Glengarry Glen Ross: A Jungian Perspective David Mamet wrote the play “Glengarry Glen Ross” as a look into the world of sales. As with most of his work, capitalism and its effect on the actors is a major theme. Stories as they are written have characters that have different roles based on their personalities and behaviors. This assignment of roles is something that has pned the history of literary works. Carl Jung, Swiss psychiatrist and the founder of analytical psychology explained these roles people assume and their meaning.
The term he used to refer to these character descriptions is called archetypes. All of the characters in the play have problems. Most of these are based in personality flaws and a lack of moral character. When looking at the characters of this play we see definite archetypes in their personalities. What is it that makes each character act the way they do, is there a common thread or archetype, and does Mamet speak to a greater problem by using Jungian archetypes? Is Mamet’s discourse on the effects of the sales office on people a discourse on the effects of capitalism on the society we live in now?
There are 5 main characters in this play who work in the sales office; Shelly “the Machine” Levene, Ricky Roma, John Williamson, Dave Moss, and George Aaronow. Each of these characters has flaws in their character. Through careful examination of each character we can assign Jungian archetypes; to do this though we must understand archetypes. Archetypes are models or types of people, their personalities and their behaviors. But what is the definition of an archetype?
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Carl Jung said “The archetype is a symbolical formula, which always begins to function whenever there are no conscious ideas present, or when such as are present are impossible upon intrinsic or extrinsic grounds. The contents of the collective unconscious are represented in consciousness in the form of pronounced tendencies, or definite ways of looking at things. (Jung 33)” These pronounced tendencies are the underlying motivation for each character in the play. We can see how each of these makes conscious and unconscious decisions that are reflective of each person’s assigned archetype.
Looking at the characters we see the author has assigned them archetypes (consciously or unconsciously). In the opening act of the play we see Levene and Williamson sitting in a Chinese restaurant where Levene is begging for fresh leads. He lauds of past successes, and even tells Williamson to talk to Mitch and Murray (the owners of the office) about his mastery of sales. In this character we are beginning to see desperation. At the end of the month the two sales people with the lowest sales are going to get fired. He knows that if he does not sell he is doomed. He only gets old leads from Williamson.
The new fresh leads will not be released to the salesmen until after the promotion. This is a classic vicious cycle. He cannot sell to the old leads because they are deadbeats and will not get the new ones; the ones who will buy, until he does. He is propositioned by another co-worker to break into the office to steal the new leads. He does this and tells the other co-worker he will keep quiet about the whole ordeal. In the end he cannot keep his mouth shut and cracks when he inadvertently discloses a brief fact that only the burglar would know to Williamson who picks up on this slip up immediately.
Looking at Jungian archetypes with the Levene character we see three archetypes emerge: The Scapegoat, The Persona and The Shadow. Combined these play an intricate part in why Levene does what he does. The shadow archetype is best described as that “which personifies (sic) everything the subject does not wish to face in himself” (Jung 275) or the dark side of our nature. (Jung 85) In Levene we see a man who does not want to look at the darkness inside; the darkness that would have him trying to bribe his boss for fresh leads, burglarize the office, or snitch on the co-worker who developed the plan in the first place.
When he is found out as the burglar he panics. This is the animalistic part of the shadow; the resorting to primal instincts. He tries to bargain with Williamson. He offers a percentage of all future sales to him. When these do not work he resigns himself to the consequences. Coupled with the shadow we see Levene exemplify the persona. This archetype is described as a “symbol of the protective cover or mask. ” (Jung 287) Levene acts in a manner while on the in the office with a co-workers client that is a full flight from reality. He acts like he is a vice president of American Express and travels the world.
This is a ruse he jumps into with no preparation and pulls it off beautifully. This mask he uses whether to deceive his clients, himself, or others, is his persona. It is dishonest from its onset. This core dishonesty is how the shadow archetype is manifesting in his psyche. Just like the vicious cycle with the leads here we see the cycle of his dishonesty in every aspect of his work life being transmitted into the shadow archetype, his subconscious now makes instinctual decisions from a negative jumping off place. The more he participates in this pattern the deeper the pathology sets in him.
