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Glengarry Glen Ross | Study Guide

David Mamet

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Glengarry Glen Ross | Themes


Success and Failure

Success is survival in Mitch and Murray's satellite sales office. Top performers are rewarded with bonus prizes and job security, while those who don't perform well take home little to nothing and eventually lose their jobs. Getting to the top—and staying there—isn't easy, and it isn't unusual for the salesmen to rely on underhanded tactics in their quest for success. In Glengarry Glen Ross the most successful salesmen are those who capitalize on the weaknesses of others. Richard Roma is a prime example of this. He has a gift for manipulating people as a means of increasing his own success, which is what happens with James Lingk. Lingk comes into the office to the cancel his contract with Roma per instructions from his wife. Roma, sensing Lingk's lack of power in his marital relationship, tells Lingk exactly what he wants to hear: it's okay to do things his wife doesn't know about. "You needn't feel ashamed, you needn't feel that you're being untrue. ... This is your life," he says. Roma knows Lingk's wife will be furious with Lingk for not canceling the deal, but that's not Roma's problem. All he cares about is his own success, which demands he take advantage of his weak, ineffectual client.

Roma also takes the same tactic with Shelly Levene, who is fresh off his sale to the Nyborgs. Roma knows Levene isn't the best salesman in the office anymore, but the boost of confidence from the Nyborg sale might be enough to help him close more deals. Roma sees that as an opportunity to increase his own earnings. "I've been on a hot streak, so what? There's things I could learn from you," he says, downplaying his own success to curry favor with Levene. By appealing to Levene's desire to be the most powerful and admired salesman in the office, Roma gets what he wants—a partnership with Levene. Levene, however, doesn't realize this partnership is a one-way street: Roma will get half of everything Levene earns, but Levene will get none of Roma's earnings. Roma feels no compunction, or guilt, for essentially cutting Levene's future earnings in half—it's simply how he believes the strong survive.

Mitch and Murray's satellite office also sees its share of failures. One of them is George Aaronow. As evidenced by his lackluster sales, Aaronow isn't a great salesman. He might not even be a good one—instead of "selling himself," as all the other salesman do, he mopes and worries about his future. Aaronow is also the only person in the office unwilling to take advantage of others to get ahead. He refuses to take part in the plan to rob the office despite Dave Moss's threats to name him as an accomplice. He's willing to risk going to jail in lieu of committing a crime and profiting at the expense of someone else. After the office has been robbed, he worries that Mitch and Murray didn't have the leads insured. He doesn't necessarily like Mitch and Murray—but he also doesn't want anything terrible to happen to them. Unlike the other salesmen, Aaronow follows his conscience, not his greed. That's ultimately why he's not successful.

Immorality of Capitalism

Capitalism is a system in which private individuals, not the state, control trade and industry for profit. Goods are made, services are offered, and economies thrive, but there's also a darker side to capitalism. In Glengarry Glen Ross David Mamet illustrates this through the microcosm of Mitch and Murray's satellite office. Mitch and Murray own the investment property business. Their ultimate goal is to make as much money as possible, so they take 90 percent of the commission from each of the closed deals. It doesn't matter to them who earns the money, just as long as it is earned. It's logical to assume the people who close the most deals are the best salesmen. Mitch and Murray ensure that the best leads go to the best salesmen. This assures them the greatest profit possible, and their top salesmen earn pretty good money, too.

That causes a major problem for everyone else. Salesmen who don't do very well, like Shelly Levene and George Aaronow, get the worst leads, or those least likely to result in a sale. Making a sale is hard to begin with, and it's nearly impossible when the prospective buyer has no interest in buying. The "poor" salesmen are at a disadvantage not just because of their sales skills, but because of the leads they're given. If they want better leads, they need to make more sales, which is extremely difficult with the leads they already have. "How do [we] come up above that mark? With dreck?" Levene asks John Williamson. "It's a waste, and it's a stupid waste," he continues. The system set up by Mitch and Murray, and capitalistic societies in general, ensures the rich get richer while the poor get poorer. Equal opportunity doesn't exist when profit is on the line.

Glengarry Glen Ross also highlights the immorality of the men who make the sales. The property peddled by Aaronow, Levene, Dave Moss, and Richard Roma is junk. Though their sales pitches focus on dreams of luxurious retirement communities or future high-dollar real estate transactions, they're really selling nearly valueless swampland. As such they're little more than con men who feel no guilt at taking advantage of their customers. With the exception of Aaronow, every salesman pushes aside his own morals to fatten his wallet. Likewise, Williamson, the office manager, feels no duty to the men he oversees—he gives the good leads to people he likes and saves the "dreck" for those he dislikes. He doesn't care about the men's personal lives or their need for an income. Like them, he cares only about himself.

Masculine Superiority

One of the most important qualities anyone can have in Mitch and Murray's satellite sales office is that of "manliness." Being a "man" basically means working hard and not taking any flak from anyone else. True men aren't subservient to anyone—not their wives, not their boss, and not to other men. Men, then, are superior to everyone else. After his interview with Detective Baylen, George Aaronow complains, "No one should talk to a man that way." Baylen's questioning has made him feel inferior, so he reestablishes his superiority by informing everyone he's too manly to allow that kind of treatment. Dave Moss does the same thing after his interview when he says, "Cop couldn't find his dick [with] two hands and a map." They both try to make Baylen seem stupid, which is a very unmanly quality. Office manager John Williamson also bears the brunt of insults against his manhood. "A man's his job and you're fucked at yours," Shelly Levene tells Williamson after Williamson doubts Levene's sale to the Nyborgs. This is the ultimate insult—he's saying Williamson is both unmanly and bad at his job.

If people who are weak and ineffectual are not manly, then James Lingk is the least manly of all the characters in the play. Unconfident and intimidated by his wife, Lingk is the exact opposite of Richard Roma, the salesman who cold-called him at the Chinese restaurant and closed a deal with him later that night. Lingk's envy of Roma's outward masculinity—his nonchalant attitude, his ease in talking about his sexual escapades—is what draws him to the salesman in the first place. Even being in the same room with Roma makes Lingk feel more masculine. Downtrodden and fearful of his wife, he admits he doesn't "have the power" to negotiate with Roma, yet after a few moments together Roma nearly manages to convince him to go through with the deal anyway. After Lingk learns the check has been cashed, he's back to his former meek self. "I know I've let you down," he tells Roma. "I'm sorry. ... Forgive ... for ... I don't know anymore." He desperately wants to do right by Roma, whom he clearly idolizes, but he is too afraid of his wife to make any decisions on his own. In this office that makes him anything but a man.

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