man's feet dangling above a window outside a building

Contents of the Dead Man's Pocket

by Jack Finney
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Why is the story titled "Contents of the Dead Man's Pocket"?

The story is titled "Contents of the Dead Man's Pocket" because, thinking of his yellow piece of paper covered with his work notes, which is all that is left in his pocket, Tom realizes that, in chasing ambition too obsessively, he has been living his life in a worthless way.

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The story is titled "Contents of the Dead Man's Pocket " because Tom has a life-changing revelation as he thinks about what is left in his pocket as he stands on a window ledge: a crumpled sheet of yellow paper bearing the notes he has taken of his observations...

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The story is titled "Contents of the Dead Man's Pocket" because Tom has a life-changing revelation as he thinks about what is left in his pocket as he stands on a window ledge: a crumpled sheet of yellow paper bearing the notes he has taken of his observations of grocery store customers. He has burned or dropped everything else in his jacket in his attempt to attract passersby from his perch—eleven stories up. He realizes that, should he fall and die, all that will be left on his body is an incomprehensible piece of paper.

This causes Tom, with the "force of a revelation," to realize that should he die now, he would have wasted his life. The title expresses this theme. The contents of Tom's jacket pocket, should he die, is meaningless. He has been sacrificing all the chances he's had to experience life's pleasures in his quest to get ahead at work. But if Tom dies now, he will have neither gotten ahead nor enjoyed what life has to offer.

Facing the reality of death causes Tom to put his life into better perspective and decide that living life to its fullest in the present moment is important, because now is all that we can be sure of having.

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