A Woman’s Gift is a Salesman’s Curse: Glengarry Glen Ross

Mamet has been accused of being anti-feminist at best and misogynist at worst. Yet certainly we can’t say that he wants us to admire the “world of men” in this real estate office, or to agree with the characters’ attitude toward women (or toward anyone outside their white male world).

What are we to make of the influence of women in the play? What of Mrs. Lingk, who ruins Roma’s deal and indirectly brings about Levene’s final fall? What of the “ex” Levene mentions early in the play, the one who “kicked out” of another deal? What of Levene’s “daughter? And what of Harriet Nyborg, even, who serves Levene store-bought crumb cake and, along with her husband, agrees to sign a contract for land she has no intention or means of purchasing?

How are we to deal with the presence/absence of women in Glengarry Glen Ross? How might you construct an interpretation of the play that takes these women into account?

Hotshot salesman Richard Roma’s attempt to sway his client, James Lingk, back into their land deal best explains why playwright David Mamet did not feature female characters on-stage in his play Glengarry Glen Ross. “Prudence…is something women have,” Roma tells James, further adding that their prudence is why men marry them. By contrast, the salesmen at Premeire Properties have no prudence.

Instead, they only want that contract, that new Cadillac, those premium leads, and nothing else. The salesmen lie to their clients by claiming to be out-of-town higher-ups in the company; they besmirch them by calling them racial epithets and “deadbeats.” They connive their coworkers, willing to use the downfall of their fellow man as a stepping-stone further up the corporate ladder. They care only about themselves and no one else. Prudence—and by extension, women—has no place in their lives and only acts as an obstacle.

While a female character on-stage would have perhaps offset the men’s malice toward one another, it would have also detracted from the crux of the play, which is to show the consequences to lacking prudence completely and instead possessing an abundance of avarice.

Both Sheldon Levene’s and Richard Roma’s fates underscore this crucial point. Had Levene been patient, perhaps he would have finally gotten a legitimate contract. Instead, he chose to rob the office and effectively ruin the rest of his life. Perhaps a moment of prudence in the Nyborgs’ kitchen would have provided Levene with the necessary insight not to close the deal (or maybe to lock the Nyborgs into just one unit instead of eight).

Roma’s loss of the Lingk deal reflects a lack of prudence on his part; if he had been up front with the Lingks, he would not have wasted his time on people who would be unable to follow through on the deal. Such unchecked greed and the justification of the means via the ends, ultimately lead to the downfall of these men.

Female characters generally evoke more sympathetic reactions from both other characters on-stage and the audience, so to have included female characters would have unnecessarily complicated Glengarry Glen Ross by introducing another line for the characters to contend, i.e. the differences between the male and female genders.

Mamet’s choice to leave women as characters only mentioned in passing and never depicted on-stage serves
to keep the focus of the play on the struggle between two generations of men, i.e. the old guard and the young cadets, as well as what becomes of the men living in this sort of cutthroat world.

Leave a Reply