Regret of Ambition In basic human nature, people thrive and succeed off of their ambition. Simply put, ambition is the drive within individuals to work hard for a desired achievement. Although there are many types of ambition, work-related endeavors can corrupt the minds of anyone. When work becomes more important than experiencing the physical joys in life, people often become isolated and obsess over their ambition. Similarly, in the short story “Contents of a Dead Man’s Pockets,” Tom’s obsessive ambition that has taken over suddenly threatens his life.
His willingness to do anything to wane his ever present ambition results in overwhelming regret and fear of his choices. In the short story “Contents of a Dead Man’s Pockets,” Jack Finney uses Tom to portray that when man allows ambition and obsession to take over, regret and fear of one’s decision becomes prevalent, and results in a transformation to find internal happiness and live in the moment. When Tom Benecke allows his obsessive ambition to take over his mental state, he distinctly and consciously chooses work over his wife.
For most of his career, Tom often chose ambition and the chance to succeed in work over his wife. When Clare, Tom Benecke’s wife, is off to see the screening of a new film, she becomes disappointed when Tom cannot attend because of “work”. This work, however, is not actually mandatory but is his own project that is particularly meaningful to him. Recognizing her crestfallen response, Tom claims that “[she] won’t mind though, will [she], when the money comes rolling in and [he’s] known as the Boy Wizard of Wholesale Groceries? ” (Finney 99).
Tom believes that his conscious choice to work over seeing the screening with his wife will result in ultimate prosperity in his work place. Tom remarks that “the money will come rolling in”, however he has no proof of this outcome and merely believes it will happen. He allows his speculation to make money, and eventually satisfy his hard work, to become motivation for his ambition. He further allows this obsession to thwart his rational thought, and therefore choose the potential windfall and his ambition over his wife and present happiness.
As he wants to become “the Boy Wizard of Wholesale Groceries”, Tom is displaying his strong desire to move up in his workplace and become more influential in his job. This also represents the high ations Tom places on himself as a result of his ambition, which further encourages Tom and to go to great lengths to succeed. Tom chooses staying home and fixating on his ambition over his happiness and going with his wife to the screening. Tom leads Clare to the door and expresses some discontentment with not being able to go.
As Tom closes the door however, “[he] [resists] for a moment. As the door opening [narrows], the current of warm air from the hallway… [rushes] past him with accelerated force,” (100). When Tom went to close the door, and isolate himself to exclusively work, he experiences many signs that deter him from his decision to stay home. As he describes the “door opening [narrows)”, it symbolizes the opportunity of him experiencing immediate happiness and joy with his wife shutting and closing for good.
He has a chance to redeem his actions, and not allow ambition to take such a firm grip on his life, yet he consciously decides to push harder and close the opening. Tom’s description of the “current of warm air” coming from the hallway indicates the inviting and welcoming outcome if he chooses his wife instead. It embodies the idea that going out and experiencing life in the moment is more satisfying than staying in and hoping for a superior future outcome.
When the air “[rushes] past him” with “accelerated force”, it further exemplifies the perception that Tom is missing ut on an important and enticing opportunity that is physically pulling him in, yet he still chooses to ignore it. Tom even describes how he “resisted for a moment”, showing his hesitation to follow his heart yet his cognizant decision to neglect it. Tom allows his ambition and obsession with work to overcome his mental state, and ignore undeniable signs encouraging his decision to go with his wife instead. Tom’s decision to go to great lengths to obtain the yellow paper from the precarious ledge results in overwhelming fear and regret of his decision.
When the yellow paper flies out the window as a result of his decision to close the door, Tom immediately thinks of a plan to obtain the yellow paper from the ledge it rests on. Thinking climbing along the ledge with a firm grip is sensible and straightforward, he climbs onto the ledge and prevents himself from thinking, only doing. Only when he gets the paper and leans down to reach it, does “he [see) in that instant, the Loew’s theater sign… the miles of traffic signals, all green now… nd the moving black dots of people. And a violent instantaneous explosion of absolute terror [roars] through him,” (102). Once Tom sees the theater, and the entire city of New York moving on with their daily life while he is stuck on this ledge, he is hit with intense and profound fear. He recognizes the Loew’s theater, which represents where his conscious choice of ambition has brought him. Instead of experiencing happiness with his wife in a theater, he is risking his life for a simple sheet of paper.
Noticing the “moving black dots of people” all over, it becomes obvious that as Tom is pushing himself to great lengths to attain his thirst for ambition, he is missing out on all the greatness and experiences in life. While he is looking for the future and what his work can bring him, he is ignoring what is happening in the moment and what is truly important to his prosperity. All the lights turned “green” represents that he needs to go and find what truly brings him happiness, and not allow all the red lights he creates for himself obstruct his path to contentment.
As Tom sees what he is ssentially missing out on and where his choices have brought him, he is overcome with oppressive and overwhelming feelings of fear that take over his senses and try to reveal to him where his decisions have brought him. After his sudden outburst of fear, Tom struggles to make it back to his window. Once he arrives there, Tom accidentally closes the window in his attempt to get inside, and is stuck staring into his vacant apartment. With an abrupt recognition of his entire situation, Tom thinks of “all the evenings he [spends] away from [Clare], working; And he [regrets] them.
