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Contents of a Dead Man's Pocket Summary


There are few stories that will actually cause students’ palms to begin to sweat, but if any reader has a fear of heights, this short story will do it. Jack Finney’s thriller examines the motivations of a young man named Tom, driven by ambition and success, to risk his life for a piece of paper. The narrative taps into the very root of the conflict of being able to find a healthy balance between living life and pursuing ambition. While ambition is important for all of us, sometimes it can cloud our judgment, as it clouds Tom Benecke’s judgment in the story. This story is a fair warning to those who might be tempted to take “follow your dreams” a little too literally.

Student Activities for Contents of the Dead Man's Pocket Include:




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Phobias

Before reading, have students research a few of the more common phobias: arachnophobia (spiders), agoraphobia (crowds), mysophobia (germs), and acrophobia (heights).

The story taps into one of these most basic phobias: the fear of heights. Have students research some of the symptoms of this phobia (and other phobias), including:

  • shortness of breath
  • sweaty palms
  • panic attacks
  • nausea
  • changes in behavior
    • refusal to travel by plane
    • isolation from family or friends

Creating a Good Balance: Ambition and Clouded Judgment

Have students list and brainstorm common dreams and goals they and others have throughout their lives. In addition, have them brainstorm some dangers of “too much ambition”. These could include:

  • Neglecting family and friends
  • Too much stress
  • Unhealthy diet and exercise
  • Exhaustion
  • Drinking or substance abuse problems

Have students come up with real-life examples or hypothetical scenarios where too much ambition could seriously interfere with the work-life balance.


Essential Questions For “Contents of the Dead Man’s Pocket”

  1. Why is having ambition important?
  2. When can ambition turn into a dangerous thing for a person?
  3. Why is it important to maintain a healthy balance between work and having fun?
  4. What are some reasons why people risk their lives? What are “good” reasons and what are “bad” reasons to risk one’s life?

Image Attributions
  • Acrobat • dariuszka • License Attribution (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/)
  • Confusing Traffic Sign, Boston MA • NNECAPA • License Attribution (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/)
  • e350 paper prototype • Samuel Mann • License Attribution (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/)
  • endless • d.loop • License Attribution (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/)
  • New York City, dimanche 30 janvier • (vincent desjardins) • License Attribution (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/)
  • The Westside project • PaoloMazzoleni • License Attribution (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/)


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