David Mamet brings to the American theatre a particular sensitivity to the ways in which language is used, apart from its communicative function, to give shape and meaning to its users’ lives. His characters tend to come from closed worlds with their own cultures, myths, codes and jargon – old men, swinging singles, minor criminals, high-pressure salesmen and Hollywood hustlers (Berkowitz 190). Mamet believed that the language the person uses always defines the way he or she behaves. He makes an emphasis on language as a weapon, a mean of standardizing, identity and power, superiority, but not as a usual tool of communication.
In the play Glengarry, Glen Ross Mamet reveals the topic of interrelation between business and crime. In the center of the play lies the activity of the real estate company. The directors of this company, who are offstage, have introduced a system which means that employees of the firm are in fierce competitive environment, they are at war with each other. The salesman who sells the most land will win a Cadillac. The second one will receive a set of steak-knives and the other two will be fired. Everyone becomes an obstacle for each other on the road to success. All this factors lead to one thing – the act of crime is inevitable. In this play Mamet describes world with the ruthless competition law – the strong tries to destroy and trample the weak, people communicate using jargon, obscene words, and vulgarisms. Their language, to some extent, is a reflection of their lives, their society.
The main characters of the play are four salesmen – Roma, Moss, Levene and Aaranow. At the beginning of the play, we get to know that Roma is just one sale away from winning a Cadillac. Moss is running second, followed by Levene, followed by Aaranow, who seems to be the least bad-tempered, dishonest, and less productive in this business.
I want to take a closer look and characterize two, in my opinion, the brightest characters of the play Glengarry, Glen Ross – Levene and Roma.
Shelly Levene is a salesman already in his fifties. He managed to build his good name on the ability to close real estate deals (his nickname was "The Machine"), but in recent years he went flop. He is sure that it is because of an unlucky streak, and the main reason of his fiasco is his manager, John Williamson, who has not given him any of the "premium leads". So in order to win he decides to foul play, nothing seems to stop him, he even mentions that he needs money for his sick daughter in order to gain sympathy from Williamson. He accuses John: "I’ll tell you why I’m out. I’m out, you’re giving me toilet paper. John. I’ve seen those leads." (Act 1, Scene 1) and asks him to accept the bribe so that he can get better list of clients and to make better sales. In this scene we get acquainted with Levene and his character is shown more clearly here. He appears as an impulsive, vulgar, restless, aggressive, sly and risky man. All this traits are reflected in his manner of speaking. Levene’s speeches are full of italicized and capitalized words and of obscenities: "I go in, FOUR FUCKING LEADS they got their money in a sock." Sometimes it seems that he is afraid to stop speaking in case the answer is the one he fears, he uses a lot of short, elliptical sentences and repetitions that may mean his uncertainty, desperation and a tool of persuasion at the same time: "Even so. Even so. Alright. Fine. Fine. Even so."(Act 1, Scene 1) and "Okay. Okay. We’ll Okay. Fine. We’ll That’s fine. For now. That’s fine." (Act 1, Scene1)
The second character is Ricky Roma – salesman in his early forties. He currently got lucky and closed enough deals to win the company's competition. He is the top salesman and is respected by other. Roma is very ruthless, persuasive, subtle, dishonest, and charismatic salesman who does not need "premium leads" to make successful sales. For Roma every person can become a potential customer. He has an ability to take to improvisation; he senses the occasion and tries to make his potential clients to trust him as he knows how to figure out their weakness. Roma knows how to operate with language in order to sell his point. The language performs the role of a tool of manipulation – he does not care about his clients at all but he knows how to make them believe in the opposite. Roma likes to talk and to moralize and at the same time uses a lot of vulgarisms. In the Act 1, Scene 3 where Ricky speaks with Lingk we can clearly see it: "I say this is how we must act. I do those things which seem correct to me today. I trust myself. And if security concerns me, I do that which today I think will make me secure." (Act 1, Scene 3) Roma asks a lot of questions and answers on them in order to show his intelligence: "You know how long it took me to get there? A long time. When you die you’re going to regret the things you don’t do. You think you’re queer ? I’m going to tell you something: we’re all queer. You think that you’re a thief? So what? You get befuddled by a middle-class morality ? Get shut of it. Shut it out. You cheated on your wife ? You did it, live with it." (Act 1, Scene 3) Lingk just keeps silent; Roma does not let him speak. It looks more like a monologue than a dialogue.
So, on these examples we can see that language plays a crucial role in David Mamet’s play Glengarry, Glen Ross. It is regarded as a mean of reflecting inner feelings, emotions, and emotional states of the character. Dialogues often become chaotic and that leads to communicative failure.
Berkowitz, M. Gerald. American Drama of the Twentieth Century. Longman: Harlow, UK, 1992. Print.