What specific details in a "Contents of the Dead Man's Pocket" show that Tom Benecke is a dynamic character?

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Tom Benecke is, indeed, the protagonist of "Contents of the Dead Man's Pocket"; as such he is a dynamic character. His actions and thoughts while he is outside on the ledge of his eleventh floor apartment develop the change in his attitude.

Unlike static characters who experience no change of attitude or personality, Tom undergoes a life-altering change in what he values most because of his experiences in the plot of Jack Finney's story. Also, because of the events in the story, this change in Tom is gradually anticipated by the reader.

In the exposition of the story, Tom assiduously studies his yellow sheet of facts and figures. Many a long Saturday afternoon he has stood in supermarkets, watching and counting the customers who have passed certain displays, and then recording on his yellow sheet the results of these observations. He has copied facts and figures onto this sheet, as well, and researched in the Public Library on Fifth Avenue more data on displays. With all this information, he feels he has added credibility to his idea for grocery displays as much more than mere opinion. So, when this yellow sheet on which Tom has invested so many hours of his free time blows out the window of his apartment, Tom feels that cannot let it be lost. 

It was hard for him to understand that he actually had to abandon it--it was ridiculous--and he began to curse.

Of course, his action of climbing out onto the dangerous ledge high above the street is irrational. But Tom is obsessed with getting ahead at work, and if he must redo everything, someone else will propose an idea ahead of him because it will take him two months to duplicate the data. Therefore, he risks his life for this sheet because "the time to present this idea was now," and he contemplates how he will be "marked out" from the other up-and-comers.

Tom rationalizes his intentions, and how his rescue of the paper will make a "good story at the office." He measures the size of the ledge and notes that every fifth row of brick has a groove in which he can place his fingers, so he can easily move along the ledge. Decisively, then, he dons a coat and steps out onto the ledge. He can easily balance and move along although once he is out there, he feels the chill and senses the darkness away from his window. Still, he moves well, as easily as he had anticipated, as long as he does not look down.

When he comes upon the paper, Tom has some difficulty, but he does retrieve it. However, as he bends for the paper he looks between his legs and sees Lexington Avenue far below; in this instant, absolute terror seizes Tom. He begins to shake violently, panic running through him. Hastily, he straightens himself and scrapes his head against the wall, bouncing off it and causing him to nearly fall backwards.

As a result, fear grips him so tightly that Tom feels as though he will faint and fall "out into nothing." Then, even though Tom knows he will not fall, he cannot control his shaking, nor can he bring himself to move. He yells "Help," but his cry cannot be heard so high above the traffic.

Eventually, Tom is able to command his body to inch along the edge, but horror accompanies every move. He forces himself to control his fear and inches his way along this ledge until he reaches his window. When there is "an impossible gap" in the wall, Tom stumbles, as he falls to his knees, the weight of his body against the window causes it to slam shut. Only by placing a vice-like grip on the slim edges of wood on the window does Tom manage to hang on.

Seeing his reflection, Tom notes that he still has the yellow paper in his mouth, so he places it in his coat pocket. Then, he discovers that the window will not open; he stares inside in disbelief. "It was not possible that there wasn't a way past it." As he weighs the chances of getting into his apartment, Tom considers that he may have to wait until Clare, his wife, returns. But she has never been able to open this window, and it will be four hours before she gets back.

Tom realizes that he cannot wait that long. Then, the existential absurdity of his actions impacts Tom: having based his life on monetary success has been ridiculous. He begins to consider that his fall and death would be a mystery to people as all that would be found in his pockets would be the yellow sheet.

Nothing, then, could ever be changed; and nothing more...could ever be added to his life. He wished, then, that he had not allowed his wife to go off by herself tonight--and on similar nights. He thought of all the evenings he had spent away from her, working; and he regretted them.

At this point, Tom determines that he is not going to continue to cling to the spot until he falls. He devises a plan and follows it. He tests his swing, knowing that he has but one to break the glass. He must have a driving punch. Ironically, his methodical mind saves him as he does punch through the window at just the right time. He is successful.

Tom places the yellow sheet back on his desk, laying a pencil atop it. He grabs his coat and opens the front door to leave, hoping to catch his wife at the cinema. The draft again catches the yellow paper, and it flies out the broken window. This time Tom laughs and departs.

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