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 are the wife's plans in "Contents of the Dead Man's Pocket," and what will Tom do?

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Tom is so preoccupied with his ambition that he neglects Clare. He is willing to lose his life in order to get the memo back because it has all of his hard work on it. It seems like a sheet of paper, but it holds all of Tom's hopes and dreams as far as work goes. Those yellow sheets are the reason why Tom gets up every morning and goes to work.

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There are only two characters in "Contents of the Dead Man's Pocket ," Tom Benecke and his wife Clare. She, however, is only a minor character. The author gets rid of her by sending her off to the movies so that he can focus on Tom's consciousness alone. Tom...

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thinks about Clare when he is out on that ledge, but she does not reappear in the story. Instead, when he manages to break the window and get back into his apartment he goes off to Loew's Theater to try to find Clare in the audience. 

Clare was only planning to go to a movie which they both had wanted to see. Tom begs off because he wants to work on an important memo for work. This shows that he is a workaholic. He works at his office all day and then comes home and works by lamplight at night. His wife must feel lonely and neglected. Those were the days when women stayed home while their husbands went to their jobs. The author does not say that Clare is just a housewife, but that seems to be the case. She spends all day waiting for her husband to come home, and then, when he does come home, all he can think about is business. If he is so obsessed with his work when he is young, he won't suddenly change when he gets older. 

The work that keeps Tom at home on this particular night does not seem exciting except to him. When the memo blows out the window the sheet of paper becomes so precious that he is willing to risk his life to retrieve it. 

Of all the papers on his desk, why did it have to be this one in particular! 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's 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.

This is good writing. It serves a dual purpose. It shows why the paper is so important to Tom, and it also characterizes him as a man so driven by ambition that he is sacrificing his evenings, his weekends, his lunch hours, and everything else in the hope of getting some recognition in the huge, competitive business world of New York. These were evidently the days when office workers who used to spend six days a week at work were now only working five-and-a-half days a week. They would go in on Saturday mornings but would have Saturday afternoons off. But Tom was spending those Saturday afternoons working harder than he did at the office. Poor Clare would have enjoyed getting out of their apartment on Saturday afternoons, but she had to sit home alone until Tom got home from those supermarkets and flopped down on the couch. His behavior has ominous portents for the future of their marriage. If he finishes this grocery-story-display project, that doesn't mean he will not dream up another project and another, and continue to neglect his wife. He could have come home some time in the future and found that she wasn't there and all the closets and dresser drawers had been stripped of her clothes. But it seemed as if the hand of fate had carried that yellow sheet out the window and left it stuck tantalizing close on that narrow ledge.

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