What is the significance of Clare Benecke's character?
Tom Benecke's wife Clare appears only very briefly at the beginning of the story, already on her way out of their apartment, and she does not reappear at the end. It might have been more practical for Tom to wait for her at home after he had succeeded in getting back inside. Finding her at Loew's theater among an audience that could have numbered 1,500 people would have been difficult. In those days an usherette would have had to accompany him up and down the dark aisles with her flashlight. They would have been annoying all the other patrons while the movie was in progress. Even if he found his wife, he probably would not have been able to sit beside her because the seats would all be taken. Clare is very much a minor character. She is described as the following:
a slender, very pretty girl with light brown, almost blonde hair—her prettiness emphasized by the pleasant nature that showed in her face.
The city has everything to offer in the way of entertainment, recreation, and cultural enrichment. Tom realizes that he has been sacrificing everything in his pursuit of the American Dream. The author probably did not want to place undue emphasis on Tom's relationship with Clare because he wanted to express a more universal message.
Tom is not a unique individual. There are millions like him who become "workaholics" because they are so absorbed in achieving more and more status—and more and more money—that they neglect everything. If they have wives, they neglect them. If they have children, they wake up someday to realize that their children have grown up without them. If they have artistic or intellectual interests, they realize they never took the time to cultivate them. Tom must see all this when he realizes that he is on the point of sacrificing his life for a yellow sheet of paper with some notes intended to impress someone higher up the corporate ladder who would not even recognize him on the elevator. He is giving away the time that should be his to enjoy, to relax, to share with his young wife. He works hard enough at the office. Why should he be working late at night too? Perhaps he dreams about work in his sleep. Being out on that ledge was the worst thing and the best thing that ever happened to Tom:
We then recognize that the best the world has to offer is a painless, quiet, and tolerable existence to which we restrict our claims in order to be the more certain of making them good. For the surest way not to become very unhappy is for us not to expect to be very happy. Merck, the friend of Goethe's youth, recognized this truth for he wrote: 'Everything in this world is ruined by the excessive pretension to happiness and indeed in a measure that corresponds to our dreams. Whoever is able to get rid of this and desires nothing but what he has in hand can get along in the world.'
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