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.
Contents of the Dead Man's Pockets Symbolism by Jack Finney
THE YELLOW SHEET OF PAPER
For Tom, the paper represents his ambitions for his career. It is weeks of hard work and intense thinking. It represents his future, a better future for him and Clare. When he realizes he still has the paper out on the ledge, however, he thinks about how if anyone found the paper in his pocket after he fell to his death, that it would mean nothing to anyone else. In the end, he realizes, it would not mean anything at all if he’s dead. It comes to represent his foolishness by the end of the story.
The window is the first part of Tom’s problem and the last obstacle for Tom to return to the safety of his apartment. He thinks about how Clare never is able to open the window because it always sticks, and now that same issue is keeping him from getting back in. As he rears back to punch out the window, fighting back his fear, he thinks of Clare, and screams her name. The window also steals his work again as he leaves, but this time, Tom knows what is more important.