man's feet dangling above a window outside a building

Contents of the Dead Man's Pocket

by Jack Finney

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What is direct characterization, and how is it used in "Contents of the Dead Man's Pocket"?

Quick answer:

Direct characterization occurs when the narrator describes a character's appearance or personality explicitly, naming qualities and providing vivid details. Direct characterization is used in this story when the narrator says that Tom has a "guilty conscience" or is a "tall, lean, dark-haired young man."

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Direct characterization is very explicit. It is when the speaker or writer makes statements about a character's physical appearance, personality, motives, and so on, without forcing the reader to infer these qualities from the character's actions or words. Direct characterization is contrasted with indirect characterization, in which the character's personality or motives are revealed by what they say, think, or do, rather than being directly described or named by the narrator or writer.

In "Contents of the Dead Man's Pocket," the narrator tells us, at the end of the very first paragraph, that Tom Benecke has a "guilty conscience," presumably because he is choosing to work rather than go to the movies with his pretty, young wife, Clare. Finney writes,

It was not actually true that he had to work tonight, though he very much wanted to.

Tom is making a choice not to go with his wife to the movies, though she would clearly prefer that he accompany her. He knows that "it could be postponed," but he doesn't want to postpone. This helps us to understand how Tom orders his priorities in the beginning of the story, and later, this knowledge helps us to understand how he has changed as a result of the events that take place throughout the story.

Finney also uses direct characterization to describe Tom's physical appearance. Tom is

a tall, lean, dark-haired young man in a pullover sweater, who looked as though he had played not football, probably, but basketball in college.

This vivid description helps the reader, later on, to visualize Tom's appearance out on the ledge and how such a feat would even be possible.

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