Rites of passage in the plays of David Mamet
The variety of rites of passage dramatized in David Mamet's plays reflect his belief in theatre's quasi-spiritual, healing function. For Mamet, his dramatized passage rites--in which his characters struggle to achieve permanence and connection in moments of profound crises--are a powerful means of transformation, offering both audience and reader unconscious solutions to psychic problems. Although the customary function of the rite of passage is to create an effective experiential bridge between one role or social status and another, this study finds most of Mamet's dramatized rites failures. That is, his characters are unable or unwilling to take part in a social enterprise that demands communality, selflessness, and a momentary suspension of cynical disbelief. These failed rites, however, do not indicate Mamet's rejection of ritual's transformative function but his desire to combat the onslaught of cultural practices that denigrate its continued power to heal.^ Using a theoretical framework derived from van Gennep's tripartite formulation coupled with Victor Turner's and Mircea Eliade's notions of ritual, ten of Mamet's adapted and invented dramatized rites are examined in depth. Chapter One examines the appropriated initiatory rites of passage found in dramatic worlds that are exclusively male. The discussion first focuses on the failed initiations of the young neophytes in Lakeboat and American Buffalo, followed by the equally unsuccessful passage rites of pilgrimage and initiation for Mamet's mid-lifers in Disappearance of the Jews and Glengarry Glen Ross. The chapter concludes that Mamet's ritual failures result from the maleficence of our society's business ethos, which poisons community and undermines true passage to manhood.^ In Chapter Two rites shared between the sexes are considered. The discussion begins with an examination of invented rites of father-daughter bonding in Reunion and courtship in The Woods. These two passage rites, together with the adapted divination ritual in The Shawl, are deemed successful. The ritual failures of Speed-the-Plow's rite of status elevation and Oleanna's paired rites of initiation and status degradation conclude the chapter. The failed rituals in these last two plays, it is argued, represent Mamet's condemnation of America's failure to accommodate the increasing stature of women.^ The concluding chapter contains an analysis of shamanic initiation in The Cryptogram and a rite of sibling bonding in "Jolly." The fact that Mamet uses his own experiences of childhood abuse to construct these passage rites supports the study's final assertion that all of Mamet's dramatized rites of passage are best viewed as shamanic rituals of healing. ^
Anthropology, Cultural|Theater|Literature, American
"Rites of passage in the plays of David Mamet"
Dissertations and Master's Theses (Campus Access).