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 is the foreshadowing in "Contents of the Dead Man's Pocket"?

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Foreshadowing in "Contents of the Dead Man's Pocket" can be seen in the title itself, as it references Tom's thoughts on the possibility of dying in this crucial moment. Here the title can also be read as foreshadowing Tom's metaphorical death.

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There seems to be quite a bit of foreshadowing to suggest that Tom Benecke will not actually survive his ordeal on the ledge outside his eleventh-story apartment. First, there's the title of the story itself: "Contents of the Dead Man's Pocket," a title that seems designed to make the reader believe in the likelihood that Tom will, in fact, end up a dead man, with only the strange pocket contents of one yellow sheet of paper littered with "incomprehensible" facts and figures. However, the title is actually in reference to Tom's thoughts on what he believes to be his impending death, as he realizes that, if he is to fall and perish, all that will be said of him will be in relation to that piece of paper in his pocket.

If Tom falls, he will be unrecognizable, and all his time spent working rather than enjoying his life—especially with his wife—will have been for nothing. In effect, through Tom's recognition of his life prior to this moment having be wasted, he experiences a metaphorical "death" and rebirth, intent on shifting his priorities. Ultimately, the story's title foreshadows Tom's predicament and transformation.

This example of foreshadowing serves to heighten the tension the reader feels as the action continues to rise toward the climax, when Tom strikes the window with his "full power, with every last scrap of strength he could bring to bear," screaming his wife's name. Up until the moment Tom smashes through the window, it is unclear to both the reader and Tom himself whether he is going to fall from the ledge and die or find some way to safety and a new life.

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How does "Contents of the Dead Man's Pocket" end?

"Contents of the Dead Man's Pocket" ends with the protagonist, Tom Benecke, crashing through his eleventh-story apartment window from the thin ledge outside, some one hundred feet or more above the street level. He has managed to rescue his yellow sheet of paper, full of important data, from the building ledge outside his apartment, at grave risk to his life. Once Tom gets back into his living room, he smooths the sheet out and lays it on his desk, setting a pencil on top of it in order to weigh it down. He then dons his coat and hat, intending to join his wife at the movie theater for fun, something he had declined to do earlier because he felt he needed to work.

When Tom opens the front door to leave, the wind tunnel created by the open door and open window lifts the paper off the desk and sucks it out the broken window. Instead of being upset about having lost the piece of paper he’d just risked his life for and nearly died to retrieve, Tom simply begins to laugh and proceeds to leave his apartment rather than attempt to reach the paper again. This seems to indicate a shift in Tom’s priorities: he now understands that a life spent only working is a wasted one.

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What is the climax, falling action, and resolution of "Contents of a Dead Man's Pocket"?

Jack Finney's short story about post World War II obsession with materialism depicts the existential absurdity of basing one's existence upon monetary sources.

After Tom Benecke values one particular yellow sheet, upon which he has recorded facts and figures for two months, more than his own safety, because he ventures out in the darkness on the ledge of his eleventh floor apartment where it has blown, he begins to realize the folly of what he has done. 


On the ledge there is much emotional intensity as Tom feels great fear: 

...a violent instantaneous explosion of absolute terror roared through him....and he began to tremble violently, panic flaring through his mind and muscles, and he felt the blood rush from the surface of his skin.

But, as intense as this moment is, the point at which Tom's fear waxes even more occurs when Tom discovers that the window through which he has passed in order to grab his yellow sheet has slammed shut, and he is stranded out on the ledge.


Since the falling action consists of all of the events that follow the climax, the efforts of Tom to break the window are included. Tom stares at the window: "it was not possible that there wasn't a way past it." Yet, Tom feels terror creeping into his heart; he knows he must keep his emotions at bay. He tests the window with a coin, but it does not break; nor does striking the window with his shoe bring any success. Then he becomes aware that he may have to wait for Clare to return; however, reality strikes him as he recognizes that he cannot wait on a ledge for four hours; for, he would eventually fall. 
Gradually, as he balances between life and death, Tom Benecke reflects upon his ambitions and his marriage experiencing an epiphany. If he were to fall all that would be found would be sheet of paper bearing penciled notations--incomprehensible

Tom understands that he may very well die, and with this revelation he wishes that he "had not allowed his wife to go off by herself tonight--and on similar nights."

Tom, then, vows to not cling onto the ledge until he falls; he must break through the glass.


Tom devises his plan to break the glass; envisioning his fist going through the glass of the window. Finally, he knows he must break through the pane and the time has come to try. With all his power, he breaks the glass, and climbs into his home, "grinning in triumph."

