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 are the risks that Tom is taking in "Contents of the Dead Man's Pocket?" What could be the consequences of his risk?

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In “The Contents of the Dead Man’s Pocket,” Tom Benecke takes one major physical risk.  He takes a major risk when he chooses to go out on to the ledge and try to retrieve the paper that has blown out the window.  When he does this, he is risking death.

We could also say that Tom takes other risks in this story.  We could say that he is risking his marriage by being so involved in his work.  At the beginning of the story, Tom is going to stay home and work while his wife goes out to the movie alone.  It is possible that his wife would get tired of being, in a sense, abandoned by her husband.  By working so hard to fulfill his career ambitions, Tom might be putting his marriage in danger.

While Tom might be risking his marriage by working too much, the real risk in this story is the risk to his life.  When the paper blows out the window, it lands on a ledge.  Tom estimates that the ledge is something like a foot wide.  As the story says,

The ledge, he saw, measuring it with his eye, was about as wide as the length of his shoe...

He thinks to himself that he would have no fear about walking on the ledge if it were a yard or so off the ground.  However, the ledge is actually somewhere around 100 feet off the ground as the Beneckes live on the 11th floor of their building.  A person who tries to inch along on a one-foot-wide ledge 100 feet off the ground is clearly risking their life.  They could easily slip and fall or be blown off the ledge.  Falling from the ledge would mean certain death because of how high up the ledge is.  This is the risk Tom takes.  He risks falling and dying in order to try to save the work he has done and, thereby, to advance his career.


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