Summary (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
In this play, Mamet has found his strongest metaphor for the complexity of human relationships. A group of salesmen, vying for “leads” to hot prospects for a Florida land scheme, make use of language not only to “close” their prospects but also to obfuscate their actual intentions, which include robbing the “leads” from the real estate office. On the surface, every salesman is a man for himself, and the last emotion one would expect is friendship and loyalty among them. They can only judge their success by the sales they make, and the “board” of the contest is the measurement of that success. The best leads get the best closes, and if a man is too far down on the list of persons getting leads, he never has a chance to catch up. In this respect, the play is reminiscent of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman (1949), because the American Dream of success is separated from the method, from the moral premise behind success.
The first-act scenes in the restaurant are hard-edged dialogues, almost monologues with a responding listener. Moss and Aaronow, whom the audience originally suspects for the office break-ins, are an example of the intimidation relationship in which Mamet excels. Aaronow is drawn into the robbery by dint of Moss’s ability to “sell” his guilt to him. As in American Buffalo, the criminal turns his crime around into a sort of revenge against someone who did not play by the rules—here it is Moss, showing Aaranow that to steal the leads is a just punishment for Williamson, whose job is to give the leads out. Williamson, it is noted, has never closed a sale, has never been out there in the field, but is a pawn of the offstage owners, Mitch and Murray.
In a sense, there is something besides Florida real estate being sold: reputation, one’s place on the sales board, even one’s loyalty to the police, are all for sale. At the center of the play is Roma’s and Levene’s friendship, despite their competition for the Cadillac. When they are both winners, when the sales are closing, they share a frenetic energy and understanding of the almost sexual exaltation of success. When Levene defends Roma to Williamson, the audience sees a side of him that is soft and more likeable; however, the...
(The entire section is 923 words.)
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Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Shelley Levene, Dave Moss, George Aaronow, and Richard Roma are competing in yet another sales promotion contest to sell plots of overpriced, vacant land in a subdivision in Florida. The ruthless bosses Mitch and Murray have decreed that the winner will get a new Cadillac, the runner-up a set of steak knives, and the other two will be fired. All four salesmen are unhappy with the leads (the names, addresses, and phone numbers of supposedly interested prospects) the company is providing and are voicing their complaints to one another as well as to the office manager, John Williamson, a company man who is only obeying orders. Levene is desperate because he has no sales on the board and is having a streak of bad luck. He pleads with Williamson for better leads but gets nowhere with the inflexible office manager, who regards Levene as an over-the-hill loser on his way out.
In a confidential conversation at the Chinese restaurant, Moss suggests to Aaronow that they stage a fake break-in at the office and steal the premium leads, which are considered valuable because they come from good sources and have not yet been worked over. He claims he can sell them to a competitor named Graff and that they can both go to work for him. Moss says Aaronow will receive twenty-five hundred dollars as his share of Graff’s payment for the stolen leads. Aaronow is tempted but afraid of getting caught. In the same Chinese restaurant, Roma, a younger, more successful salesman who seems destined to win the Cadillac, begins to display his sales skills by nearly hypnotizing a gullible prospect...
(The entire section is 645 words.)