Glengarry Glen Ross | Study Guide

David Mamet

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Glengarry Glen Ross | Act 2 | Summary

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Summary

Act 2 takes place in the real estate sales office, which was robbed the night before. The thieves stole everything, including the list of leads, some of the completed sales contracts, and even the telephones and typewriters. George Aaronow and John Williamson are onstage when the act opens. They are accompanied by Baylen, a police detective. Richard Roma enters moments later. He has already heard about the robbery from Dave Moss. Roma is extremely agitated because he closed a deal with James Lingk yesterday, which earned him a Cadillac in the sales contest. If the contract is missing, he'll have to reclose the deal. Williamson promises he filed the contract already, but Roma is still irate.

The rest of Act 2 is a chaotic jumble of overlapping conversations:

  • Shelly Levene has finally had a sale—eight units of Mountain View to Bruce and Harriett Nyborg. He reenacts the sale for an impressed Roma and an uninterested Moss.
  • Moss is furious with the way Baylen treats him during his interrogation. He and Roma get into a fight after Roma insinuates the stolen leads won't make any difference to Moss, who has had a bad sales month.
  • Lingk arrives. He has orders from his wife to cancel the deal with Roma, who gives him the runaround by pretending Levene is a wealthy client whom he has to take to the airport. Levene gamely plays along. Roma suggests he and Lingk get back together on Monday. Lingk confesses his wife called the attorney general's office and was advised they had three days to back out of the deal, which they made on Tuesday. Monday will be too late. Roma then tries to convince Lingk his wife doesn't really want him to cancel the deal—"That's just something she 'said.'" He invites Lingk out for a drink so they can discuss what's really wrong in Lingk's life—his marriage. They're almost out the door when Williamson tells Lingk his check has already been cashed. "Oh, Christ," Lingk says before begging Roma to forgive him. He leaves.
  • Roma turns on Williamson for losing his $6,000 commission (approximately $15,000, adjusted for inflation) and a Cadillac. He says Williamson was hired "to help men who are going out there to try to earn a living," calls him a "fairy," then goes into the inner office with Baylen.
  • Levene tells Williamson yet again he doesn't belong "in this business." "You're going to make something up, be sure it will help," he says. That statement piques Williamson's interest. He usually takes the contracts to the bank every night, but he didn't last night. Only someone who had been in the office after hours would know the contract was still in the office. Therefore Levene had to be the one who robbed the office.
  • Levene confesses his role in the robbery, as well as Moss's. He pleads with Williamson not to turn him in. He tries to give Williamson the $2,500 (approximately $6,250, adjusted for inflation) he made from selling the leads, then throws in 50 percent of all his sales. That means nothing to Williamson, who tells him there are no sales, not even the one to the Nyborgs. They're notorious for leading on salesmen, and they have no money. Williamson goes into the inner office as Roma comes out.
  • Roma asks Levene to be his sales partner. "You want to swing by the Chinks, watch me eat, we'll talk?" he asks. Levene says he better stay here, then goes into the inner office to talk to Baylen.
  • Roma tells Williamson any leads Levene gets are automatically 50 percent his. "My stuff is mine, his stuff is ours," he says. Williamson is noncommittal.
  • Aaronow comes back in the office to check for the new leads, which aren't there yet. "Oh God, I hate this job," he says. Roma leaves for the restaurant. Curtain.

Analysis

Act 2 tracks the rise and fall of Mitch and Murray's best and worst salesmen, Richard Roma and Shelly Levene. Both men have reason for celebration when the act begins—Roma's sale to James Lingk has put him over the top to win the Cadillac, and Levene's sale to the Nyborgs gets him on the leaderboard for the first time during the contest. Before the morning is over, however, both men lose their game-changing sales. Though their circumstances are different, the catalyst for both failed deals is the same: John Williamson. He is the one who sends Lingk into a panic with the lie that his check has been cashed, which causes Lingk to bolt out of the office before Roma can talk him into upholding the deal. He's also the person who set up Levene to fail. Williamson has known for months that the Nyborgs are a terrible lead, but he sends Levene to talk to them anyway. He wastes Levene's time, gets his hopes up, then humiliates him all because he doesn't like him.

The only employee not directly involved in sales, Williamson represents the interests of Mitch and Murray and, on a larger scale, the immorality of capitalism. As Williamson tells Levene in Act 1, Scene 1, his job is to "marshal the leads." His duty is not to the salesmen but to his employers. It doesn't matter to him who gets the commissions as long as his bosses get richer. Gifted salesmen have a better shot at closing deals, so it only makes sense to give them the leads that are most likely to be profitable. Anything else would be a waste of money. And that, according to the play, is a failing of capitalism. It is unfair, elitist, and, most damning of all, heartless.

Williamson's obstinacy and cruelty might just as appropriately be related to bureaucracy. Williamson says that he has no "choice" but to play by the "rules." When faced with making money by scamming the "system" (as when Levene offers to pay him for the premium leads, or later when he offers to give Williamson half of his sales), Williamson choses to remain a loyal bureaucrat. In this sense Williamson is not a capitalist but a tool in the system.

Act 2 of Glengarry Glen Ross also shows the prominence of masculinity in American culture and business. In the satellite sales office, manliness equals power and power equals manliness. Salesmen on a hot streak, like Roma and the misguided Levene, strut like peacocks as they brag about their sales prowess to their coworkers. Those who aren't doing so well are extremely protective of their sense of manhood and protest when it is threatened. "No one should talk to a man that way," George Aaronow says after his interview with Baylen. Though the audience doesn't see their interaction, it can be inferred by Aaronow's and Dave Moss's reactions that Baylen is being neither polite nor deferential in his questioning. His assertion of power makes them feel inferior, which causes them—even the normally level-headed Aaronow—to lash out. They regain their confidence and sense of masculinity by lambasting Baylen while he's standing next to them. Roma and Levene, in turn, disparage the masculinity of their foe, Williamson. Roma calls him a "fairy," implying Williamson is homosexual and therefore less than a man, while Levene comes right out and says Williamson "isn't man enough" to care that he "fucked a good man out of six thousand dollars and his goddamn bonus." These attacks on his masculinity have little effect on Williamson, though, as he holds all the power in the office. He asserts his masculinity through his actions, not his words. He fears no one in the office, but they are all, in their own ways, afraid of what he could do to them.

That fear is what prompts Levene to rob the office for Moss and Jerry Graff. Already convinced he's going to lose his job because of his "bad luck" and the terms of the sales contest, he has every reason to leave. He and Moss want the freedom and big paydays they associate with Graff's independently run outfit, but they overlook the reality of the situation. If they go to work for Graff, they are still working for someone else. Graff may not be as Machiavellian or conniving in his self-interest as Mitch and Murray, but he also isn't going to let Levene and Moss use his leads for free. At best Levene's and Moss's desire for occupational freedom shackles them to a less demanding master. At worst they will actually be in shackles as they serve prison time for theft.

Moss and Levene aren't the bad guys here. True, Moss has questionable morals—he threatens Aaronow into joining his scheme before latching onto Levene—but David Mamet portrays him as being a product of his environment. Like everyone else in the play, he's trying to get ahead by any means possible, even hurting other people if necessary. Levene, though he committed the crime, is the play's tragic protagonist, or main character. His attempts to get ahead all result in failure and humiliation. He, too, is a product of the corporate machine of greed and immorality, which is the true antagonist, or opposing force, of the play.

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