To round out this character we can apply the scapegoat archetype. The scapegoat archetype is defined as “the one who gets blamed for everything, regardless of whether he or she is actually at fault. ” (Essortment) Sure he is to blame for the break in but he was not the first choice to do it. Aaronow was asked first but he decided he could not do it so Levene was asked. In the end Levene snitches on Moss for being the instigator. Levene was asked to do the burglary because if he was caught he would take the blame by himself. He was singled out for the archetype that fit him best.
Every office needs a scapegoat and being the oldest and least productive he subconsciously plays the role to a tee. Here where everything comes together, a desperate man, making base decisions from a negative subconscious, led by a persona steeped in dishonesty, who knows that he puts himself at risk of either getting fired for not selling or getting arrested for the break in, who is manipulated by the others in his workplace, and trying desperately hold on to an self-image long gone. Mamet is hinting that these factors are not something unique in a sales office or in capitalistic western society as a whole.
This is why the character is so relatable. John Williamson is the office manager. He is not a salesman. He works for the owners and his job it to “marshal those leads. ” (Mamet) He is a company man and his pay is not based on commission. He takes his orders from the owners. He has no sympathy for any of the salesmen in the office. He takes a constant barrage of crap from each of them every day. He does not have to sell in the field and that alienates him from the rest of the characters. In the opening scene we see Levene trying to get extra leads form him.
When Levene offers money he is quick to say yes, but he wants all of the money right then. Levene says he will have the full sum the next day. Williamson reacts coldly, almost emotionless, to Levene’s pleas for leads. He is quick to betray his ethics for material gain. The first archetype for Williamson is the shadow. He is quick, almost instantly ready to betray his conscious to see the leads to Levene. He also has no compassion; that dark place that is the result of phenomenon in Williamson’s life that has jaded him. Understandably, in this office setting it would be hard to be compassionate seeing the way he is treated.
But he should maintain his professionalism buy not entertaining the request from Levene. This is where the archetype of the scapegoat enters. Near the end of the play Williamson inadvertently blows one of Roma’s deals thinking he is helping. He does not know the cardinal rule of a sales office; do not talk unless you know what is going on. As stated earlier, Williamson is blamed for all the problems in the office. Levene blames John for the lack of good leads; Roma blames him for blowing out his deal, so this makes him an easy target.
Since he is not a salesman he is not considered one of the boys. He is an outsider. And anyone can relate to an outsider being a scapegoat. John also unknowingly reinforces Levene’s persona archetype buy feeding his superiority complex with simple rookie mistakes. It would seem that there is a contention between Levene and Williamson on who actually is the scapegoat. This would explain why in the end when Levene asked why he is turning him in he says “Because I don't like you. (Mamet)” His shadow archetype returns for justice. Mamet gives another nod to the problem with capitalism.
That a person has to whatever it takes to be successful in the business world. Whether it is betraying your own personal ethics, your relationships with other people, or obligations to employers, nothing can stand in the way of someone trying to make it in business. The next character is George Aaronow. He is in the same situation as Levene. He needs a sale before the end of the month or else he will be fired. Like Levene he has had a bad run when it comes to sales. Where Levene’s inflated ego is unwarranted, Aaronnow’s ego is deflated. He has practically given up on the world of sales.
He listens to Moss’s rant on why the leads are garbage and agrees with everything he is saying. He desperately wants a reason other than himself for his problems. His character is not aggressive like the others. He has a meekness that is a liability in the office. He is metaphorically swimming in a shark tank and they see him as bait. He is originally propositioned to do the break in by Moss. Moss sees him as a perfect partner; a person who would not do something akin to a break in. He also has nothing real to say in the play. He constantly repeats whet others say as to agree.
