Glengarry Glen Ross by David Mamet: Summary, Characters & Analysis

Instructor: J.R. Hudspeth

Jackie has taught college English and Critical Thinking and has a Master's degree in English Rhetoric and Composition

The play ~'Glengarry Glen Ross~' by David Mamet has won awards on Broadway for its story of desperate businessmen working in the cutthroat real estate business. Read on for a summary of the play and characters as well as analysis that explains the importance and popularity of the work!

Glengarry Glen Ross on the marquee of London
Glengarry

Characters

Let's first look at the characters of Glengarry Glen Ross. There are four salesmen working in the real estate office where the play is set. The four salesmen include:

Shelley Levene - Levene is an older salesman that has had a run of hard luck and few big sales at the start of the play. He's desperate and feels as though his job is threatened because he is on a slump and has been unable to sell any properties lately. Levene tends to try and persuade people to help him nearly to the point of begging, though he struggles to gain favor with either potential property buyers or Williamson. Levene's decision to break into the office to steal the Glengarry leads can be seen as either the desperate act of a generally good person or the selfish act of an unethical man.

Ricky Roma - Roma is on a hot streak and is the biggest seller of properties at the office. Though he is often nice and friendly on the surface, he often lies in order to gain money for himself.

Dave Moss - Moss is also struggling to sell property. He is angry enough over the contest to decide to steal the Glengarry leads for money, but he also decides to try and blackmail Aaronow to do the job for him by threatening to expose Aaronow as a willing participant, proving to be as unethical as Roma or Levene.

George Aaronow - Aaronow does the least amount of unethical activity in the play. Though he sympathizes with Moss, he refuses to steal from the office even after being blackmailed into doing so, and he worries for his job both because he has failed to sell many properties and because he fears that Moss may improperly implicate him in the office burglary.

The other important characters outside of the salesmen are:

John Williamson - Williamson is the unfriendly manager of the office who lies to Roma and tries to hold up Levene for money in exchange for the Glengarry leads. As you'll see, Williamson is controlled by Roma to some extent. Williamson seems to disregard the feelings of Moss, Levene, and Aaronow, possibly because they've been poor sellers over the last months before the story begins.

James Lingk - Lingk signifies the typical customer; he's unsure of himself and he's able to be convinced into a purchase easily by Roma. He's lied to and pushed around by both Roma and his wife, and Roma sees him not as a person to be honest with, but as a sale to be protected.

Summary

Act One

The play opens in a Chinese restaurant. It's across the street from the real estate office where the main characters work. The characters are told that management has decided to have a contest where the person with the highest sales will win a car, but the two worst sellers will be fired. Levene, worried that he is not keeping up in sales, tries to convince Williamson to give him some good leads (the Glengarry leads) on potential clients. Williamson demands money for the Glengarry leads and refuses to help Levene when Levene says that he can't come up with the cash.

Meanwhile, Moss, and Aaronow talk about how unhappy they are about competing so fiercely for leads and for their jobs. Moss comes up with a scheme to help relieve the pressure that he feels from his job and strike back at office management. Moss, who convinces Aaronow to help him steal the leads by threatening to reveal him as an accomplice, decides to steal the Glengarry leads from Williamson and sell them to another real estate office.

Elsewhere, Roma makes a pitch to James Lingk, a client, trying to persuade Lingk to buy real estate by targeting Lingk's insecurities and pitching the idea of buying real estate as exciting, adventurous, and a way to be in charge of one's own destiny.

Act Two

Back at the office, the burglary has happened and a detective questions the men who work at the office about the incident. Levene also comes to the office, having made a sale to an older couple and feeling better about his ability to sell real estate while Moss is questioned by the detective about the burglary.

After he leaves the office, Lingk comes to the office to cancel his contract. Roma tries to stall Lingk and talk to him later so that the contract will become legal. Since Lingk would only have three days to cancel the deal if the contract is filed, Roma lies that it has not been filed. Roma's goal is to force the deal through by making Lingk think that there's more time to cancel the deal than there actually is. However, Williamson accidentally lets slip that the contract actually has been filed. This makes Lingk angry, and he cancels the deal and threatens to make a complaint about Roma.

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