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It is clear from the very opening of the story that Tom is a man devoted to his work. Note how he responds to the sound of his wife dressing in the first paragraph with "hot - guilty conscience." As the story develops we find out why precisely he is so guilty - he is leaving his wife to go out to see a film by herself because he is staying behind to work. The text establishes that Tom is a workaholic, transfixed with the idea of achieving wealth and status through his own efforts, even if it means that he leaves his wife to amuse herself in his pursuit of these intangible goals. Note how this is presented in the text:
"It's just that I hate you to miss this move; you wanted to see it, too."
"Yeah, I know." He ran his fingers through his hair. "Got to get this done, though."
She nodded, accepting this. Then, glancing at the desk across the living rook, she said, "You work too much, though, Tom - and too hard."
He smiled. "You won't mind, though, will you, when the money comes rolling in and I'm known as the Boy Wizard of Wholesale Groceries?"
Here we see his patient, understanding wife, allowing him to devote himself to work instead of her, and willing to go out and see a film by herself because of his dreams.
Much like Arthur Miller's The Death of a Salesman, Jack Finney's short story "Contents of the Dead Man's Pockets" was written in response to the increasing materialism of Americans in the wake of World War II. Thus, the exposition of Finney's story creates the motif of ambition as a driving force that clouds Tom Benecke's judgment and values.
That Tom has already achieved a certain status is evinced by Tom's
watching the expanding circlet of mist, staring down through the autumn night at Lexington Avenue, eleven stories below.
Lexington Avenue is on the Upper East Side, Manhattan, a very affluent part of New York. Skyscrapers were new to the scene in the 1950s as well, so people who lived in them were social climbers. In this passage, too, is foreshadowing of the blindness of Tom to real values since he looks through the autumn night only to the street below, missing the beauty of the evening. Nor does he notice the prettiness of his wife when she speaks to him about missing the movie, merely replying, "Got to get this done, though." In his ambition, Tom's grocery store project is paramount.
At the start of the story, Tom clearly values his work more than anything else in his life.
You can see this right away in the story. He comes home from work and he chooses to stay home working instead of going off to the movies with his wife. He clearly thinks that doing his work is more important than doing things with his wife.
Tom is dedicated to his work to the extent that he is not interested in doing things that he would otherwise enjoy. We know from the start of the story that he wanted to go see this movie too. But he is not going to go and watch because work is more important to him at this point in the story.
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