Jack Finney’s thriller examines the motivations of a young man named Tom, driven by ambition and success, to risk his life for a piece of paper. The narrative taps into the very root of the conflict of being able to find a healthy balance between living life and pursuing ambition.
Tom Benecke's Character Evolution in Contents of the Dead Man's Pockets - Visual storyboard activity
Tom Benecke: Dark-haired young man, tall, lean, pullover sweater. Works hard; wants to make a difference in his grocery industry
Tom's Traits: Desperate; unable to abandon the sheet of paper
Tom's Traits: Calm, cool, and collected; methodical, until he stoops down to grab the paper; then he becomes panicked, frozen, and clumsy
Tom's Traits: Frightened; delirious; realistic
Tom's Traits: Elated; energized; prioritized
Tom is skipping the movies with his wife to stay home and work on an independent project. He kids that his work will someday earn him the title of “The Boy Wizard of Wholesale Groceries.”
Tom is unable to understand that he should abandon the sheet of paper. It has weeks’ worth of research on it for a new kind of grocery-store display. The time to present the idea is now for use in the spring displays. To replicate the work, it would take him two whole months.
Tom initially goes out to retrieve the paper carefully, but without much concern. As Tom bends down to retrieve the paper, the true danger of his situation becomes clear as he views the street 11 stories below him.
Tom reaches the window and it slams shut on him as he grasps it to keep from falling. He thinks that it would be funny if he were to wait out on the ledge and Clare came home to find him there, and he almost laughs out loud. He looks at his watch, however, and realizes she’s only been gone eight minutes and will probably be gone four hours. He knows he needs to get inside. He screams “Clare!” and punches in the window.
As soon as Tom is back in the apartment, he goes straight to the closet to get his coat and join Clare. He gives no more thought to working that night; he is grateful to be alive. As he watches the paper fly back out the window, he laughs and closes the door; he finally realizes that work is not more important than his life.