man's feet dangling above a window outside a building

Contents of the Dead Man's Pocket

by Jack Finney

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In "Contents of the Dead Man's Pocket," how does Tom's apartment symbolize the story's theme?

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In "Contents of the Dead Man's Pocket," Tom's apartment is a symbol of poverty and struggle. This symbol impacts the theme of the story by underlining the desperate lives many people lived in the dawning new age of materialism after World War Two. Unlike Clare, Tom is so focused on achieving his dreams that he can't even go to the movies with her. He is determined to do everything he can to get ahead at work. Posted by Alex Logue at 3:16 PM No comments: In Ernest Hemingway's "The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber," how does Wilson represent manhood? How are masculinity and femininity represented in this story?

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In the story, Tom's apartment is a symbol of poverty. Tom, the husband, works tirelessly in his bid to get ahead, while his wife, Clare, thinks that he works too hard and too much.

Tom even foregoes the pleasure of going to the movies with Clare in order to finish an ambitious project. By putting all his energy into the project, Tom hopes to garner the attention and admiration of his boss. In fact, he has spent countless hours studying customers and their reactions to specific grocery-store displays. Tom thinks that he may have come up with some unique ideas for a display method that can possibly captivate the attention of shoppers. He has noted all his calculations, figures, and facts on a yellow piece of paper. Sadly, for Tom, it is this piece of paper that floats out onto the ledge just beyond his reach.

The text tells us that Tom desperately tries to reach for the yellow paper. To do this, he pushes the window upwards with all his might to get it open. This is the same window that gives Tom problems at the beginning of the story. We get the idea that Tom and Clare's apartment is not the highest quality apartment on Lexington Avenue. The text provides further clues for this: the author tells us that Tom and Clare pay less rent than their neighbors, to the tune of seven and a half dollars less. For this privilege, the couple gets to live in an apartment with a window that is difficult to open, a door that seems equally problematic, and a living room that is considerably smaller than any of their neighbors'. The apartment is also quite possibly cramped, as Tom's desk is situated right next to the living room window.

Basically, Tom's apartment is a symbol of his poverty. This symbol of his apartment impacts the theme of the story by underlining the desperate lives many people lived in the dawning new age of materialism after World War Two. With two world wars concluded, many Americans were ready to move forward with their lives and to participate in a burgeoning economy. Industrialization gave rise to better technology and more mechanization, making mass production of goods possible. Yet, all this progress came with a price. Young couples like Tom and Clare struggled to find their place among this progress.

Ironically, in striving for better lives (through material success), men like Tom lost intimate connections with their loved ones. This is the central theme of the story. The drive to succeed and to erase the suffering brought about by the Great Depression and two agonizing world wars put infinite pressure on men. So, Tom's apartment is also a symbol of struggle and working class angst. Tom works hard because he believes that he can make a better life for himself and Clare. We see this in their conversation:

He smiled. "You won't mind though, will you, when the money comes rolling in and I'm known as the Boy Wizard of Wholesale Groceries?"

"I guess not."

However, all this working and striving has come at a cost for Tom and Clare. Tom wants to go to the movies with Clare but can't let himself go. He thinks he has too much work to do. By the end of the story, Tom comes to understand that the most important things in life can't always be figured in monetary terms.

So, Tom's apartment is an important symbol in the story; it impacts the story by highlighting the main reason why Tom is unusually focused on climbing the ladder at work.

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In "Contents of the Dead Man's Pocket," what might the apartment represent for Tom? What effect does its disappearence have on him?

The apartment is in an old and deteriorating building in what is probably a low-rent neighborhood. The owner does not want to spend a lot of money on it because he expects to tear it down to make way for a much larger building. The condition of the sticking windows suggests the general condition of the apartment and the pld-fashioned brick building. It represents Tom and Clare's income and social status and what he would like to get away from.

Most of the putty, dried out and brittle, had dropped off the bottom edging of the window frame...

This window will give him all kinds of trouble in the story. It slams shut when he wants it open and won't open when he wants to climb back inside.

Tom's wife probably works as a secretary. He would like to have children and a home in the suburbs, a new car for himself and another for Clare, who could stay at home or play tennis at the country club while the maid looked after the children.

Surrounded by signs of wealth in a city like New York, deluged with advertising of consumer goods by the newspapers, magaines, and the new medium of television, it is easy for a smart young married man to want better things and to undervalue what he has already got.

All human situations have their inconveniences. We feel those of the present but neither see nor feel those of the future; and hence we often make troublesome changes without amendment, and frequently for the worse.
                                                                                                                Benjamin Franklin

Tom has his youth, health, intelligence, and a beautiful and loving wife. He lives in a city that offers unlimited cultural and educational amenities--and yet he can't even take time off to go to the movies with his wife.

Once he is out on that ledge and feels certain he is going to fall to his death, he realizes how happy he had been in that modest apartment, because it was a home, a bright, warm haven in a cold, heartless, ruthless city--the city he had just had a good look at when he was standing out on that ledge. He also realizes that, even if he could succeed in getting back inside his apartment, he is still in danger of losing his wife, who couldn't be expected to put up with his neglect forever.

Dropping his palms to the sill, he stared into his living room--at the red-brown davenport across the room, and a magazine he had left there; at the pictures on the walls and the gray rug; the entrance to the hallway; and at his papers, typewriter, and desk, not two feet from his nose. A movement from his desk caught his eye and he saw that it was a thin curl of blue smoke; his cigarette, the ash long, was still burning in the ash tray where he'd left it--this was past all belief--only a few minutes before.

The experience on the ledge was a nightmare, but it was the best thing that ever happened to Tom. It made him open his eyes and see the truth. Life is short and fragile. Love is precious. Hubris is suicidal.

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