His lack of substance is deliberate. If he were more complex and aggressive he would not be in the situation he is in right now. This is the antithesis of the Levene character. He has no persona. No mask to hide behind. No sense of entitlement. He also has no courage as seen by his backing out of the plan to steal the leads. This explains why people see him as the perfect scapegoat. His shadow archetype is one based in resentment, and fear. He does not want to look at why he is failing. It is easy for him to jump on the bandwagon to blame Williamson.
Aaronow is the perfect example of what is wrong with capitalism. He works hard for years only to have his spirit broken by an economic model that sees him as disposable. This lack of importance within the workplace or in his life as a whole is not seen as something to be investigated because it is a negative; in fact it is seen as the price of doing business. These are high prices for a man to pay in the premier years of his life. Dave Moss is very angry man. He has a level of anger that stays constant throughout the play. He is a predator in the shark tank.
He knows nobody is going to help achieve anything in the office. He finds people who agree with his perception of why things are the way they are in the office. He uses his persona to manipulate people into doing things they normally would not do; things that betray their inner subconscious. He uses the skills that he learned on the streets selling to sell people around him on the idea that he is right about everything. They just have not become as angry about it as he has. He tries to use his skills to convince Aaronow that he should be just as angry as he is.
His persona is based on resentment and frustration. This attitude keeps everyone at bay. It also shows him as a leader in the office. He probably will get the steak knives. He has several plans in his mind about his future and they are not with the firm. He knows that if he gets the leads and sells them to a rival office he will profit financially not just from the initial purchase of those leads, but he will have a job at the firm where he can schedule and close those leads. It is a win-win situation or him. He does not care about anyone but himself.
His shadow is so deeply rooted in dishonesty he cannot even see it. This is his natural state. His consciousness has no compassion for anyone and it preys on the weak. His resentment filled subconscious feeds his conscious with self-hatred. Here we are again with the vicious cycle of a negative subconscious feeding an ego problem in turn cementing a negative subconscious. This has a poisoning effect on the people around him. His sarcasm is a telltale sign of his frustration. This is shown to be a hindrance to anyone trying to be successful and a precursor to further problems down the road. Calabrese, 461) Moss is a prime example of what happens to misguided but motivated people within a capitalistic society. They revert to the animalistic shadow archetype at the expense of their own temperament. At what lengths exactly would Moss go to be successful? Manipulation, anger, frustration, deception, and theft are just some of the ways. These are the tools of the modern capitalist. A man must be willing to go to any lengths to reach his goal. Anything that gets in the way is collateral damage. Ricky Roma is the sales leader at the time of the promotion in the office.
His arrogance shows in the way he talks to clients. It is reflective of someone successful on the backs of others. His interactions with the rest of the salespeople are distant and peppered with sarcasm. He has an inflated ego that is a direct result of his consistency in the sales room. He also berates Williamson for his inexperience in the field. He is the proverbial big shark in the tank. The rest of the salesmen resent him for his success. His shadow emerges when Lingk comes to the office to cancel his contract, the contract that put him on top of the sales contest.
He instantly and instinctively creates an elaborate fraudulent ruse with the help of Levene to make Lingk think he made the right decision. Roma’s fears are now controlling his every move. Consciously he is trying to protect his prize, the Cadillac. Subconsciously he is maintaining his leadership role in the office. If he is seen as anything other than a producer he is weak. His shadow would never allow him to be weak. Therefore it is his persona that takes over. He puts out this larger than life attitude that he hopes will command respect.
He hopes this mask will cover his fears. This flamboyant persona making base decisions out of subconscious fears only heighten his need to reinforce the persona. The vicious cycle returns. We see people like Roma all the time in capitalist societies. Whether it is Donald Trump, Mark Cuban, or Sean Combs, we see a braggadocio that is consistent with a person with a superiority complex. These types of people are catapulted to the top of their chosen fields. These are the heads of companies, the decision makers, the capitalists as tableau.
When looking at the people in the workplace we see a phenomenon that has occurred for millennia now; men acting out in social situations around other men to become dominant. In the caveman times the biggest and the strongest warriors who got the women, they ate better, and people venerated them with myths of the conquests. In modern times we this transition of men from being the warriors of the battlefield needing strength and battle skills to become the things legends are made of, to hyper intelligent men with business prowess and social savvy who wheel and deal, have trophy wives, and frolic in the “spoils of war”.
