomes a crucial factor in Tom's life after he goes out onto the eleventh floor ledge to retrieve his yellow information sheet that has blown out the opened window with a draft. It is in these moments of crisis that Tom realizes just how much Clare means to him and how insignificant his yellow sheet of paper is in comparison. Further, as he makes his bold attempt to break the window that has slammed shut, Tom shouts "Clare!" reaffirming his love for his wife. For, he has realized the absurdity of having based his life upon his materialistic goal. After successfully gaining entry into the safety of the apartment, Tom hurries to catch his dear wife at the movies and spend the rest of the evening with her. 


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In "Contents of the Dead Man's Pocket," what was Tom's attitude towards his wife?

Tom loves his wife, but he has become so obsessed with achieving success in his business that he has been taking her for granted. Clare appreciates the fact that he is working hard for her benefit as well as for his own, but she tells him:

"You work too much, though, Tom--and too hard."

Proof that he is working too much and too hard is dramatized in the story. Tom is sending his wife off to the movies by herself because he wants to work on an Interoffice Memo he hopes will get him noticed and appreciated. He is intensely ambitious and determined to succeed in a harshly competitive world.

It isn't until Tom is out on the ledge eleven stories above the street that he realizes how his values have become confused. His wife was the most important thing in his life, not his work.

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 there. Contents of the dead man's pockets, he thought with sudden fierce anger, a wasted life.

Clare is described by the author as "a slender, very pretty girl with light brown, almost blonde, hair." It is Tom's realization of his love for her that gives him the courage to get back to the window of his apartment, where he can see and appreciate the modest domestic beauty of the unattainable home he shared with his wife. Thinking of her gives him the nerve and the strength to break the window with his fist and finally to crawl back into the living room. When the document for which he risked his life sails out of the window again, he laughs at the irony of it and goes off to find his wife at the movie theater.

The best thing about "Contents of the Dead Man's Pocket" is the feeling the reader gets of being out on an extremely narrow ledge high above New York City. Tom doesn't dare to look down. He knows he would get dizzy and fall to his death. But finally he is forced to look down for one instant in order to be able to pick up the paper.

At the same instant he saw, between his legs and far below, Lexington Avenue stretched out for miles ahead. He saw, in that instant, 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.

The story seems a bit dated now. Many people used to live in residential hotels in Manhattan like the one described in the story. They were cheap and convenient. Most of these buildings have been torn down or converted to transient hotels, and married couples like Tom and Clare would not be able to afford to live in them. The residential hotels were getting old. Readers of the time would recognize the author's description of the old double-sash windows that wouldn't open and the fact that

Most of the putty, dried out and brittle, had dropped off the bottom edging of the window frame...

But workaholic husbands and neglected wives are still part of modern life.

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How would you describe the relationship between Tom and his wife in "Contents of the Dead Man's Pocket"?

Tom and his wife have a precarious relationship. She loves him now, but he is in danger of losing her if he continues to disregard and neglect her the way he has been doing. She may accept his decision to stay in their apartment while he sends her off to a movie theater by herself, but she will feel hurt and resentful while sitting there all alone in the darkened auditorium and then having to walk back home alone. Watching the movie by herself would not be at all like enjoying it with her husband. Being all alone for several hours would remind her of how lonely she has felt lately with her husband absent at work and even absent at home, as he is not really thinking about her and not really with her. It would be ironic indeed if Tom managed to retrieve the paper he risked his life for, his proposal was a big success, and he obtained a promotion and a raise—and then found he lost his wife in the process. Tom takes his wife for granted. That can be very dangerous in any marriage. 

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How would you describe the relationship between Tom and his wife in "Contents of the Dead Man's Pocket"?

In "Contents of the Dead Man’s Pockets” by Jack Finney, Tom and his wife have a congenial, comfortable relationship. They accommodate each other’s needs in a loving but distant way. When Tom’s wife is preparing to go out to a movie, she asks whether he would like to go because he previously expressed an interest in the show. But, she is understanding when he decides to stay home to work. He jokes with her about how she will enjoy having more money when he becomes a financial success. Before she goes out the door, he holds her close smelling her perfume. He is tempted to go with her, but pulls back. When Tom faces death on the ledge, he realizes how skewed his priorities are, and how dear his wife is to him. As soon as he is able to save himself, he rushes out to be with her.

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