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 stylistic devices are used in "Contents of the Dead Man's Pocket?"

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The vast majority of works of literature use stylistic devices in their presentation of the story, so it is just a matter of re-reading this excellent tale of vertigo and identifying some, then thinking about the effect they create.

You might want to start off with the first simile in this story, which occurs just after the vital piece of paper has been blown out of the window and is resting on the ledge beneath the appartment window. As Tom looks at it, we are told that he can hear the sound of its movement, "like a leaf on the pavement." Notice how the sound of its movement helps to convey the way that it could fall off the ledge at any moment because it is not still. There is also perhaps irony in the comparison: although it may sound like a leaf on the pavement, it is definitely not resting on anything as safe as a pavement, as Tom is about to discover.

You might also want to think about the imagery that the author uses to convey the sheer terror of Tom when the inevitable happens and he looks down. Consider the following quote:

And a violent, instantaneous 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 above the street far below--and he began to tremble nervously, panic flaring through his mind and muscles, and he felt the blood rush from the surface of his skin.

Note how his terror and sheer fear is conveyed. The author reveals the way that terror "roars through him" instantaneously. Then we share the vision of how Tom would appear to an observer, which makes him begin to tremble uncontrollably. This creates a real image of his state and situation, which of course increases the suspense as we wonder what will happen to him.

I hope this helps you get an idea of what you need to do. Now you can go back and re-read the story, identifying and noting down other examples of figurative language and devices as you go. Good luck!

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