American Buffalo

by David Mamet

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Characters Discussed

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Don Dubrow

Don Dubrow, a man in his late forties, the owner of the junk shop called Don’s Resale Shop. He unknowingly sells a rare American buffalo nickel for what he assumes must have been too little. He believes that by tricking him, the buyer achieved an unwarranted dominance over him. Don intends to get even by planning a robbery, one in which he will not participate but that will involve the nickel being restolen. This dream-fantasy of the robbery restores to Don the sense of power that he lost with the nickel’s sale. When the play opens, Don is berating the dependent Bob for leaving the house he had been sent to stake out. He emphasizes his dominance by making Bob apologize for that action. Don’s need for family is expressed by his fatherly friendship and concern for slow-witted Bob, whom he tries to teach the difference between friendship and business but whom he betrays out of mistrust of his own convictions and the strength of Teach’s arguments. He holds the offstage character Fletch up to Bob as an example of a guy who can think on his feet, but he becomes totally demoralized when he learns through Teach that Fletch cheated him, a friend as well as a business associate. Don turns violent when frustrated. His whole life seems to exist only within his resale shop.

Walter Cole

Walter Cole, called Teach, an overreactive friend and associate of Don who is unsure of his actions, although he puts up a good front by using bold language infused with positivism. His unsureness is echoed in his innate suspicion of others, and he believes that everyone is motivated by self-interest. Business in his world is necessary, and the means used in its execution are self-justifying. Deceit, physical violence, and assault are merely business tactics, and friendship is nothing more than a means of gain. Teach lacks the courage of his convictions, however, and there is a great gulf between his words and his deeds. His suspicions allow him to terrorize Bob physically, and even though these thoughts turn out to be erroneous, he is never anxious or questioning of his actions. Teach utilizes moral principles that justify his cynical outlook. His great robbery never takes place; Teach is a bungler as well as a misogynist. Offstage female characters illustrate his lack of control in his world.


Bob, a slow-witted junkie who works as a gofer for Don. He emphasizes the superiority Don feels. Bob is cheated out of participation in an abortive robbery but ironically may have done the cheating. Bob is dependent on Don for the cash to feed his drug habit. Participation in the robbery will temporarily bring him the cash he needs and perhaps inspire praise from Don. Because of his habit, however, Bob must also be committing small types of crimes, and it could be that he committed the crime that Teach accuses him of—getting the buffalo nickel from the customer in some foul way. Don’s calls to the hospitals in the area prove that Don does not trust Bob. Throughout the play, Bob, in repeating much of what Don tells him, uses a type of low-language slang that indicates his low intelligence and his inability to progress outside Don’s Resale Shop.


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As his nickname suggests, Teach is a man who sees himself as a guru-like figure, dispensing parcels of wisdom to Don and Bob. He constantly offers platitudes which seek to instruct the others in the ways that "business" is conducted: "A guy can be too loyal,"...

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"Don't confuse business with pleasure," "It's kickass or kissass," and "You got to have a feeling for your subject" are a few of the many "rules" he recites during the play. Teach subscribes to the notion that free enterprise is "The freedom of the Individual to Embark on Any Fucking Course that he sees fit" in order to "secure his honest chance to make a profit" and that, without such a code, "we're just savage shitheads in the wilderness." Like Don, Teach believes himself to be adept in the world of deal-making and business. Yet his circumstances reveal his skills to be unprofitable.

Underneath Teach's "lessons" runs a current of anger at those who have succeeded in the fields of which he sees himself as an expert. When Don tells him that Ruthie and Fletcher won at last night's poker game because they are good card players, Teach ascribes their victories to cheating rather than skill. His anger at the world—and at his own meager place in it—culminates in the end of the play, when he smashes the display cases in the junk shop, shouting a new set of "rules:" "There Is No Law. There Is No Right And Wrong. The World Is Lies. There Is No Friendship."

Other Characters

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Bob is Don's "gopher" and serves him in the dual capacities of coffee-fetcher and surrogate son. While he does listen patiently to all of Don's lessons on how to "do business," the audience also learns that he frequently borrows money from him to support a drug habit. Slow-witted and dull, he is not as talkative nor excitable as Don or Teach, but he does remain faithful to Don, even after he is assaulted by Teach on the grounds that he has betrayed their robbery scheme to other thieves.

Walt Cole
See Teach.

Don Dubrow
The owner of Don's Resale Shop, Don is a seller of junk who plans the robbery which drives the play's plot. He is the "business associate" of Teach and a father figure to Bob. Early in the play he tries to instruct Bob on how to be a "stand-up guy," a conversation that reveals many of his values and assumptions. Using the never-seen Fletcher as his example, he explains that, to succeed, a man needs "Skill and talent and the balls to arrive at your own conclusions." According to Don, "Action talks and bullshit walks." Like Willy Loman in Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman, Don believes that he understands exactly what qualities are needed for success in the world of "business:" he tells Bob, "It's going to happen to you, it's not going to happen to you, the important thing is can you deal with it and can you learn from it." Although he appears headstrong when talking to Bob, his own need for lessons in loyalty is exposed when he allows Teach to convince him to cut Bob from the plan.




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