He [thinks] wonderingly of his fierce ambition and of… the hours he’d spent by himself, filling the yellow sheet that brought him out here. Contents of a dead man’s pockets, he thinks with a sudden fierce anger, a wasted life. ” (108). When Tom looks back on all the times he has isolated himself because of his raging ambition and of all the experiences he missed out on because of it, he his hit with a feeling of immense regret. He reflects on all the evenings he has allowed Clare to go out alone, similar to this night, and recognizes what his life has come to.
He has become a machine, repeatedly choosing ambition and “work” that represents future joy over his wife that represents present joy. By mentioning the “hours” he’d spent on the “yellow sheet of paper” that had brought him out there, he symbolizes the extent of time throughout his life that he’s wasted on worthless endeavors of work that have gotten him nowhere except outside on the cold ledge. Tom realizes that if he dies in that moment, the only content representing his entirety will be the yellow sheet of paper, nothing more.
He suddenly views his life not with hope or ambition, but with “fierce anger” and limitless regret. This change displays that the ambition that had driven his entire life has run out of fuel, and has been replaced with resentment of his choices and longing for a chance to change. As a result of his decision to follow ambition, Tom is struck with overwhelming feelings of regret and fear that force him to realise what his life has come to. Tom’s near-death experience on the ledge results in his psychological transformation to live in the moment and therefore find internal happiness.
Tom realizes his only way to get into the apartment is through breaking the glass, and he psyches himself up for the moment that decides whether he will live or die. Letting his wife and the comfort of his home be motivation, he breaks through the glass and enters his home. However when he climbs through the window, “he [does] not lie on the floor or run through the apartment, as he had promised himself; even in the first few moments it [seems] natural and normal that he should be where he [is],” (109).
When Tom enters his apartment after his strife on the ledge, he does not experience the emotions he had previously imagined and realizes that he is now content with where he is in life. While he had been on the ledge, combatting his ambition and anticipating his return home, he had imagined he would embrace his home with all his emotions. He believed he would “lie on the floor” and “run through the apartment”, welcoming the feelings of overwhelming happiness and satisfaction. However when he is finally safe and no longer on the edge of danger, his sanctuary and security are no longer the things he desires to bring him satisfaction.
Now his idea of spending time with his wife, which symbolizes his newfound pursuit of internal happiness and living in the moment, is what he believes will bring him satisfaction and contentment. His change from craving ambition and work to succeed his satisfaction to his wife and physical happiness exemplifies his overall transformation. Once Tom is able to view his home no longer as a workplace and realizes what values are important to him in life, he’s able to feel “normal” and “natural” in his own skin. Immediately after Tom enters his apartment, he rushes to grab his coat and hat.
With his earnest intent on finding his wife, he “[turns] to pull the door closed and the warm air from the hall [rushes] through the narrowing opening again. As he [sees] the yellow paper… sail out into the night and out of his life, Tom Benecke [bursts] into laughter and [closes] the door behind him,” (109) Tom’s decision to find his wife over manifesting work results in the yellow paper flying out the window, and Tom ceasing to care. At the beginning of the short story, Tom had been so intent on constructing the ideas on the yellow sheet of paper that he was willing to risk his life to retrieve it.
However, now that he identifies the negative impact that the yellow sheet and all the other ambitious endeavors have brought upon him, it no longer holds any importance to him. He is able to find unvarnished humor and “laughter” as only minutes before that yellow piece of paper had symbolized life and death to him. However, now it’s movement out the window purely meant freedom. Tom’s decision to close the door behind him, instead of running yet again after the paper, shows his new aspiration to live in the moment. As mentioned before, the “warm air” that rushes through the door represents his happiness and the inviting presence with his wife.
Contrarily from his previous encounter with the warm air, Tom chooses to embrace it rather than ignore it. Instead of allowing the yellow paper to lure him in, he allows his own internal happiness to take it’s place. Ultimately, the genuine happiness he will experience with his wife becomes more crucial than any other aspect in his life, including work. Tom’s transformation through his experience on the ledge lessens the intense grip ambition holds in his life, and allows him to seek happiness and to live in the moment to take over.
In the short story “Contents of a Dead Man’s Pockets”, Jack Finney pursues the idea that when individuals obsesses over ambition and integrate that into their lifestyle, they make narrow-minded choices that develop into regret and fear, and result in an overall personality transformation. When Tom succumbs to his engrossing ambition and constantly chooses work over his wife, he allows it to cloud his judgement in his decision to risk his life for the yellow sheet of paper.
Only when he realizes what he has done, and how this ambition has hindered his ability to enjoy life as it is, does he decide that happiness and joy with his wife in the moment is much more significant than work and the possibility for future happiness. Mankind’s common obsession over work-related endeavors and strive for ambition often get in the way of daily happiness and experiencing life in the moment. Only when man understands the importance of living life without allowing selfishness or desire to take over, can he truly find happiness within himself and view his entity with contentment.