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American Passages: A Literary SurveyUnit IndexAmerican Passages Home
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5. Masculine Heroes   

16. The Search For Identity

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Activities: Author Activities

David Mamet - Author Questions

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  1. Comprehension: What is Glengarry? What is Glen Ross? Why are they important in the play?

  2. Comprehension: What do these characters do for a living? What is "the board"? What are "leads"?

  3. Comprehension: How do the salesmen attempt to deal with James Lingk's desire to renege on his contract? Why does Roma become so angry with Williamson?

  4. Context: Analyze the play's first words from Levene to Williamson (or choose another scene) in terms of Thomas Pynchon's ideas in "Entropy" about "noise" and "leakage." How much of Levene's speech is just noise and how much is communication? Is there a difference between the two? Does any language or utterance communicate something? If so, what?

  5. Context: In stories by Maxine Hong Kingston, Sandra Cisneros, and other writers in this unit, characters are on the receiving end of ethnic and racial slurs. In this play, David Mamet's characters are often on the giving end--they actually make the derogatory comments. Why? What is Mamet suggesting about why people participate in and perpetuate stereotyping? For example, if we interpret Moss's comments about Indians in light of his job insecurity, are they more understandable and/or less offensive? Why or why not?

  6. Context: When James Lingk attempts to cancel his deal, the salesmen are dismissive of his arguments, especially when he mentions his wife's role in the family's decision making. Consider their reactions in relation to Toni Cade Bambara's "Medley," in which Sweet Pea says that men ignore her while they "conduct business" in her presence. Consider Roma's comments to Lingk: "You have a life of your own. You have a contract with your wife. You have certain things you do jointly. . . . and there are other things. Those things are yours." What "things" does Roma suggest are Lingk's?

  7. Exploration: Figuratively speaking, what does it mean to "get on the board"? Why is it so important to get and stay on the board, and how does Mamet suggest this be accomplished? What are "leads" and how can we get them? Is it possible for people without "leads" to succeed? What is he saying about American values and corporate, financial, and monetary systems? If "sales" are a metaphor for American capitalist society, what is Mamet suggesting about American values, opportunities, and achievements?

  8. Exploration: When Levene crows about his sale to Bruce and Harriet Nyborg, he explains their agreement: "It was like they wilted all at once. . . . they both kind of imperceptibly slumped." Thus, his victory is their defeat. At what cost has Levene seized his own "opportunity"? Are the Nyborgs sympathetic characters? How, if at all, does your opinion of them change after you learn of their history with salespeople?

  9. Exploration: In the nineteenth century, Henry David Thoreau wrote that "the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation" because they spend too much time worrying about money, material goods, and worldly achievement. Here, David Mamet tells of twentieth-century desperate men who resort to desperate measures because they are part of the system of "corporate slavery." Why do you think achievement and financial success are so important to these characters? Also consider the ideas about manhood and masculinity that recur throughout the play, e.g., "It's not a world of men." What does it mean to be a man according to these characters and/or according to this text?

  10. Exploration: Compare the salesmen in Glengarry Glen Ross to Willy Loman in Arthur Miller's play Death of a Salesman. Consider how the salesmen in these plays are depicted as archetypal victims and, simultaneously, perpetrators of American capitalism and consumer culture.

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