What are some telling details from the story "Contents of the Dead Man's Pockets"?Jack Finney's "Contents of the Dead Man's Pockets"

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In the exposition of Jack Finney's story, "Contents of the Dead Man's Pockets," there are two settings.  In the first setting, Tom Benecke is at his living-room desk, rolling paper into his typewriter when he glances at a yellow paper on which he has written.  "Hot--no guilty conscience" (he is wearing a pullover sweater) causes him to rise, shoving his hands into the back pockets of his gray slacks and go to the window that he subsequently opens.  Here are three details that play an essential role in the story:  the yellow paper, the opened window, and Tom's pockets.

When Tom's wife leaves, the draft caused by the open window sends the yellow paper outside to the stone ledge of the building, "stopped by the projecting blank wall of the next apartment."  Nothing in the apartment is long enough to reach the paper wedged between the projection and an ornate corner.  Incredulous that this yellow paper has to be the one thing that has blown outside, Tom recalls all the statistics written upon it, gleaned over hours and hours--all his support for a "new grocery-store display method...out there on the ledge."

When Tom decides to retrieve this sheet and go out on the ledge, he studies every brick, and determines that he can go out onto this ledge.  He puts on a tweed jacket, he lowers himself with infinite care, "his mind concentrating on what he does."  The wooden edge is great gripping surface for his fingers.  Against the cold brick, he inches along in the cold.  Moving on the balls of his feet, he hears the buttons of his jacket scraping.  Finally reaching the paper, Tom has to struggle to reach it; he sees Lexington Avenue "stretch out" beneath him.  For an instant, Tom sees himself "externally," panics and in a "spasmodic jerk" he rises so quickly that he scrapes his head against the wall.  He clings desperately, shaking with terror.  The cold has made his agility leave him.  He scream, "Help!" feeling the pressure of the wind.

At last, Tom realizes that he has no choice but to move, for he is cognizant that he will fall if he has to wait until Clare, his wife returns.  He lights envelopes, hoping people will look out their windows and see him; he tosses coins onto the street, hoping they will strike someone who will look up. Tom empties the contents of his pockets except for the yellow paper.  What will people think if they find him dead on the street?

Tom Benecke contemplates his poor decision to not accompany his wife; he feels guilty and regrets not spending more time with her. He decides that he must break the window, but realizes that if he fails, he will probably fall. Determined, he drives his arm successfully through the window, crying "Clare."  Glad to be alive, Tom places the yellow paper where it had been.  He goes to the closet for his tophat and coat, opens the door, turns to close it only to watch the yellow paper sail back out the window.  "Tom Beneck burst into laughter and then closed the door behind him."

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Contents of the Dead Man's Pocket

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