In "Contents of the Dead Man's Pockets" by Jack Finney, why did Tom climb out of his window?

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William Delaney | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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In writing his story "Contents of the Dead Man's Pocket," the author Jack Finney's biggest problem may have been to make the reader believe that anyone would climb out of a window onto a ledge eleven floors above the street. In order to make this crazy act seem plausible, the author emphasizes the importance of the document the protagonist wants to recover.

On four long Saturday afternoons he had stood in supermarkets counting the people who passed certain displays, and the results were scribbled on that yellow sheet. From stacks of trade publications, gone over page by page in snatched half-hours at work and during evenings at home, he had copied facts, quotations, and figures onto that sheet. And he had carried it with him to the Public Library on Fifth Avenue, where he'd spent a dozen lunch hours and early evenings adding more. All were needed to support and lend authority to his idea for a new grocery-store display method; without them his idea was a mere opinion. And there they all lay in his own improvised shorthand--countless hours of work--out there on the ledge.

Even after the author establishes that the yellow sheet is extremely valuable, he still shows that the protagonist, Tom Benecke, has strong, and reasonable, reservations about trying to retrieve it.

For many seconds he believed he was going to abandon the yellow sheet, that there was nothing else to do....But just the same, and he couldn't escape the thought, this and other independent projects, some already done and others planned for the future, would gradually mark him out from the score of other young men in his company.

It takes him a long time to rationalize what he seems to realize he is going to have to do regardless of how crazy it might look to an objective observer. If his wife hadn't gone to the movies but was there in the apartment, we know she never would have let him climb out that window. She would have pleaded and screamed and clung to him tenaciously. As a last resort she might have threatened to climb out the window with him. He is probably relieved that she is not there to see what a crazy thing he is tempted to do. He might be able to talk himself into attempting such a stunt, but he never could have talked his wife into letting him go. Once he commits himself he stops thinking about the risk.

In the back of his mind he knew he'd better hurry and get this over with before he thought too much, and at the window he didn't allow himself to hesitate.

The author is a talented professional. He succeeds in making the reader believe that a man like Tom Benecke would actually climb out of his window onto a ledge eleven stories above the street. Once Benecke is out on the ledge, which he finds is narrower than he had expected, the reader in imagination is out there with him. The reader vicariously experiences all the feelings experienced by Benecke during his ordeal--especially that sickening feeling of vertigo which can make a person feel sure he is going to let go and fall back into empty space.

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carol-davis | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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The window was open in Tom’s apartment.  His big project lay on his desk written on flimsy paper and nothing holding it down.  The information on the paper could make a big difference in the lives of him and his wife.  In “Contents of the Dead Man’s Pockets” by Jack Finney, the previous scene sets in motion a disastrous evening for the protagonist of the story.

After kissing his wife goodbye [she was going to a movie], Tom turns and sees his project papers blow out the window and land on the ledge outside of his apartment.  Tom had been working on these papers fo two months hoping it would land him a promotion. He is both proud of himself and aware that he had further to go before he achieved his goal.  But, it began with these papers. 

At first, Tom does not know what to do.  Then, he garners up all of his courage and steps out on the ledge to retrieve his work. Foolishly, Tom does not stop to think of the danger that he faces.

He swung a leg over the sill, then felt for and found the ledge a yard below the window with his foot.  Gripping the bottom of the window frame very tightly and carefully, he slowly ducked his head under it, feeling on his face the sudden change…With infinite care he brought out his other leg…then he slowly stood erect. 

Unfortunately for Tom, he has to work his way down the ledge to retrieve his papers. After a long time  of slowly pacing his way down the narrow path, Tom realizes that he could lose his life and wind up in the newspaper with the report giving only that the man had a piece of paper in his pocket. 

After several setbacks, Tom gains entrance to his apartment again.   He has learned his lesson.  There is nothing so imperative as to lose a person’s life.  He also realizes that he should have gone with his wife to the movies because she is the more important than a silly project.    

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