Electronic Theses and Dissertations


Open Access Thesis


Veblen, Thorstein, 1857-1929. Theory of the leisure class--In literature; Mamet, David. American buffalo; Mamet, David. Water engine; Mamet, David. Glengarry Glenn Ross; Mamet, David. Speed the plow; Economics in literature;


Award-winning playwright David Mamet has acknowledged numerous times his indebtedness to the socio-economic theories of turn-of-the-century economist Thorstein Veblen, whom Mamet credits as influencing the motivation of the characters in several of his plays set in work-related environments.

Veblen, who was largely influenced by Darwin and Freud, declared that the economic institution of capitalism encourages an instinctive "predatory animus" in man to surface due to capitalism's encouragement of the ownership of private property. Veblen asserted that the desire for private property goes beyond one's essential physiological needs and is driven instead by the psychological drive to improve one's self-esteem and project a predatory image to one's peers. Veblen introduced three key concepts regarding his socio-economic theory: "predatory animus," "pecuniary emulation" and "conspicuous waste." Interpreting Mamet's business-oriented plays (American Buffalo, Glengarry Glen Ross, Speed the Plow and The Water Engine) based on these concepts will allow insight into Mamet's point of view on the capitalist principles of the United States and his own motivation for creating such plays and the characters that inhabit them. By examining these plays from the perspective of a Veblenian critical theory, Veblen's socio-economic theory of the leisure class will be tested as the foundation upon which Mamet builds dramatic structures that comment on the capitalist social structure of the United States.

This study constructs and applies a "Veblenian" literary theory to Mamet's plays to examine their subtext and to question whether that subtext is consistent with Veblen's socio-economic theory on capitalism introduced in his first and most influential book, The Theory of the Leisure Class. This study then concludes that Mamet's credit to Veblen as an influence is warranted. The characters in Mamet's plays have a strong need to improve their self-esteem by successfully conveying a predatory image; the most respectable image a capitalist can achieve. Most of the characters in the plays in question fail to realize this sought-after level of predatory status, which is testament to the Darwinian nature of capitalism, where "survival" only comes to the fittest.

The purpose of this study is two-fold: to further develop the largely overlooked theory of Veblenian literary interpretation and apply it thoroughly to the business plays of Mamet to examine how the theory works, and to introduce a new approach to Mamet scholarship; one that constructs a socio-economic interpretation of the canon by establishing a hierarchy of economic relationships and character motives.

Date of Award


Degree Name

Master of Arts


Department of Theatre

First Advisor

Jay Edelnant

Date Original


Object Description

1 PDF file (v, 175 pages)



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