Glengarry Glen Ross

by David Mamet

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Critical Context

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The characters in Glengarry Glen Ross, David Mamet suggests, feel justified in lying; they can rationalize any word or deed by appealing to healthy competition, to earning their share of the American dream. Roma believes in the unencumbered freedom of the individual, a point argued by Teach in American Buffalo. Roma reinvents Teach’s philosophy in his long speech at the end of act 1: “I do those things which seem correct to me today.” Roma and his fellow salesmen, like the men in American Buffalo, in essence distort language and ethical principles to justify their work.

The characters of Glengarry Glen Ross have learned too well what Teach tells Don in American Buffalo: “Don’t confuse business with pleasure.” The real estate salesmen apparently feel so passionately about selling that they are anesthetized to all other human emotions. The business response necessarily cancels the human response. In their support of consumerism, the players in Glengarry Glen Ross become spiritually consumed: Business takes on a sacramental role for these all-too-secular entrepreneurs.

At the close of American Buffalo, the audience has some sense of hope for Bob and Don, whereas the theatergoer detects no renewal at the end of Glengarry Glen Ross. Mamet stages no purging of the soul, no epiphanic moment in which one character comes to consciousness. The play simply ends with Roma’s departure for the restaurant.

In theme or in structure, Mamet has not extended the nature of theatricality. The power of Mamet’s play resides not so much in its charting of the salesmen’s competition within a highly capitalistic system as in its subtext: the stultifying effect on the spirit of business when it becomes an all-consuming religion. In Glengarry Glen Ross, Mamet ultimately shows not merely external corruption and public betrayals but also crimes of the heart: the inability of the individual to communicate honestly with the self and the other.

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Critical Evaluation