In today’s society where we are often preoccupied with our work and academics, it is difficult to find time to remind ourselves of the life values that we wish to prioritize, such as love and happiness. “Contents of the Dead Man’s Pocket” by Jack Finney alludes to this very crisis through a suspenseful, bizarre narrative.
Protagonist Tom Benecke is a married young man who works as an ad man for a grocery store. One day, he sends his wife to the movies alone in order to work on an ambitious project that could potentially give him a raise. He reassures her that he will join her as soon as he finishes the task. As the door closes behind her, a cool blow of wind blows his yellow fact sheet out of an open window into the streets of New York.
Tom rushes to the window, the sheet lying on a ledge nearby. Considering the amount of time and effort he has invested in the project, he decides to retrieve it, gravely underestimating the level of risk involved. In his attempt to salvage the paper, Tom inches precariously toward the corner of the ledge. When he ducks down to grasp the paper, however, he realizes the sheer height of his position and experiences a sudden, acute rush of anxiety. Horrified, he desperately calls for help, but no one hears him. He regrets his foolishness for having lived “a wasted life.”
Despite having a loving companion and a stable life, Tom maintains a narrow-minded attitude, focusing too much on fine details and areas for improvement rather than his personal values. The yellow paper that escapes the window possibly symbolizes the internal crisis between ambition and happiness that takes place within Tom. It is his near-death experience to save the paper that makes him reconsider his approach to life.
The story communicates an important moral about the meaning of life. Like Tom, our true priorities in life are often diluted by minor but demanding tasks. Many of us naturally strive to challenge ourselves to achieve our maximum potential, but sometimes this endeavor accounts for our failure to look beyond our immediate situation and think with a comprehensive mindset.
I found this story particularly meaningful because it provided me with the opportunity to view my life from a broad perspective. Similarly, I believe many students at SIS would find the story relatable and helpful, especially taking into consideration that they are often faced with finding an appropriate balance between their personal and academic lives. The story will encourage them to adopt a growth mindset and focus on their future.
You can read “Contents of the Dead Man’s Pocket” by Jack Finney here. Happy reading!