Glengarry Glen Ross
Act One, scene three
Roma sits alone at a booth in the restaurant, while Lingk sits at the booth next to him. Roma is in the middle of a long monologue that tends to shift topics very abruptly and confusingly. The monologue is not incoherent, however; though it is never clear exactly what Roma is getting at, all of his spouting about the meaning of life and other grand, vague topics are quite compelling. Lingk pays rapt attention, himself saying a total of only thirteen words in the scene, all in response to questions Roma asks.
Roma's musings turn to the subject of opportunity. Rather than playing up the potential yields of opportunity—wealth, and so on—he suggests that such yields are not necessarily either meaningless or meaningful; yields have as much meaning as we assign them. Roma suggests that the two of them have another drink, and then he introduces himself. (It is worth noting that, though as readers we know that he is Roma, the hotshot salesman of whom Levene and Williamson have spoken in the first scene, people watching the play in performance do not necessarily know who he is, or that he is a salesman, until he tells Lingk his name at this point in the scene.)
Roma, still waxing philosophical, lays a map of the Glengarry Highlands development out on the table before him and invites Lingk to take a look at it. The scene ends just as Roma is about to begin his pitch to sell Lingk some land.
Roma is a "con artist" in the best sense: he elevates his scam to the level of poetry. His speech ping-pongs across several disparate topics—some lines are hilarious non-sequiturs—but he is always in control. He intentionally speaks of grand, wandering ideas. He has Lingk in his thrall even when Lingk presumably has no idea what he is talking about. The impenetrable oddness of much of Roma's monologue is part of its genius. Instead of barraging Lingk, Roma hangs back in a separate booth and puts on a show, drawing Lingk's attention. Roma is more like a hypnotist than a traditional salesman: he convinces Lingk that he wants to listen. From there it is only a short step to convincing Lingk that he wants to buy property.
Lingk is a total stranger to Roma, so Roma sets out a blanket policy of acceptance: "You fuck little girls, so be it. There's an absolute morality? May be. And then what?" Roma does not suggest that Lingk does any of the reprehensible things of which he speaks; instead Roma lays out the idea that no behavior is objectively bad, that our basic social responses to things are not based in absolute truth. With this grand assertion, Roma is really just trying to plant the seed for Lingk to question his gut response to the forthcoming sales pitch.
Roma speaks of the unpredictability of life. He suggests that any horror can befall us at any moment and none of it happens for any reason. Roma rejects the notion that we should live our lives in denial of the possibility of sudden tragedy, and rejects also the notion that we should live in fear (and he implies that faith in any higher being that might protect us is a form of fear). Roma posits that we must live fearlessly and deal with problems if and when they come our way. This philosophy empowers the individual. Lingk—who is probably not the happiest or most powerful man, drinking alone at a Chinese restaurant—is intrigued by the allusion to his power as an individual. Roma's philosophy demands that every man act, for to avoid taking action is to live in denial or fear. Of course, unbeknownst to Lingk, Roma has a particular action in mind for Lingk: purchasing units on the Glengarry Highlands development.
By admitting that the property he is selling&msdash;and thus his sales pitch—only has meaning when meanings are assigned to them, Roma might seem to be giving away his game. It is counterintuitive for a salesman to reveal up front that he does not have anything of great intrinsic importance to tell. But Roma has no intention of assigning meaning to the Glengarry Highlands property for Lingk. He has reeled Lingk in, brought him to a state where he wants to take action, a state in which Lingk will now bring his own meaning to the Glengarry Highlands units. The scene ends just as Roma is about to begin telling Lingk about the land—but the real sales pitch has already occurred.
The last line of the scene is Roma's: "Listen to what I am going to tell you now:." This echoes Moss's last line in scene two, "Because you listened." Moss's line revealed that listening can be a dangerous activity, and Roma's line confirms the danger. Though simply listening to someone seems harmless, by listening to Roma, Lingk will end up conned into buying a worthless piece of property.
Never in the play do we see any of the salesmen on sits, the traditional arena for their selling. Nonetheless, in all three scenes in Act One we witness sales pitches. Levene tries to sell Williamson on the idea of giving him the Glengarry leads, Moss tries to sell Aaronow on the idea of breaking into the office, and Roma tries to sell Lingk real estate in Florida. All three of them are trying to sell people things that they do not want.
The three salesmen in Act One take different approaches to this challenge. Levene, desperate, tries multiple modes of persuasion, and with each new strategy his argument actually becomes less convincing. Moss goes about setting an elaborate trap for Aaronow—and when Aaronow realizes that he is being set up, Moss abandons cunning and tries to browbeat Aaronow into submission with sheer aggressive energy. Roma gives the only pitch in Act One that succeeds: rather than trying to convince Lingk that it is in his best interest to capitulate to a foolish scheme, he uses subtlety, ambivalence, and the appearance of honesty to implant the idea of buying land in Lingk's head as if it were his own.
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