How is Tom Benecke crucial to understanding the story, "Contents of the Dead Man's Pocket"? 

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Jack Finney's story is a social criticism which rejects the goals of materialism and business success that absorbed men's thoughts in the United States following World War II. His character of Tom Benecke epotimizes the businessman who strives for success as he works day and night on his project for a new-grocery store display method which he had laid out on his yellow pad. Truly, then, it is the characterization of Tom that develops the theme of "Contents of the Dead Man's Pocket."

Working day and night on this project, Tom has neglected his wife, even to the point of staying home on a Saturday night while she goes to the movies alone.

He walked to her on with her coat. He kissed her than and, for an instant, holding her close...he was tempted to go with her; it was not actually true that he had to work tonight, though he very much wanted to. This was his own project, unannounced as yet in his office, and it could be postponed.

As the door opens for her to leave, the wind rushes past him and he hears a ruffle of curtains from the open window. His yellow sheet has been sucked out onto the ledge of their eleventh floor apartment. It is Tom's reaction to this occurrence that is at the crux of the story: In his cupidity, he ponders the results of his loss: the competition from others with brillant projects

would gradually mark him out from the score of other young men in his company....And he knew he was going out there in the darkness, after the yellow sheet fifteen feet beyond his reach. 

Selfishly, Tom Benecke risks his life for his project and it is not until he stares at the possibility of death when the window shuts on him and he is stuck on the ledge alone that he ponders the true priorities of life. Thus, the character of Tom is essential to Jack Finney's theme that love, above all else, is the greatest value in life. 

It is his wife's name that Tom screams as he breaks the window that stands between him and death. After reassessing his values, Tom decides to join his wife at the movies, gathers his coat, and opens the door. When the yellow sheet obstinately "sails out into the night," this time Tom bursts into laughter and goes on.

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Contents of the Dead Man's Pocket

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