man's feet dangling above a window outside a building

Contents of the Dead Man's Pocket

by Jack Finney

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What incident with the paper starts the conflict in "Contents of the Dead Man's Pocket"?

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The inciting incident of the plot of "Contents of the Dead Man's Pockets" occurs with the loss of the yellow worksheet on which Tom Benecke has been working in an effort to create a new grocery store display method.

This yellow sheet contains the work of long hours of research: fact, figures, and quotations--everything that he wants to use to make his proposal. Tom hopes to complete this proposal on the evening that he sends his wife to the movies without him. Then, he can re-examine what he has written over the weekend and submit it on Monday morning.

But, when he gets up to kiss his wife and hug her, telling her to enjoy herself, a draft is created that draws the yellow sheet out the window onto the eleventh floor ledge. It is with utter disbelief that Tom tries to comprehend what has actually happened. Hours and hours of work have floated out the window like a feather! Tom ponders all the consequences of the loss of this important sheet of yellow paper. For one thing, it could mean the difference of his name being only one of many on the payroll, or one that people in the company know.

And he knew he was going out there in the darkness, after the yellow sheet fifteen feet beyond his reach.

Tom goes to a closet and puts on a jacket; he knows that he needs to try to get to the paper quickly without thinking about it. But, things do not quite work out for Tom, who risks life and death for this yellow sheet.

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In "Contents of the Dead Man's Pocket," what incident starts the conflict?

Jack Finney includes both external and internal conflict in his short story “Contents of the Dead Man’s Pockets.”

The external conflict is initiated when Tom Benecke, the protagonist, watches as his slip of yellow paper fly out the window. The yellow paper contains work which consumed Tom’s spare time for months. He had a grand plan to achieve wealth and fame as he advanced his employment even if it meant short changing his relationship with his wife. The protagonist watches as the paper lands outside on the ledge of his eleventh story apartment building on Lexington Avenue in New York City. Tom’s efforts to retrieve the paper by balancing on the ledge overhanging the street create great physical challenges.  As he makes his way along the ledge, he faces a series of physical obstacles until the paper is retrieved and he is able to return to his apartment.

The internal conflict arises within Tom as he is balancing on that ledge and faces death. He realizes how skewed his view of life is. His obsession on advancing at work takes his focus off of his lovely wife whom he loves dearly.

Both the internal and external conflicts provide parallel themes in the story.  Tom is physically trying to save himself while balancing on the ledge while having a revelation about finding balance in one’s life.

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