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 Tom working on in "Contents of the Dead Man's Pocket"?

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When the story begins, Tom is at home, working on a project for his job at the grocery store. We can tell that he's eager to do this work well, but that he feels a lot of pressure and keeps getting distracted. (Most of us can identify with that, right? We start to get stressed and to procrastinate when the task we're working on is both difficult and important!)

Here's something Tom says to his wife, which reveals that the project he's working on could potentially bring him success, recognition, and more money at work:

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

As the story continues, readers learn that Tom has been researching a better, more profitable way to display groceries within the store. We figure this out just after Tom's most important page of notes and data gets lifted up by the breeze and flies out the open window.

Here are the details from the story that explain how Tom did his research:

On four long Saturday afternoons he had stood in supermarkets counting the people who passed certain displays, and the results were scribbled on that yellow sheet. From stacks of trade publications, gone over page by page in snatched half-hours at work and during evenings at home, he had copied facts, quotations, and figures onto that sheet. And he had carried it with him to the Public Library on Fifth Avenue, where he'd spent a dozen lunch hours and early evenings adding more. All were needed to support and lend authority to his idea for a new grocery-store display method; without them his idea was a mere opinion. And there they all lay in his own improvised shorthand--countless hours of work--out there on the ledge.

These details reveal that Tom wasn't simply coming up with a good idea to try restructuring groceries in the store so that people will spend more money: he was also finding the data that would support his idea, which would show his bosses at work that he's really considered the method from a serious, analytical, systematic point of view. His project might sound dull to us, but to Tom, it fills him with excitement and hope. So we can understand that when his notes fly out the window, he's desperate to get them back.

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