It’s not too late to help Tom Benecke, and it’s not too late to help teachers looking for lesson plans, a summary, an analysis and more for “Contents of the Dead Man’s Pockets” by Jack Finney.
Before we get to an overview of these “Contents of the Dead Man’s Pocket” lesson plans, I’ll give you something: Symbolism in Contents of the Dead Man’s Pocket Lesson Plan.
“Contents of the Dead Man’s Pocket” Summary
Tom Benecke has a hot wife, but he’d rather stay at home and put together a presentation for his boss at the whole foods grocery store where he works instead of going to a movie with her.
As she leaves, the wind from the door opening and closing blows the papers off his desk in his apartment. They all fall on the floor, except for the yellow paper on which Benecke has written all the information he needs for his report, information that has taken Benecke months to compile. The yellow paper flies out the window and finds its way to a corner of the outside ledge high above the street below.
Benecke debates what to do and finally decides to venture out on the ledge to retrieve the paper. He’s moving along just fine until he bends down to get the paper and catches a glimpse of the street below. He panics, teeters, and nearly faints before he collects himself.
Fearing that he’ll soon plummet to his death, he waits in the corner to gain his composure. As he slowly walks back to the window, he stumbles, the window slams shut, and Benecke finds himself hanging from the ledge. After crawling himself up mostly to the ledge he must figure out how to get back in the room.
After inward deliberation and intense soul searching, Benecke realizes the only way back in is to tumble forward with all his might and break through the glass. Realizing that failure to smash through the glass will lead to him bouncing off the window and plummeting to his death, he focuses all his might and breaks through.
He then puts on his coat and sets out to meet his wife at the movie theater. As he leaves, the paper flies out the window again. Benecke laughs.
"Contents of the Dead Man’s Pocket" Analysis
Pacing and Suspense. The driving force behind this story is suspense, skillfully created through dangerous action and pacing.
- Conflict. The predominant conflict is Benecke’s desire for work success vs. happiness in the home.
- Symbolism. The contents of the dead man’s pocket, which happens to be the yellow paper the protagonist retrieves from the ledge, is the predominant symbol in the story. It represents a wasted life and a life of work, among other things. Other symbols include the window, the apartment, and Mrs. Benecke.
- Characterization. The reader learns a lot about Tom Benecke in a short amount of time. He is essentially the only character in the story.
- Irony. Benecke has all he needs for happiness, yet risks his life for something he realizes (perhaps too late) is worthless.
- The Sanctity of the Home. The apartment is safe, warm, and secure. The ledge is dangerous, cold, and scary as heck. There is no firm footing on that ledge.
- Irony. Who would think that chasing after dreams could be so deadly? Of course, when those dreams are empty promises, it’s logical. It’s ironic that Benecke would risk so much for so little.
- Plot and the Hero’s Journey. Benecke’s adventure follows many aspects of the hero’s journey. I’m serious.
"Contents of the Dead Man’s Pocket" Lesson Ideas
Use "Contents of the Dead Man’s Pocket" analysis as a launch for your "Contents of the Dead Man’s Pocket" lesson plans. Here’s a brief overview. Handouts follow.
- Suspense. Use the suspense graphic organizer to analyze how the masters of short story writing create suspense.
- Imitation Writing Assignment. Assign a three attempts narrative similar to "Contents of the Dead Man’s Pocket." Start with a graphic organizer that sets up the attempts at solving a problem.
- Characterization. Jack Finney provides an excellent snapshot of Benecke using various methods of characterization.
- Symbolism. Benecke’s home is full of homey objects. The outside world is full of danger. Provide the story’s primary symbols and organize them with a chart that utilizes direct citations from the text and analysis and interpretation from the reader.
- Theme. Finney’s trying to teach something about priorities.
- Plot Part 1. This story follows the standard Freytag’s Pyramid analysis.
- Plot Part 2. It also follows the hero’s journey analysis.