Glengarry Glen Ross

by David Mamet

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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 revealing of that very softness is the undoing of Levene, when he accidentally lets Williamson know that he was the actual burglar in the previous night’s incident. Williamson immediately pounces on the flaw, and Levene is discovered as the crook. In the meantime, Roma does not even realize what his friend has done for him, as he pursues a lost sale.

The fast-talking world of Florida (and Arizona) real estate sales is a world where the men function only in direct proportion to their ability to hide themselves, to seek the fast buck. It is a hollow relationship but one with certain unspoken rules. The three-day rule, in which a customer has three days to cancel his deal, is a rule imposed from outside. The customers who are never serious, such as the Indians and the Nyborg family (famous for writing bad checks), are looked down on by the salesmen as unfair players, as wastes of time. Stealing the leads and selling them to a competitor is a way of breaking the rules of the business they are in, but more importantly, it confuses the order of success among the men.

Mamet found inspiration from his own brief work in such a sales office and from “those guys you see on planes”...

(This entire section contains 923 words.)

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who are the businessmen at work, artificial in their own relationships, competing daily, either directly or indirectly, for the same dollar. Very little daydreaming is actually done about spending the money, about eventually relaxing and enjoying the fruits of their labors. At the moment, like racehorses, they are in the race, and every bit of energy must go into winning it.

Events such as Levene’s triumphant entrance and depiction of his grand sale to Bruce and Harriet Nyborg (underscored by Aaranow’s disgruntled “I had them on River Glen”) are the highlights of these men’s lives—the moments when they can announce their successes to one another. The fact that the Nyborg deal will fall through when the check is shown to be fraudulent caps the deadly day of deceit and hopelessness in the ruined office. The other deal gone sour, the sale to Lingk, occurs at the office itself, when Lingk, prompted by his less gullible wife, demands a retraction of the deal. The support character of the detective, Baylen, the only one not involved in the real estate scheme as seller or buyer, is not fully developed—he represents a “finding out,” a revealing not of who broke the law but who broke the unwritten code by which these men work.

The storytelling abilities of Mamet’s characters, especially the salesmen, are a reflection of Mamet’s own ability to tell a good story. The quick-talking defense mechanism of the salesman prevents real contact. As in American Buffalo, where the physical object of the buffalo nickel is a carefully chosen symbol (of the lost American West, perhaps, as one critic notes), so the valueless Florida real estate the men are hawking is a symbol of the uselessness at base of the efforts of the men and their world. What they have to sell is worthless; their lives are made worthless as a result.


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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 named James Lingk with a line of double-talk that insidiously introduces the subject of Glengarry Highlands, the wildly inappropriate name for the Florida swampland the company is currently promoting.

The next morning when Roma comes in to claim the Cadillac because he has made a big sale to Lingk, he discovers that the office has been burglarized. There is broken glass all over the floor and a detective named Baylen is questioning the salesmen one by one. Roma is outraged when he learns that some of the recently executed sales contracts have been stolen, along with some office equipment and the premium leads. To add to his problems, Lingk appears and announces that his wife has demanded that he back out of the land deal. While Roma is trying to stall his balky client by telling him that it will take several days for the paperwork to clear, Williamson blurts out that the contract and Lingk’s check have been sent in to the main office. The frightened Lingk rushes off to get legal help to cancel the deal, while Roma turns on Williamson and curses him roundly for butting into a situation he knows nothing about.

Levene, who is feeling euphoric and rejuvenated because he had made a big sale the night before, heaps his own profane abuse on Williamson for killing Roma’s deal. Inadvertently, however, he reveals guilty knowledge about the break-in. His incriminating statement is to call Williamson a liar. Levene is the only one (besides Williamson himself) who knows that Williamson is lying about the contract and the check. Williamson thinks by lying that he is helping Roma. Lingk’s contract and check have not been sent in but rather are on Williamson’s desk where Levene must have seen them when he was stealing the premium leads.

Levene confesses, pulling out the twenty-five hundred dollars in cash and offering to give all of it to Williamson if he will only keep quiet. Williamson, however, reports Levene to the detective. It is evident that Levene will go to prison along with Moss, on whom he informed, while the two remaining salesmen will continue to pray for better leads and worry about their uncertain futures in their dog-eat-dog business.