How do we deal with pain, with deferred dreams, with loss and disappointment? There are those like Carol in Oleanna and Roma in Glengarry Glen Ross who will fight until the end to get what they believe is right. People like them are resilient, strong minded and difficult to bend – the right people for a ‘dog-eat-dog’ world. Although Roma – like most salesmen – might opt to deceive people to “always be closing” a deal, his actions are not so different from Carol, who opt to transform a “shoulder touching” into rape. They are not honest people, but who is?
No matter how we look into a situation, we all become salesmen because to sell is to convince someone that what we have is of value. A priest will sell his faith; a student his discipline; a teacher his knowledge; a friend his loyalty; an actor his flexibility; an officer his courage. But why is it so important to be ‘closing’ all the time? Because when we convince people of our values, we feel happier and more accomplished. Money is an important matter, but I believe it is more about pride and a sense of belonging.
The language we choose to use will guide our actions and the way the world will acknowledge us. People will understand us for our talk and actions, not thoughts. So, although a military pilot finds deep inside that it is wrong to drop a bomb in an area filled with civilians, he does it anyway because of many other external factors, so from the eyes of the world, he will have killed innocent women and children.
Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woof is an excellent example of how two people, unhappy with reality (George’s mediocrity, Martha’s infertility), make the most of their lives by creating a new reality through the stories they tell. Their methods are quite unorthodox because most people wouldn’t make up stories of an imagined son and play games in public to humiliate the partner just to feel alive, but normalcy has always been a matter of comparison. Their guests seem to have a normal relationship, but George and Martha soon find out that the relationship is also not real; for the man married an alcoholic for money and the woman lied about a false pregnancy just to get married.
In Mamet’s American Buffalo most studies and critics will insist that it is about a corrupt business world, but my understanding of the play is that it is about unaccomplished ‘little’ people trying to give their lives sense instead of sitting around in the corner crying about their misery. This sense of wanting to matter in the world comes through the will to belong somewhere: I belong, therefore I am. The scheming of the play is as laughable as the reason why they are scheming in the first place, but it is the scheming and occasional petty crimes that give Don, Teach and also Bob a sense of importance. The illusion of being needed, of being dangerous, of being astute is what makes them almost immune to life’s disappointments.
Like Miller’s Death of a Salesman, Willy Loman is an extreme example of a man who lives inside his head, but we all do the same, in a way or another. Nobody has everything in life, so it is important to feed some illusions in order to cope with harsh realities. Important is to know when to enjoy a dream and when to wake up from it.
Paul, in Guare’s Six Degrees of Separation, tries hard to transform his dream, the illusion in his head, into reality hoping that others would buy his tales. But he failed to sell his fantasy when he brought reality into it (the male companion whilst still as a guest by the Kittredge’s).
We sell ourselves, we tell truths and lies, we live in reality as much as in fantasy and we get used to it. The irony, though, is that we believe to be the only ones entitled to do so, for we criticize others for doing exactly what we are doing. That is when some of the most brilliant American playwrights force us to reflect upon it when they write works like Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, Oleanna, Six Degrees of Separation, Glengarry Glen Ross, American Buffalo, Death of a Salesman and so many others.
Luciana B. Veit