But today we have more than just survival instincts motivating men; we have complex egos, varying degrees of psychological pathology, and a host of psychosocial problems arising from past phenomenon I their lives. “The collective unconscious, Jung claimed, contains primordial images and ideas that have emotions and symbolism “attached”. These images and ideas become manifest in fantasies, dreams, myths, and emotional responses to the world around us. ” (Carr). This would explain why these men behave in the same way as the men of histories past.
These actions are primordial in nature, as is the archetypes they personify. If all the characters had the same success that Roma had they would all be acting like king of the roost. Unfortunately in the play this is not the case, and would not make for much of a story either. All of these men participate in a behavior called repression. Each is stuffing down something about themselves they do not want to look at that is the breeding ground for their ego problems. “The repressed fear of the emotions becomes projected outward onto others.
Emotional ties and bonds embedded in employee/work relationships are experienced as a loss of control and invitation toward chaos. The solution derived within such a system results in the imposition of more structure and control coupled with even more intensities of emotional denial. Dominance, individual obsessive control, and power form the overt behaviors of managers arising from the unconscious and are reflected and rationalized as the norms of organizational culture. ” (Figler and Hanlon) Here we see why it is not uncommon to see these characters develop the way they do.
This is the “norm” in business especially within a capitalistic society. There is an underlying common subconscious in men, one that has plagued them for centuries; their incessant need to be dominant within a social setting. This has evolved over time from a survival instinct into an economic paradigm. There have been several responses to this type of economic system, from communism to isolationism (forced and unforced). In this play David Mamet is exposing what capitalism really does to men. It puts them at odds with their own ethical beliefs, creates unwarranted ego complexes, and instills deep rooted psychological disorders.
Mamet stated in the program notes that "American capitalism comes down to one thing [... ] The operative axiom is 'Hurrah for me and fuck you. Anything else is a lie. " (Boon) When we look at how this type of attitude early on affects people we see “this false self development, (sic) which is initially adaptive and maximizes gratifications, may become maladaptive by over-emphasis. If the early environment presents many adaptation failures, then deceptive strength will be given to the emerging false self, which then becomes the basis for later social relationships to the exclusion of the real self. (Hudson) All of these characters have problems due to over-emphasis of their subconscious shadow archetype feeding a false persona which in turns deepens the pathology of the shadow archetype. As most people will tell you, these characters are commonplace in the workplace in western capitalistic models of business. Mamet shines a light onto this dark world that American business has evolved into. From seedy characters with dynamic psychological pathologies to a broad statement on capitalism as a whole Mamet only resents to the audience exactly what he sees in business; a vicious cycle of pain, frustration, and alienation. Works Cited Boon, Kevin Alexander. "Ethics and Capitalism in teh Screenplays of David Mamet. " Literature Film Quarterly 39. 3 (2011): 180. Web. Carr, Adrain. "Jung, Archetypes and Mirroring in Orginizational Change Management. " Journal of Orginizational Change Management 15. 5 (2002): 478. Web. 21 April 2012. Essortment. http://www. essortment. com/understanding-literary-archetypes-61301. html. n. d. Web. 24 April 2012. Figler, Robert and Susan Hanlon. Management Development and the Unconscious From an Analytical Psychology Framework. " Journal of Management Development (2008): 616. Web. 20 April 2012. Hudson, Wayne. "Persona and Defence Mechanisms. " Journal of Analytical Psychology (1978): 56. Web. 27 April 2012. Jung, Carl G. "Man and HIs Symbols. " Jung, Carl G. Man and His Symbols. New York City: Bantam Doubleday Dell, 1964. 85. Print. Mamet, David. "Glengarry Glen Ross. " The Norton Anthology of American Literature. New York City: W. W. Norton & Company Inc. , 2007. 3044. Print.
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