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Glengarry Glen Ross | Act 1, Scene 2 | Summary

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Summary

Dave Moss and George Aaronow share a booth at the Chinese restaurant. Aaronow is pretty sure he's going to lose his job because he didn't close a sale to a "Polack." Moss says Aaronow didn't have a chance in the first place—Polish people are notoriously tightfisted with their money. He warns Aaronow to stay away from Indians, too, mentioning he has had leads by the name of Patel. Moss intends to label all Indian Americans as undesirable. "A supercilious race. What is this look on their face all the time?" Moss asks rhetorically. He gets riled up, reminiscing about how it used to be in the old days when he and Aaronow were working for Platt selling properties at Glen Ross Farms. "They killed the goose," Moss says, referring to Mitch and Murray, their current employers, whose sales strategy is to simply "rob everyone blind" all at once instead of taking the client's money a little bit at a time. Aaronow gets drawn in, and soon they're both complaining about the leaderboard and the office contest.

Mitch and Murray's cutthroat business practices are the reason why Jerry Graff, who used to work for them, went out on his own. He buys his own sales leads and doesn't have to share his commission with anyone. Aaronow has heard Graff isn't doing too well, but Moss insists he's "clearing ... fourteen, fifteen grand a week (approximately $35,000–$37,000, adjusted for inflation)." Mitch and Murray, on the other hand, take all of their guys' money, set up an impossible contest to win a Cadillac, then fire those who can't make it onto the leaderboard. When people "build your business," Moss argues, "you can't fucking turn around, enslave them, treat them like children."

Moss thinks somebody "should stand up and strike back" at Mitch and Murray, namely by robbing the office of its premium leads and selling them to Graff. Moss pretends this is all hypothetical and insists he hasn't talked to Graff at all, but with a little pressing from Aaronow he reveals he and Graff have already negotiated a price per lead, plus the promise of a job afterward. Aaronow can get in on it, but he has to be the one to steal the leads and he has to do it tonight. "I thought we were only talking," Aaronow says, but Moss is dead serious. He claims Aaronow is now an accomplice just because he listened.

Analysis

The first pages of Act 1, Scene 2 are crucial to understanding the sense of insecurity the salesmen feel about their jobs and their place in the world. George Aaronow, who is struggling to close deals, is at risk of losing his job at the end of the month. The inferiority he feels in comparison to the other salesmen is evident in his language. Dave Moss asks if he's ever had an Indian customer. Aaronow says yes, then quickly changes his answer to "I ... I don't know." The pressure of the sales contest has led to a decline in his self-confidence, which hurts his chances of making a sale. It's a vicious cycle that keeps him off the office leaderboard. Moss also feels belittled by the sales contest, but his feelings manifest themselves as anger, not depression. He channels that anger into his sales pitch to Aaronow about robbing the office.

To make themselves feel better about their situation, Moss and Aaronow—along with Richard Roma in Act 2—disparage particular ethnicities. Moss equates people of Polish descent with "deadbeats" who don't pay their bills, and he and Aaronow both refuse to do business with Indians. Moss is blatantly racist when it comes to people with "those names" of Indian origin, like Patel—the most common Indian name in the United States. For example, he tells Aaronow that women from India "all look like they just got fucked with a dead cat." This has nothing to do with one's ability to pay for investment property, but Moss uses it as justification for not approaching potential clients who happen to be Indian. The underlying racism present throughout the play is a motif representing the salesmen's sense of inferiority and powerlessness as they struggle to maintain their livelihoods.

This sense of powerlessness is conveyed through author David Mamet's fast-paced, expletive-laden dialogue. This Mamet Speak, as many have called it, is characterized by incomplete sentences, constant interruptions, and the subtle manipulation of language. Aaronow, in particular, rarely completes a full thought on his own, instead piggybacking off the words of others. This makes him seem weak and ineffectual. Moss guides the conversation with interruptions and asides, luring Aaronow into understanding his plan. This is where semantics, or the meanings of words, come in. Aaronow wants to know if he and Moss are "talking"—just tossing out a hypothetical idea—or "talking"—actually making plans to commit a crime. The words are the same, but their different inflections change their meanings. Aaronow is fine with idly talking, but he doesn't want anything to do with planning. Moss knows this, which is why he initially assures Aaronow they're just "speaking about it. As an idea." Talking in the abstract is safe, and though Aaronow's defenses are heightened, they're not completely up. This gives Moss time to slowly turn the idea from a hypothetical into something concrete. By the time they are "actually talking about this," it is too late for Aaronow to deny any knowledge of Moss's plan. He is involved whether he likes it or not.

Aaronow isn't like the other men in the sales office. The only one of the four salesmen who doesn't remain constantly in sales mode, he doesn't try to finagle extra leads from John Williamson or use his coworkers to boost his own earnings. When Aaronow realizes Moss intends to pay him less than half of Jerry Graff's payout, his first reaction is one of personal concern for Moss. "Do you need five grand? ... You need money? Is that the ..." he asks. He is more interested in the well-being of someone he considers to be a friend than the disparity in their respective profits. This natural empathy overrides the instinct to stuff his wallet, which may be why he has such a difficult time closing sales. It's not that Aaronow doesn't want money—he's just too timid to reach out and grab it. When the scene ends it is unclear whether he will agree to help Moss or if he will risk being an accessory to a crime without the promise of a payout. Either way Moss has brought him nothing but trouble.

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