Glengarry Glen Ross Essay.
The majority of David Mamet’s critics give great focus or attention on the negative concepts and views of power, such as repression and exploitation. Mainly, this occurs in the analysis of the associations of power in the business world in “Glengarry Glen Ross” (1983). A perspective that will be considered in this paper is the investigation of the positivity of exercises of power. More particularly, it will deal on human relationships which are present and crucial in David Mamet’s play.
Foucauldian analytics of power comprehensively marks the “American dream” and the intricacy of function of power as well as the productive effects of power in Mametian business world.
Despite the fact that David Mamet started writing plays after the year 1970, he was able to gain an influential and significant position in American literary. David Mamet’s success can be greatly attributed to several influences that honed his skills. When David Mamet was at the age of sixteen, he admired Bob Sickinger.
Sickinger intensely influenced his ideas of dramaturgy.
However, Bob Sickinger who was believed to be the pioneer of “Chicago theatre” was not the only one who had influenced David Mamet. When David Mamet attended school at the Goddard College in Vermont, he studied and trained in acting under the tutelage of Sanford Meisner. Meisner influenced David Mamet’s acting as well as his philosophy, by infusing into him the idea of practical and outward techniques, instead of the usual technique of internalization.
After college, David Mamet was able to perform several unglamorous jobs in real life. He experienced driving a taxi, working at a truck factory, and cleaning offices for a living. By the year 1969, he got another job. This time, he was assigned as an office manager, particularly at a real estate sales office. Consequently, it can be observed that nearly all characters in David Mamet’s plays belong to social classes exclusive of the high-class. In addition to this, nearly all the sites of his plays and literary works are set generally in marginal places. For example, in “Glengarry Glen Ross”, the play is set in a real-estate office.
The scenes at the beginning of the play in “Glengarry Glen Ross” create the “dangerous, ego-threatening world that its salesmen inhabit” (McDonough, 1963). The main characters, Aaronow, Moss, Lingk, Roma, Williamson and Levene, participate in degrading schemes needed for them to maintain jobs. An older salesman, Shelley Levene, who was unsuccessful in attaining good revenues, “cajoles, bullies, pleads and finally bribes his boss to grant him better leads” (McDonough, 2006). Then, a discontented salesman, Dave Moss, campaigns to raid the sales office and acquire the leads by maneuvering the gullible George Aaronow to do the actual break-in. Lastly, top salesman Richard Roma astonishes and influences the trusting James Link into buying material goods in exchange for Roma’s imaginary companionship.
In David Mamet’s play, these salesmen effect their sales by giving a fictive structure. A measly house becomes a remedy to needs that go beyond than that for shelter. The irony is that, for all their skepticism, they are most energetic in their individual performances. They are also most sensitive about human need when they create the fictions intended to capitalize on that need. (Bercovitch et al., 1994).
These salesmen seek to ensnare their customers in language but are no less its victims themselves. In a particular scene in the play, Moss asks Aaronow if he is “in or out”, and further says that “you tell me, you’re out you take the consequences” (Mamet, 1983). When Aaronow asked “and why is that?”, Moss capriciously responds “because you listened” (Mamet, 1983). From the conversation, one of them accuses his supposed friend of complicity because he “listened” (Bercovitch et al., 1994).
In addition to this, irony exists because these salesmen must first understand those they would deceive before they can succeed. As such, these salesmen become hypersensitive, like a confidence trickster who masquerades as a psychic. They also become compellingly precise because they are conscious of the desperation, the fear and the need that coerce their clients into their hands. Somehow, that shared knowledge starts to grant the material desires of their clients. In a discernible disagreement, “those who can best connect two isolated people are those who deploy the falsities of fiction” (Bercovitch et al., 1994).
The salesmen in “Glengarry Glen Ross” are charged for their deceptions. Deceptions of which they, too, are victims, but held close for their knowledge of an existing desire for trust and connection. However, the salesmen remain unaware of the consequences because of the disparities in the language they use in the business world. In addition to this, they continue to be ignorant because of reality that is diminished by deceptions (Bercovitch et al., 1994).
