Glengarry Glen Ross and the American Dream / by Heather Taylor

First world nations operate in a realm where capitalism is the main building block on which the society functions, no country more so than America. In constant pursuit of the American Dream, the ultimate capitalist ideal where money equates success and happiness, most of the nation lives in perpetual poverty.

David Mamet easily constructs a microcosm of America and the idea of the American dream in Glengarry Glen Ross. Set in the cutthroat world of real estate, Glengarry Glen Ross shows four salesmen struggling to make it to the top of the board during the ultimate sales competition. The winner takes home a Cadillac, the automotive representation of success; second place gets a set of steak knives while the other two are fired. , In this pressure cooker environment, David Mamet shows that the American system of capitalism is innately divisive, dishonest and destructive.

To show the divisive nature of capitalism, Mamet builds it into the setting itself. He blurs the lines between the world of business and pleasure by setting the first half of the play in a restaurant and the other half within the office itself. The character’s use of language remains unchanged between the settings and within the context of their conversations. By doing this, the reader can see that there is no boundary between the work environment and what could be deemed as down-time. In Act I, scene iii, we see Roma find a customer (or mark as they call them) in the restaurant itself. This shows that even when trying to maintain a sanctuary from the daily grind, i.e. having a private meal, a person can be touched by business/ capitalism. In this world created by Mamet, business is life and the characters are defined by their jobs. This is further compounded by the use of the sales pitch within their dialogue. Whether it be to gain leads (Act I, Scene i), to commit a crime (Act I, scene ii) or to actually make the sale (Act I, scene iii), the characters are using sales techniques to try to get what they want. This shows the disruptive nature their jobs have within the rest of their lives and in fact, within themselves.

The story of this play revolves around a company which sells non-existent land. This lays the groundwork for the dishonest nature of the characters within it. These men will do anything they can in order to make the sale. In Act II, Roma’s big sale to Linck begins to unravel when Linck comes to the office demanding his money back. To keep the sale, Levene fictionally becomes a very important client and role plays to help Roma keep the deal. This tag team effect has the flavour of being well practised, as they quickly take visual cues off each other and without much prelude, Lavene was able to play his role effectively. This shows that this dishonest behaviour is often employed by these characters in order to convince suspecting clients to stay in the game. This is an extension of the sales pitch where they will say or do anything to make the sale, even if it is impossible. For instance, in Act I, Scene I, Lavene and Williamson agree on a price of $50 per lead, but when asked for the money, Lavene doesn’t actually have it. With the loss of honesty, you have the loss or destruction of the moral code that is meant to dictate our actions.

Ultimately, Glengarry Glen Ross revolves around destruction. David Mamet winds this concept throughout the dialogue and the setting itself. In Act I, scene i, Lavene shows the lack of teamwork and the disregard of friendship evident when pressured to sell his way into getting premium leads from Williamson. Though he talks of needing to build the organisation, Lavene says “It’s me. It isn’t fucking Moss. Due respect, he’s an order taker, John. He talks, he talks a good game, look at the board and it’s me John. It’s me.” The ultimate destruction comes at the end of the play between these two same characters, when Levene reveals that he stole the leads from the office the night before with Moss as the accomplice. Ironically this confession comes from Levene’s own slip up when spieling to Williamson about knowing your place within the company. “Don’t/….” Therefore his own sales pitch resulted in his downfall. As a reader, we are aware that he went for Moss’s own sales pitch to commit the crime which we are to assume was the same as was used on Aaronow. This is one further illustration that the pitch is geared toward the mark and that there is no certainty in anything that is said. Even though Lavene goes off on Moss on the top of the play, we find out by the end that they are partners. It is only at this moment that we see that the sales pitch will no longer work as Williamson reports Lavene to the police. Mamet further shows the destructive nature of capitalism in Act II when we are faced with an office that has been ramshackled during the theft of the leads. To Williamson, who maintains the office, this destruction is felt more than the actual loss of leads and represents the level of viciousness the characters have come to. In the world that Mamet has created, when even the office no longer maintains sanctity from the downward spiral of destruction it shows the characters will do whatever it takes to make it, even if it means destroying itself.

On the face of Glengarry Glen Ross, one could easily take it to be a story of greed and the struggle for power amongst a group of success hungry men. But in even saying that, one can see the correlation between that and the struggle that is on-going in America. In its capitalist environment, the people have to do whatever they can to survive, just as the characters in this play do. Mamet has shown that ultimately all of this search for the Ethereal American Dream will lead to destruction just as Lavene faces when he confesses to committing the ultimate crime of not only stealing from his provider but by messing up the office which in effect is the thing that defines his existence. In a world where business is everything, this means a lot. It would mean the destruction of its very existence.