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 spanned 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? 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,...
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