Once again, in contrary to the image which is sought by these salesmen to identify themselves, the image of women is introduced. In a particular scene, Levene advises Williamson at one point, “a man’s his job” (Mamet, 1983). The apparent point is that doing a job is what makes a man; it gives a man identity. Moreover, Levene stresses that if “you don’t have the balls” to do the job then “you’re a secretary” (Mamet, 1983). Traditionally, secretarial jobs are performed by women. Or, as Roma exclaim to Williamson when the latter blows up a transaction, “where did you learn your trade, you stupid fucking cunt” (Mamet, 1983). Then further says “you idiot, who ever told you you could work with men?” (Mamet, 1983).
If the identity of man is identified based on his performance at work, then failures classify a worker as woman. In particular, it is the differentiation of these two closely prescriptive positions that suggests any sense of identity for these salesmen. And feminine is agreed a negative position. According to McDonough , “it (feminine) is set up as the failure and lack that a man must overcome in order to establish and maintain his identity as a man” (1963). On the contrary, this construct of male identity stays exceedingly questionable and is continuously exposed by the same antagonism that is thought to create it.
The prevailing need of David Mamet’s male characters is for confirmation of their identity, for understanding, comfort, love and friendship. However, this need is neglected because of the fear that needing anything is a sign of weakness and it is unmanly to be insecure in one’s identity. Distrust of the world which the characters live produces this fear. Fear of infidelity in sexual relationships, friendship and business transactions results in distrust among everybody. In addition to this, distrust and fear lies in one’s lack of confidence within the self (McDonough, 2996).
To support this, Stephen Shapiro in his study of masculinity argues that, “male self- mistrust is caused by narcissism and reinforced by male silence, emotional inhibition and puerile attitudes and behavior” (1984). He also adds that “the division inside men, in the male psyche, has the drastic social consequence of weakening trust in all other relationships” (Shapiro, 1984). Moreover, that “weakening of the bonds of trust in these relationships causes still further decay in male self-trust” (Shapiro, 1984).
In Shapiro’s view, it can be deduced that the characters Edmond, Bernie, Fox and Levene, are motivated by frantic uncertainty or lack of confidence regarding their manhood. According to McDonough, “this is a sense of powerlessness that they seek to over-compensate for” (1997). She also adds that “it is a need to establish their manhood in the face of real or imagined challenges to it” (McDonough, 1987).
Most of the time, these challenges are personal, internal insecurities. Moreover, they are regularly protected onto the outside world; oftentimes, onto women or else onto fellow salesmen, workers or friends. Above all, David Mamet’s characters assume they have something to verify about themselves through competition with others. As a result, they are imprisoned in a vicious belief of antagonism that they cannot escape.
Within Mamet’s plays, antagonism shows the standards of masculinity. Roma states:
“I swear it’s not a world of men. Machine, it’s a world of clock watchers, bureaucrats, officeholders. It’s a fucked up world. There’s no adventure to it. Dying breed. Yes it is. We are the members of a dying breed” (Mamet, 1983).
Masculinity can observed all throughout the play where salesmen refer to themselves as “men”. However, it should be noted that they are not referring to themselves of gender. Rather, it can be deduced that the salesmen are a select order of people. As Roma reiterates that they are “a dying breed”.
On the contrary, the “clock watchers, bureaucrats, officeholders” do not refer to true men. These “machines” take orders. The personality which these people have does not strongly reflect their work. This can be observed in the likes of Williamson and Shelley “Machine” Levine. Williamson is a non-salesman while Levene is, according to Kane, more despicable than the arrogant top salesman” (2004). They are considered to be “despicable company men” who serve simply as cogs in the corporate machine. Levine’s former success is frequently associated with inhumanity. David Mamet implies Levene determined his own destiny but did so mechanically.
