David Mamet Analysis

Discussion Topics

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

How is David Mamet’s American Buffalo a study of American capitalism?

What are the symbolic implications of the buffalo in American Buffalo?

Consider acts 1 and 2 of Glengarry Glen Ross. How does the structure of each differ, and how does that structure contribute to the play as a whole?

How do the salesmen in Glengarry Glen Ross each meet the expectations and challenges of the business world? Who perpetuates and who defies the conventions of ethical and unethical business strategies?

How does the telephone function in Oleanna?

Consider the physical characteristics, acts, and gestures of Carol and John in Oleanna. How do they contribute to characterization and plot development?

In The Old Neighborhood, how are Bobby Gould’s name and identity problematic?

What do the characters of The Old Neighborhood seek?

Other Literary Forms

(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

While first and foremost a theatrician, David Mamet has also gained respect for his work in other literary forms. Perhaps Mamet’s most popular contributions have been to Hollywood. His screenplays—The Postman Always Rings Twice (1981), The Verdict (1982), The Untouchables (1985), House of Games (1987), Things Change (1988), We’re No Angels (1989), Homicide (1991), and Glengarry Glen Ross (1992)—have been praised for their intriguing plots and monologues of cruelty. Most scholars point to House of Games, with its ritualized forms of expiation, and Glengarry Glen Ross, with its dazzling repartee, as his best work in film. Finally, Mamet demonstrates his skill as an essayist in Writing in Restaurants (1986), a collection of essays that best spells out the playwright’s theory of dramatic art as well as his sense of cultural poetics.


(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

David Mamet, winner of a Pulitzer Prize in 1984 (for his play Glengarry Glen Ross), two Obie Awards (1976, 1983), and two New York Drama Critics Circle Awards (1977, 1986) among many others, is regarded as a major voice in American drama and cinema. He animates his stage through language, a poetic idiolect that explores the relationship between public issue and private desires—and the effects of this relationship on the individual’s spirit. He is known for his wit and comedy, but beyond the streetwise dialogues lie more problematic concerns. The typical Mamet play presents the near-complete separation of the individual from genuine relationships. Mamet replicates human commitments and desires in demythicized forms: commodity fetishism, sexual negotiations and exploitations, botched crimes, physical assaults, fraudulent business transactions enacted by petty thieves masquerading as business associates, and human relationships whose only shared features are the presence of sex and the absence of love. Although he varies his plays in terms of plots and themes, Mamet seems at his best when critiquing what he believes is a business ethic that has led to the corruption of both the social contract and his heroes’ moral values. Mamet’s major achievements, then, concern his use of language, his social examination of professional and private betrayals and alienation, and his ability to capture the anxieties of the individual—whether he or she is a small-time thief, a working-class person, or a Hollywood executive.


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Bigsby, C. W. E. A Critical Introduction to Twentieth-Century American Drama: Beyond Broadway. Vol. 3. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1985. Bigsby devotes about forty pages to Mamet, whom he considers “a poet of loss.” His analyses are as sensitive as they are challenging, and they are compulsory reading for anyone interested in Mamet. Includes a bibliography.

Bigsby, C. W. E. David Mamet. London: Methuen, 1985. This first book-length study of Mamet is essential reading. Bigsby examines twelve plays and sees Mamet as “a moralist lamenting the collapse of public forum and private purpose, exposing a desiccated world in which the cadences of despair predominate.” Contains a brief bibliography.

Carroll, Dennis. David Mamet. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1987. Carroll’s discussions of Mamet’s language are excellent, and he considers the plays in terms of business, sex, learning, and communion. This slender volume also contains a useful bibliography and chronology.

Dean, Anne. David Mamet: Language as Dramatic Action. Rutherford, N.J.: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1990. In this perceptive study, Dean suggests that language describes, prescribes, defines, and confines Mamet’s characters.

Hudgins, Christopher C., and Leslie Kane, eds....

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