American Buffalo by David Mamet

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Summary

(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

One Friday morning in Don’s Resale Shop, Donny and Bobby are talking; Donny is upset because Bobby abandoned his post in the store when he was supposed to be watching someone. While Bobby apologizes, Donny imparts some wisdom about running a business, referring to Fletcher, a winning poker player, who embodies the critical savvy people can learn only on the street. It is evident that Donny cares about Bobby as a friend and his mentor.

Shortly, Walter Cole, called Teach, enters the shop ranting about a trivial misunderstanding with Ruthie and Grace, some poker friends, over a recent breakfast; to assuage Teach’s fury, Donny suggests that Bobby run to the Riverside restaurant to pick up breakfast for the three of them. In Bobby’s absence, the two discuss last night’s poker game, and Teach expounds on the necessary distinction between business and friendship. During the exchange, Teach picks up some old knickknacks from the counter and complains that if only he had kept all the things he threw out, he would be a wealthy man.

Bobby reenters the shop with breakfast, but he has forgotten Donny’s coffee. Before heading back to the restaurant to retrieve the coffee, Bobby tells Donny that he saw the guy they are looking for leaving the restaurant with a suitcase. Teach wants to know about the man with the suitcase. Donny first hesitates but then tells Teach that the man had recently taken advantage of him by purchasing a buffalo nickel for less than what it is worth. Donny wants revenge and plans to steal the nickel from the man, then resell it at a higher price to another collector.

Teach warns against involving Bobby, alluding to Bobby’s history of drug use, and argues that Donny is blinded by his sense of loyalty, which angers him. Donny assures Teach that Bobby is clean, but Teach insists he himself is the better person for the job. Bobby reenters the shop with the coffee, and Teach verbally bullies him, trying to make him look incompetent to Donny. Bobby, oblivious, asks Donny for some money for the nickel job up front; Donny agrees to give Bobby the cash, but tells him to forget about the job.

Bobby leaves, and Teach and Donny discuss their plans for the theft, talking with certainty about how they will get in but uncertain where the coins will be located. Teach suggests they take more than just the coins for their trouble. Donny, worried they might need help, decides to bring in Fletcher, which makes Teach feel slighted; in the end he agrees. They plan to meet again later that night.

Later that evening, Donny tries to contact Teach and Fletcher, irritated by their tardiness. Bobby enters and tells Donny that he needs money; he wants to sell a buffalo nickel that he has acquired. Distracted, Donny tells him he wants to consult his coin book first. Teach enters, sees Bobby, and demands an explanation. To get Bobby to leave, Donny orders Teach to give him some money and promises Bobby they will talk tomorrow. Bobby leaves.

Teach is defensive and suspicious, asking Donny about Fletcher’s whereabouts and about Bobby’s nickel; eventually, Donny settles him and they continue working on the robbery plan, deciding they should call the target’s house to make sure he is not there; it appears he is not.

Donny continues to make calls in search of Fletcher, while Teach explicates a cutthroat version of free enterprise. Teach is suspicious of Fletcher and suggests they do the job without him, but Donny disagrees; they continue in heated discussion about the theft. The longer they wait, however, the more aggressive Teach becomes. Finally, Teach declares he is going to the target’s house himself, and then reveals a gun, which he explains he needs in case something goes wrong. There is a sudden knock on the door, but it is only Bobby.

According to Bobby, Fletcher has been mugged and is in the hospital. Bobby then says that he has business to take care of, and turns to leave; Teach stops him, disbelieving his story. Bobby cannot tell...

(The entire section is 1,598 words.)