In some ways, “Glengarry Glen Ross” seems like a modernized and more mordant version of Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman” (1996). Shelley Levene in “Glengarry Glen Ross”, just like Willy Loman in “Death of a Salesman” is in the last stages of falling apart. He continues living in a largely inhuman world, one unreceptive to any but the majority of aggressive personalities. A product of this world is Levene, who has been an aggressor. However, now he’s old, out of luck and he’s being shown up in the competition. It starts to appear that perhaps he was never all that good anyway. As George affirms, “he (Levene) has no money, very little pride left (and) his confidence is shattered” (1994).
Conceivably the most distinguished fictional salesman is Willy Loman, whose frustrated dreams ultimately divide his family and ruins him. His unyielding quest for success, together with an idealistic view of the world, results in his being “done in” largely due to the capitalist system. He ignores his emotional life in the certainty that the one purpose of the real-estate business was to generate money. Although he finds that success does not bring him the contentment he seeks. Willy Loman can be considered an archetypal salesman in literature, an unusual combination of both victim and oppressor whose demise is brought about by self-delusion and societal pressure (Dean, 1990).
In “Death of a Salesman”, the American dream may be Willy Loman’s vision of a house and successful children with families of their own. And like Willy, the salesmen in David Mamet’s play all have their American dreams, though it may be different. However, these salesmen don’t dream of grand houses or successful children. Instead, they dream of the rich customer who will enable them to stop working for those who exploit them. They also dream continually of success. Though similarly, as a whole, both Arthur Miller and David Mamet point out the disappointments and failures of the American dream myth and the vindictiveness in capitalistic society.
For numerous cohorts of writers who have assessed the American Dream, the salesman has been a symbol of its shortcomings. Indeed, being a salesman can lead to great wealth and that it is the means for a common man to make good by complete hard work. On the other contrary, this is not the characteristic that such writers choose to accentuate. To these people, as Dean affirms, is “a society that advocates this kind of self-improvement is a consumer society based on materialism” (Dean, 1990). It has, at its heart, an worthlessness that can never be assuaged by yet additional money in the bank.
The salesmen gain enthusiasm from the promise of happiness and gratification in return for material success. Their clients too are as much a part of the capitalist hegemony where their purchase is their symbol of material success. The salesmen invest these purchases with remarkable, life-enhancing properties that embrace the guarantee of a better future. However, the truth is not the same. In the same way as the salesmen’s endless quest for unauthentic success is basically a chimera. The goods which they sell are quite insignificant. For that reason, the salesmen are taking advantage of those who, like them, must dream and think of a brighter future (Dean, 1990).
Stafford in “Visions of a Promised Land” stops short of an allegorical reading of “Glengarry Glen Ross”. Though, he does present the thought-provoking question that Aaronow, Levene and Moss are older Jewish men who may possibly be celebrated with Old Testament figures. Stafford also proposes that they have been paying attention to the real estate business partly by their personal searches for a “promised land” (1996).
“Ricky Roma, Mitch and Murray are more likely to be gentiles” (Stafford, 1996) associated both with conquering Rome (in Roma’s case) and latter-day Christian entrepreneurial types. On the other hand, the frequent allusions to Old Testament figures and the motif of land for sale imply, Stafford believes, that “the division of the conflict into old versus new, age versus youth beliefs, gives a sense of historical perspective” (1996). Moreover, “these ancient traditions have been replaced with a modern day religion based on greed, deceit and spiritual bankruptcy” (Stafford, 1996).
Similarly, in “Weasels and Wisemen”, Leslie Kane concurs that the playwright utilizes allusions to archetypal biblical characters such as the Levites, Moses and Aaron. She adds that there is “as a link between ancient and modern worlds, values, aspirations and spirituality” (Kane, 1999). Yet it is apparent that insensitive business corporation has, in a sense, changed ancient Judaic ideas of moral and social responsibilities. As a result, the characters in Mamet’s play are caught in a moral predicament. They are rapped between their craving to acquire the land or achieve from its sale and their longing for old value systems.