While he does not lie down on the carpet as he planned, he instead grabs his topcoat and hat so that he can go out and join his wife at the cinema. But, as he starts out the door, the yellow sheet flies through the open window. This time Tom just laughs and closes the door behind him.

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What is the climax of "Contents of the Dead Man's Pocket" by Jack Finney?

Jack Finney creates a suspenseful situation in his short story “Contents of the Dead Man’s Pocket.” The climax of a piece of literature is the highest point of the conflict or crisis and precedes the resolution and falling action.

In “Contents of the Dead Man’s Pocket,” Tom Benecke climbs out his apartment window onto the building’s ledge in order to retrieve a document that flew out the open window. The document contains the evidence of market research he hopes to use to advance his career; therefore, it is extremely important to him. Tom nervously makes his way along the narrow ledge of his apartment building, which is perched eleven stories above Lexington Avenue in New York City. After he successfully rescues the paper, he struggles to make his way back to the apartment window. Unfortunately, he accidentally slams the window shut, making it impossible for him to climb back into the apartment. This is the climax of the story. Tom has his prized paper, but he cannot access his apartment. He will either figure a way to get back in or die trying, as foreshadowed by the title of the story.

His right foot smashed into his left anklebone; he staggered sideways, began falling, and the claw of his hand cracked against glass and wood, slid down it, and his fingertips were pressed hard on the puttyless edging of his window. His right hand smacked gropingly beside it as he fell to his knees; and, under the full weight and direct downward pull of his sagging body, the open window dropped shudderingly in its frame till it closed and his wrists struck the sill and were jarred off.

For a single moment he knelt, knee bones against stone on the very edge of the ledge, body swaying and touching nowhere else, fighting for balance. Then he lost it, his shoulders plunging backward, and he flung his arms forward, his hands smashing against the window casing on either side; and—his body moving backward—his fingers clutched the narrow wood stripping of the upper pane.

After this point, the crisis is resolved, the action falls, and the story comes to its conclusion.

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What is the climax of "Contents of the Dead Man's Pocket"?

A dictionary definition of "climax" is: The most exciting and important part of a story, play, or movie that occurs usually at or near the end; the most interesting and exciting part of something: the high point.

Tom Benecke has decided he can retrieve his important piece of paper safely if he just doesn't look down. He shuffles along the narrow ledge, hugging the wall and holding onto whatever finger-holds he can find between the bricks. He keeps the left side of his face pressed against the wall and avoids the temptation to look down at the street eleven floors below, because he knows the sight could not only make him dizzy but cause him to lose his nerve.

But he has made several miscalculations. He didn't realize the ledge was so narrow until he was actually standing on it. He has to walk on the balls of his feet because the ledge isn't even as wide as his shoes. He didn't realize it would be so dark once he got away from his window. He didn't realize it would be so cold and windy. Worst of all, he didn't realize that when he got to the paper he was going to have a hard time picking it up. This is because he cannot turn sideways on the narrow ledge and bend over at the waist. He has to keep hugging the wall and trying to lower his body enough so that he can reach the paper with his arm lowered alongside his leg. But bending his knees against the wall nearly causes him to lose his precarious balance and topple over backwards into space. He finally has to look down in order to get his fingertips on the paper. And when he does this he gets his first glimpse of the city from that awful height. Up to this point the author has cleverly avoided any description of the scene down below. This is the climax.

He saw, in that instant, the Loew's theater sign, blocks ahead past Fiftieth Street; the miles of traffic signals, all green now; the lights of cars and street lamps; countless neon signs; and the moving black dots of people. And a violent explosion of absolute terror roared through him. For a motionless instant he saw himself externally--bent practically double, balanced on this narrow ledge, nearly half his body projecting out over the street far below--and he began to tremble violently, panic flaring through his mind and muscles, and he felt the blood rush from the surface of his skin.

This paragraph really synthesizes the essence of the story. A man is standing on a ledge paralyzed with fear and dizzied by the lights and movements of the stupendous city of New York. There are some nice touches in Finney's description. The traffic signals are "all green now," but in a minute they will all turn red at the same time. The neon signs of the day were constantly changing colors, and many featured moving lights along the edges. The headlights of all the cars and the black dots of pedestrians create more motion in the scene below. All of these elements have a dizzying and unnerving effect on the lone man clinging to the brick wall and expecting to fall to his death.

The reader also expects Tom to fall with a scream, partly because the story's title, "Contents of the Dead Man's Pocket," seems to predict that fate. The reader can sense how difficult it would be to force himself to move back along that ledge to get to his window, when he was so cold and frightened that his body wouldn't obey his brain. Tom can't even trust his brain because he realizes he must be crazy to have gotten himself into this suicidal situation in the first place.

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