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According to the eNotes Introduction to this story in the Study Guide, "The Contents of the Dead Man's Pocket" was published in two leading magazines, Good Housekeeping and Colliers, in 1956. New York, then as now, was the center of the publishing world, and naturally the city attracted many writers and would-be writers. Jack Finney's story is supposedly about a young man in the wholesale grocery business, but it seems autobiographical. No doubt Finney was thinking about what he might do himself if some valuable story idea he had scribbled on a piece of paper should happen to blow out his window.
In those days it was possible for writers to live in apartment buildings and hotels right in Manhattan. Cornell Woolrich, the best thriller writer of the era, lived in residential hotels. O. Henry lived in residential hotels earlier. Dashiell Hammett lived in a residential hotel in Manhattan managed by Nathaniel West (who later wrote Day of the Locust); and when Hammett moved out to Hollywood he lived in a residential hotel on Sunset Blvd. Nowadays it would be nearly impossible for any but the most famous writer to live in Manhattan because rents have skyrocketed. No doubt Tom's apartment was renting for less than a hundred dollars a month. Today, if the building hasn't been torn down, the same place would rent for at least $2500. He couldn't make that kind of money writing stories because few slick magazines print fiction anymore. Many apartments have been converted to condominiums, and many residential hotels are only renting to transients.
The title "Contents of the Dead Man's Pocket" was well chosen. It makes the reader keep expecting Tom to fall. There are only two possible endings to such a story. Either the hero falls and dies or else he manages to get back inside and experiences an epiphany or change of character. Tom realizes that his wife is more important than his ambition. He seems to realize that a simple domestic life is preferable to one providing fame and fortune. This is something that Pip, the hero of Charles Dickens' best novel Great Expectations, comes to realize at the end. To quote from one of the Beatles' best songs:
Money can't buy you love.
The reader vicarioiusly shares Tom's harrowing experience and is glad when he gets back inside his apartment. However, it is hard to visualize exactly what is happening out there on the ledge. It is hard to understand exactly where the yellow sheet ended up and how far away it is from Tom's apartment window. It is hard to understand how wide the ledge actually is.
The ledge, he saw, measuring it with his eye, was about as wide as the length of his shoe, and perfectly flat.
In other words, that ledge is less than a foot wide--and there is a wind blowing, and the apartment is eleven floors above Lexington Avenue. He has to shuffle along while facing the building. We understand that the yellow sheet is important to him, but he must be crazy to take such a risk.
He moved on the balls of his feet, heels lifted slightly; the ledge was not quite as wide as he'd expected.
He can't even keep his feet securely on the ledge. He is practically walking on his toes. He can barely see where he is going with his face pressed against the bricks. When he gets to the paper, he has to risk his life just picking it up. Then when he catches a glimpse of Lexington Avenue, he becomes paralyzed with terror. It is hard to identify with a man who would do such a crazy thing.
Good yarn, though!
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