David Mamet’s job is to create a closed moral universe and to leave an evaluation of the characters’ behavior to the audience. He means the evaluation to be difficult rather than easy and for the audience to squirm on the hook. As Mamet has said in “Decay: Some Thoughts for Actors”, “we need not fall victim to the liberal fallacy of assuming that because we can perceive a problem we are, de factor, not part of the problem” (1986).
According to an interview made by David Savran with David Mamet, Savran asks “why the subtext is always about power, buying and selling” (1988). Mamet responds “why not?” and defends it by saying “I guess most American literature, the American literature that I love, that I grew up on, is about business (and) that’s what America is about” (Savran, 1988).
In the point of view of David Mamet, the American Society is composed of human life based on business. When Mamet proposed the delineation of the difficult business world, he “demonstrated the import of human community as well as the inevitability of conflicts among people” (Wan-Ling, 2000). Whereas, the myth of the American Dream aims to persuade the audience or the salesmen that everybody has an equal opportunity to attain his success, on top of all material success.
On the other hand, David Mamet aimed to “expose the reality that part of such myth brings not only a possibility of the conflict on benefits among people but also that of the blur of boundaries between businessmanship and friendship” (Wan-Ling, 2000). In “Glengarry Glen Ross”, the functions and effects of power due to the needs and interests of its characters are carefully revealed. Instead of simply presenting his observations on the exercise of power, David Mamet also indicated a reflection of the ruthlessness and gracelessness of the business world. More specifically, as an American playwright, David Mamet manifested in his play the realistic and materialistic American business world.
Through Foucauldian analytics of power, it can be realized that the salesmen in “Glengarry Glen Ross” are not, in the essence, destined to be repressed by the capitalistic system, nor by their colleagues. They have the choice and the ability to resist, which would dominantly bring them to a higher hierarchy in the business world. In essence, David Mamet adduces the business world in “Glengarry Glen Ross” “for highlighting the distortion of relationships in human community” (Wan-Ling, 2000). Hence, it can be deduced that it is the characters who trap themselves. Moreover, it is the human beings who cause this distortion. And for this reason, David Mamet achieves his purpose of reminding the actualities of human relationships to his readers.
Bercovitch, S., Carswell, C. H., & Patell, C. R. K. (1999). The Cambridge History of American Literature. United Kingdom: The Press Syndicate of the University of Cambridge.
Bigsby, C. W. E. (2004). The Cambridge Companion to David Mamet. United Kingdom: The Press Syndicate of the University of Cambridge.
Dean, A. (1990). David Mamet: Language as Dramatic Action. New Jersey: Associated University Presses.
George, K. (1994). Playwriting: The First Workshop. USA: Butterworth-Heinemann.
Kane, L. (1999). Weasels and Wisemen: Ethics and Ethnicity in the Works of David Mamet. New York: St. Martin’s.
Kane, L. (2004). The Art of Crime: The Plays and Films of Harold Pinter and David Mamet. New York: Routledge.
King, K. (2001). Modern Dramatists. New York: Routledge.
Mamet, D. (1983). Glengarry Glen Ross: A Play. New York: Grove Press.
Mamet, D. (1986). Decay: Some Thoughts for Actions. New York: Viking.
McDonough, C. J. (1963). Staging Masculinity: Male Identity in Contemporary American Drama. North Carolina: McFarland and Company, Inc., Publishers.
Miller, A. (1996). Death of a Salesman. New York: Penguin Classics.
Savran, D. (1988). In Their Own Words: Contemporary American Playwrights. New York: Theatre Communications Groups.
Shapiro, S. A. (1984). Manhood: A New Definition. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons.
Stafford, T. J. (1996). David Mamet’s Glengarry Glen Ross: Text and Performances. New York: Garland.
Wan-Ling, C. (2000). Theatre of Power. Taiwan: National Sun Yat-Sen University.