Themes and Meanings

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

The junkshop in which Mamet sets American Buffalo presents a parodic model for all commercial enterprises and reveals the triviality of all relationships associated with commercial ventures. Mamet himself has suggested that this indictment of business enterprises indeed forms one of the themes of the play: “The play is about the American ethic of business.” The ethic that dominates the interplay between the three characters in the play is a tawdry display of predatorial selfishness. The burglary is a venture in which Teach demands an exclusive role, in which Don expects to regain his dignity after supposedly being swindled out of greater profits from his buffalo-head nickel, and in which Bob attempts to achieve affirmation of his relationship with Don. The egoism that characterizes the actions of the characters is an indictment of the acquisitive society; the buffalo-head nickel and the other scattered artifacts that litter the junkshop represent the fragmented lives and relationships governed by mercantilism.

Another aspect of this business ethic that predominates in the play is the paranoia that infects Teach and affects his treatment of Don and Bob. Mamet uses Teach as the spokesperson for the peculiar business ethic that empowers the play, and his definition of free enterprise is itself a doctrine of selfishness: any individual is titled “To Embark On Any . . . Cause he sees fit” for his own personal gain. The paranoia that pulsates...

(The entire section is 552 words.)


(Drama for Students)

When American Buffalo opens, Don is lecturing Bob on the importance of committing himself to the "business"...

(The entire section is 1304 words.)