Themes and Meanings
Glengarry Glen Ross extends David Mamet’s exploration of a world where business reigns supreme. Avarice is the force that motivates the characters in their single-minded quest to secure the precious leads, buffalo clients by spinning any fact or fiction necessary to close the deal, and rise to the top of the sales chart. Like Mamet’s earlier plays American Buffalo (pr. 1975) and The Water Engine (pr. 1977), Glengarry Glen Ross relies on the American dream as its ideological backdrop, the social and cultural milieu on which the drama revolves. In their noble yet pathetic efforts to sell real estate, the small-time sellers in Glengarry Glen Ross are living the myth. The problem is that the salesmen sell not only land but themselves as well.
The play spotlights the connection between the public self—the smooth-talking, eager-to-please salesmen—and the private self—the anguished characters’ inner reality. In the play’s compelling presentation of a series of particular events that suddenly broaden to encompass more universal experiences, all the characters emerge as essentially tragic figures. In their confrontations, Mamet examines the wider tragedy of modern existence itself.
The public and private unite within Glengarry Glen Ross because of the salesmen’s acceptance of the American dream as a talismanic cultural force. The salesmen subscribe to two principles inherent in the free enterprise system: first, that competition is the backbone of democratic capitalism, and second, that competition prospers best when business judgments are unfettered by government interference. Such a deep-rooted belief in uninhibited competition is what drives Levene, Moss, Aaronow, and Roma. Each feels justified in, even entitled to, his unfettered pursuit of the American dream. Mamet’s salesmen try to ennoble their spirits through hard work and profit, yet Roma descends to deception, and Moss and Levene to crime. One key theme in the play, then, is that private self-interest unchecked by moral conscience, inevitably leads to the collapse of the self. In Glengarry Glen Ross, informed social responsibility does not exist; there is only anomie.
The plot of Glengarry Glen Ross is simple: in Act I in three brief two-person scenes set in a Chinese restaurant we meet the principal characters and learn that they are under extreme pressure to sell apparently worthless land in Florida, and that to succeed in this they need good sales ''leads,'' which are under the control of the reptilian office manager, Williamson. Act II begins the next morning; the office has been ransacked and the leads stolen. The act ends with the apprehension of Levene, one of the salesmen, as the thief.
Duty and Responsibility
The major theme of Glengarry Glen Ross is business and, by extension, capitalism. Mamet never discusses, neither to praise nor to condemn, the workings of business; he shows the quintessential paradigm of business, the salesman, striving to survive by his wits in the system and how it damages and drains his better humanity. In the published play, Mamet includes a quote of the ''Practical Sales Maxim: 'Always Be Closing.'" Everything is business, even personal relationships.
The American dream that we can "get ahead" through honest hard work is undermined by the fact that, for these salesmen at least, the only measure of success is material and the only way to succeed is to sell. They are selling land—probably worthless land—to people who dream that buying that land will somehow provide the big score, the chance to make large profits when they resell it. It is interesting to note that no one mentions building on or settling on the land; it is always referred to as an investment opportunity. Moreover, the salesmen will say anything and promise anything to ''close."
Alienation and Loneliness
Certainly all of the characters suffer alienation both from nature and other people. They are apparently unfamiliar with the land they sell and refer to it as "crap." It...
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