Watch the Language: The Importance of Profanity in “Glengarry Glen Ross”

Shocking as the language in “Glengarry Glen Ross” may be, in terms of being punctuated by profanity, it could not be so artfully rendered without that necessary foulness. Not only do such offensive words underline the toxic masculinity that chokes the play, but they also provide a heightened realism to the dialogue of the word, and create a sense of the dynamics and personalities that otherwise might not be so easily interpreted in terms of the ‘pack order’ within the office. The language of a story is the soul of a story. It forms the heart and power of it; to withhold the necessary language out of fear of offending others would be to, this play’s terms, castrate it of all potency. In that case, it might as well never be written, for it cannot be received in the manner so intended by David Mamet; therefore, its meaning is changed and lost.

In “Glengarry Glen Ross”, the most notable theme is the socially destructive nature of toxic masculinity. Every unit of a civilization—from a family to an office—can be considered its own state in some manner. By understanding this, and seeing the ruin that toxic masculinity brings in “Glengarry Glen Ross”, it is understood that toxic masculinity also wrecks civilizations by breeding determinate aggressive, deceit, pressure, and viciousness. It cannot be checked in practice, because constraints only make it boil over further. Yet this is just what has been done in this setting; these men work in an office as salesfolk—and important ones at that, going by the need to weed out some workers, and the violent struggle for dominance among the ‘pack’. They have no guns or open battles. There are no dogs or hunts to be had. Most of the stereotypical, American masculine attributes have been stripped away. What does this leave? Cutthroat competition and constant fights in the ring for dominance. What makes the most dominant man? The one who can outspeak everyone and outstrip them in terms of sales. This is what they vie for, and in doing so, they use their language as a weapon, a force, a punctuation of emphatic blows. They cut others down, criticize their actions, call into question their masculinity, and cow others by puffing up their own egos with their voices. Without the plastering of profanity to emphasize this, the point would not be so heavily made.

It also heightens the realism. Such language is very commonplace. Honestly, even in an all-female group I worked with for a whole semester at the KSU Lifestyle magazine, it wasn’t unusual for me to hear my boss or others use a fair bit of profanity. People use profanity to make points, attract attention, and assert dominance. It is a verbal shorthand for imposing oneself. To “clean up” the language would be to take the reality out of the work. The play centers solely around dialogue; it takes a masterful ear and hand to capture the rhythm and integrity of a certain type of speech, as well as its violence and duplicity. In adeptly portraying this, Mamet breathes life into the characters that would otherwise be absent. They are so precise that people who come from the same environment echo their language today.

Furthermore, it presents clear-cut dynamics to analyze. In using words to dominate one another, the men create a visible hierarchy. Those who use more effectively forceful language—such as Roma and Aaronow—are the ones who can work the others and take charge. They become the more powerful businessmen because they can impose their will on others, which again feeds into their sense of masculinity and power. Others, such as Moss, use their language ineffectively. They present a hesitant and malleable front that is taken advantage of. Williamson stands apart in that, while he is not forced to use such language so often, he has the privilege of overseeing the general rabble; his position is more guaranteed, and therefore his reason for lack of desperation clearer.

Finally, while less can be more, a prolific amount of something can emphasize the places where it is barren. The times where less profanity is used—such as Roma’s first interaction with Lingk—become dramatically more noticeable. This is no accident; it is this quality of adaptability that truly makes Roma stand apart. He knows how to switch his style; he can flip from the most dominant in the office to a friendly, approachable, clever man who applies his masculinity in a more subtle and persuasive way. Here is a character able to—momentarily—escape the vat of toxic masculinity. He can set aside his violent act enough to make a deal and be the best in the office. Clearly, success is not so tied to the rigidity of what is defined as power, but instead to the ability to change one’s interactions and tactics to best corner the situation and fit into the larger society of all people.

Therefore, it is obvious that use of profanity is necessary and desired within “Glengarry Glen Rose”, as violent as it is. It takes the place of physical violence, and forms a lens through which we can view how such people interact and what prompts them to act the way they do. It also raises further questions: if Roma and his ability to set this aside for even a bit is what makes the “top man” in terms of success, why do so few men follow suit?


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